The Preserved Identity: The story of a team of the masses, the story of the Barangay Ginebra Kings

March 21, 2011 by  

And listen to the crowd roar! One can only imagine the famous Sev Sarmienta scream that quote at the top of his lungs in the middle of a do or die semi-finals basketball game against sister team San Miguel…


Hear it. Feel it. Come along with it. Twenty-thousand fans inside the coliseum, cheering, jeering and screaming for their favourite team.


Listen to the crowd roar. Savour it. Feel it. Enjoy it.

40 seconds to go in the clock with the game tied, the crowd anxiously watches as San Miguel’s Alex Cabagnot looks for an opening. He dribbles left, steps back then pulls up from behind the arc.


You can feel the energy of the crowd go down as soon as the ball hits the bottom of the net. The hope of Ginebra winning another championship is gradually decreasing as the time slowly expires.

This is it… 3… 2… 1… buzzer.

Another season lost for Ginebra, another heartbreaker, another disappointment. A crowd that was once filled with enthusiasm are going home with their heads down. Angry at the refs, angrier at the opposing team and frustrated with their own team,

Shhh, a riot is coming.

No, it’s just the thousands frustrated fans heading to the exits.

“Bobo ni Jong Uichico!” a fuming Ginebra fan shouted on his way out of the coliseum, clearly showing frustration with Ginebra coach Jong Uichico.

“Tanginang referee! Luto! Luto!” another livid Ginebra fan is overhead while heading to the exits.

Maybe next year Ginebra fans, maybe next year.


Situations like the one mentioned above is pretty normal whenever Ginebra is playing. Whether in a Game 7 of a Championship series, or a middle of the season game against cellar dweller teams, expect the Ginebra fans to be emotionally attached to their team. It’s their way of life. It’s either Ginebra wins, or their moods are totally screwed for the night.. or even for the next few days.

Take for example, Budgirl (Not her real name of course), a die hard Barangay Ginebra fan

“What’s the worst thing that I’ve done after a Ginebra loss? Nagsulat ako sa likod ng test paper nung high school, saying: talo ang ginebra kagabi. wala akong inspiration, wala akong gana.” tuloy, na-office ako at nag-cause ng malaking kaguluhan between me and some teachers. kasi pati grade ko affected”

Talking about die hard, huh? Well, it has always been that way.

Ever since the mid 80s, Ginebra has always been labelled as the people’s team, the team for the masses, the team that almost everybody loves. And who’s the man to blame for that frenzy? He is man named Robert Salazar Jaworski.

Enter the Big J

Robert Jaworski Sr or as some would call him Sonny Jaworski, or JA-WO by the masses, is a Polish-Filipino basketball player who ruled the Filipino basketball scene from the 60s up to the early 90s. He was the anchor of the Philippine national basketball team in the late 60s which took home numerous Asian and World basketball championships. To put it short, he was really a bad-ass basketball player.

Jawo’s ticket to fame was for being the leader of the Toyota team in the 70s which had its wars on the court against Crispa. It was a major rivalry back then. Think of it as the Celtics-Lakers rivalry with shorter players and even shorter tempers because aside from being basketball rivals, the two teams were known for their on and off court scuffles, with Jaworski often being in the middle of every confrontation.

Jaworski’s feisty attitude on the court and his never-say-die attitude, plus his never-ending charisma is the main reason for him getting a remarkable fanbase and a handful of haters, something that he would carry for years and years and years.

Toyota disbanded in 1983 and its franchise was bought by Basic Holdings, Inc. Jaworski rejected the idea of joining the said franchise after feeling disrespected by the company. Jaworski’s action created controversies during that time and the issue was only resolved when he was picked off by Gilbey’s Gin, owned by the La Todnena franchise.

This event would change the fortune of not only the La Tondena franchise for good but the PBA aswell.

As expected, Jaworski turned the dysfunctional franchise into a winning team. Armed with his court savvy and his unmatchable fighting spirit, the once cellar dwelling franchise known for losing would become the most beloved franchise in Philippine Basketball history.

One of the most memorable moments in the history of Jaworski in Ginebra would be the time wherein they were facing the Northern Consolidated Cement basketball team.

Jaworski received an inadvertent elbow from Jeff Moore during the second quarter of their game, resulting to him being pulled off from the game to get stitches in a nearby hospital. With his team down 15 points in the 4th quarter, Jaworski came back in the court, energizing his team and the crowd, leading them to a come from behind victory which will always be one of the greatest stories ever told in Philippine basketball history.

That never say die attitude would be rubbed off from generation after generation.

“The only reason why I still support Ginebra up to this day is that they never changed.” Adrian Tria, another die hard Ginebra fan said. “Since the Jaworski days, they still have that never say die attitude.”

But we’ll get to the latter generation later. We’re still not done discussing the Living Legend’s era.

Setting the foundation, setting the identity

After years of foiled finals appearances, Jaworski and Ginebra would finally make it to the top of the mountain. Alongside two of the greatest imports ever, Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett, Ginebra would win the 1986 open conference against Manila Beer. This is also the year wherein Michael Hackett would break the scoring record when he logged in103 points in one single game.

The passion of the Ginebra fans towards their team would not only be isolated to the locals but to their imports as well. If you have noticed, the name “Hackett” has been thrown around whenever there is a black Filipino who plays the basketball game well. In fact, a man has even named his son after the legendary import.

“Yung anak ko pinanglaan ko sa kanya Hackett” said Avelino Ramos, a 51 year old Ginebra fan. “Yun yung kainitan nun ni Michael Hackett, yung malakas na import ng Ginebra”

After winning the championship with Hackett and Bates in 1986, Ginebra would then be in 6 finals appearances from 1988 to 1991, winning 3 of them. The most memorable one probably would be their last championship in 1991 against the Benjie Paras-led Formula Shell, when they were carrying the name Anejo Rhum 65ers.

After the controversial finish in the 1990 finals wherein the final game resulted in a walkout by the Anejo Rhum, Jaworski and his crew would find themselves down 1 win against 3 in a best of seven series against Shell. Facing an almost impossible task of winning the final three games of the series, Jaworski and the Anejo pulled through, with the seventh game being a memorable one.

Rudy Distrito, a guy more known for his dirty tactics and his off court issue with murder, was the man who made it all memorable. With the game tied with 5 seconds to go, Rudy Distrito made the shot of his life

Everyone alive at that time would always remember that very moment, wherein Rudy Distrito drove to the baseline and made a tough tough shot to break the game’s deadlock. No one will ever forget this quote from Sev Sarmienta

“Distrito.. all the way, yes! Yes! Ginebra with a two point lead!”

However, this would mark the final championship that Ginebra would win in more than 6 years.


After a remarkable display of guts and the patented never say die attitude that Jaworski instilled on the Ginebra team in the late 80s and the early 90s, the team’s popularity grew even more. From the carry-over fans of Jaworski in his Toyota days to the new converts in his Ginebra days, the “Barangay” was already in the making.

The thing that makes this fanbase so special is that it is passed from one generation to another. It is like mandatory for Ginebra fans to pass-on that die-hard fan mentality to the next generation

“Nagstart yun (Being a die hard Ginebra fan) sa tita ko. Sinasama ako sa mga ball games ng ginebra, si jaworski pa nun, mura pa lang dun, nakita ko kung pano naglaro ang gin kings, laging underdogs pero panalo…” Leo Miraran, a 4th year Communication Arts student from Letran said.

And now everyone can see one thing that Ginebra has over the other teams in the PBA. It is actual continuity from one generation of fans to another. Sure, there are teams which could have many fans as of the moment because of a particular player, much like what the Purefoods franchise underwent during the time of Alvin Patrimonio and what they are undergoing through now with James Yap at helm, but none of these teams, not even the other San Miguel Corporation teams, can claim that they’ve had fans from one generation to another.

And it is evident even in the present context. Families are treating Ginebra games as bonding times, with parents bringing in their kids with ages ranging from 2 to 10 to watch live Ginebra games, especially during Sundays or crucial games much like Championships or do or die games in the playoffs. That kind of practice allows the continuity from one generation to another to appreciate the game, and to have the same passion to cheer for the team. Again, no other team in the PBA can claim that.

So that explains it. Robert Jaworski was born, he gained fans for his unmatchable fighting spirit and never say die attitude, the Ginebra team was formed, Jawo joined Ginebra, the old Ginebra fans then would then instigate their offspring to cheer for the said team and that could be the sole reason why Ginebra still remains as the undisputed kings in the hearts of the Filipino fans. Correct?


It is wrong on all accounts. A team will never ever survive on one player alone. Sure, Jawo could have set the identity for Ginebra, but it is not enough to explain why the popularity still carries on today. Just imagine what the Los Angeles Lakers franchise would be if Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal didn’t come after Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired? That is why it just proper to mention the other guys who played with Jawo, under Jawo as the coach and carry on after Jaworski retired.

All the other pieces pt. 1

During Jawo’s stint as a playing coach, Ginebra was given the identity of being a rag and tag team. A team that will never give easy baskets, a team that will give you a hard time from the opening tip up to the final buzzer, think of the Detroit Pistons during the time of Isiah Thomas and Chuck Daly. That was Ginebra’s style back then. But who are the men responsible for helping Jaworski carry on with that style and win a few championships? Let’s name a few.

Francis Arnaiz – Francis Arnaiz never won a championship in Ginebra with Jawo, but Mr.Clutch has been alongside Jaworski ever since his Toyota days. It is imperative to note that Arnaiz was one of the most explosive guards during that time.

Chito Loyzaga – Known as the “Dynamite”, Chito Loyzaga is considered as one of the toughest defenders in the history of the PBA. Chito became a crucial part of Jawo’s rotation, being a rare versatile bigman who can play and guard all five positions and has a sweet touch from the outside. He was named into the PBA’s All-Defensive Team from 1985 to 1992.

Dante Gonzalgo – Known as the “Bicol Express” Gonzalgo was the third piece in Ginebra’s 1-2-3 punch during their winning stretch in the late 80s up to the early 90s.

Rudy Distrito – Well, maybe when someone is called the Destroyer, there isn’t much explanation needed right? Rudy Distrito, as a testament to his monicker was a player who flourished under the rag and tag style of Ginebra. He was there for one reason and one reason only. Keep things physical.

Leo Isaac – Before being one of the most annoying commentators in the history of the league, Isaac was an integral part of the Jaworski rotation during their 1986 championship. He was a guy who almost always creates mismatches mainly because he was a tad bigger than most of his defenders during that time.

Dondon Ampalayo – The magic man won three championships with Jawo and was known for his versatility. This is a guy who will make a defender look bad in the post, and will step out up to the three point line to take crucial three point shots.

Mama Mamaril – Ginebra’s resident bigman at that time, the father of Billy Mamaril never backed down from anyone, despite his lanky frame. Mama Mamaril was often noted for his defence and his hustle.

Those were just some of the players which played a crucial role in creating the foundations and the winning traditions of the Barangay. These men worked hand in hand in creating the fanbase that there is today.

Transition Period

Everyone’s got to grow old at one point. Dynasties will fall, kings cannot be kings forever. And that was the case with the Ginebra team after the 1991 Championships.

Hampered by injuries and age, Ginebra went on a slump for 6 years. Old players got traded, some of them retired, new faces entered the team but Robert Jaworski just could not find the magic that he presented during their winning ways in the late 80s.

But things would slowly change after years of disappointments

In 1996 Point Guard Bal David was picked up by Ginebra from the free agent market after being waived by Sankist in 1995. Also in that year, Ginebra drafted 6’9 behemoth Marlou Aquino who was already creating waves in the amateurs. In that same year, David and Aquino would complete the lineup that Jawo needed in order to get back to winning ways, alongside former first pick Noli Locsin, Ateneo stars Vince Hizon and Jayvee Gayoso and scoring machine Pido Jarencio.

In 1996, Ginebra got back on track. In the Commissioner’s cup, Ginebra made the semi-finals with the help of sweet shooting NBA veteran Henry James as their import, though they lost to Formula Shell via a heartbreaking buzzer beater by Kenny Redfield.

In the Governor’s cup of the same year, Ginebra finally made it to the finals but once again came up short in the end. Ginebra lost to five games against Alaska who won the most coveted grandslam at that year.

Gordon’s Gin Boars and resurgence

After a disappointing loss to Alaska during the last conference, Ginebra would be renamed to Gordon’s Gin Boars and after strong showings in the previous two conferences, The Boars would now be considered as contenders.

It was considered as the comeback season for the franchise. The fans were back at full throttle and the Boars definitely didn’t disappoint as the season was filled with memorable moments such as this one..

“Tatlong Segundo, lamang ang San Miguel ng dalawa.. wala ng timeout ang Ginebra, binato ni Bal David.. PASOK! PASOK!”

No one who watched that game live will ever forget that moment. By that time, Robert Jaworski was rarely playing and was focused more on coaching. The Boars were down by 2 points, with 3 seconds left without any timeouts on their side. This forced Ginebra to inbound from the other side of the court, and look at the heavens and ask for a miracle to win the game.

Prayer answered.

The never say die spirit is back at full force again.

Although Gordon’s Gin would end the conference on a disappointing note, losing in six games against the Alvin Patrimonio-led Purefoods, Gordon’s Gin would bounce back in the Commissioner’s cup as they would finally win the coveted PBA title after six long years.

Powered by another NBA veteran Chris King Ginebra would overpower San Miguel in the Semis, ending it with a 106-100 win in a double overtime thriller. In the finals, they would face archrivals Alaska, but this time around it was Gordon’s winning at the end, taking the series in 6 tough games against Alaska.

All the other pieces pt.2

Ginebra would regain its glory days during its stint as the Gordon’s Gin Boars. Again, during that time, Robert Jaworski was already contented to coaching and almost all of the original members of the Ginebra championship team during Jawo’s time have already retired.  It’s time to introduce you to the men who was a part of Ginebra’s resurgence during the late 90s.

Marlou Aquino – The Skycraper was a force back then. Say what you want to say about the man right now but back then he was an absolute beast on the low block. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1996 and was really responsible for Ginebra’s turnaround.

Bal David – Aside from being known as Marlou’s partner in the amateurs while playing for Stagg, David was beloved by Ginebra fans all over the Philippines because of his clutch plays and the energy that he displays on the court.

Vince Hizon – The Prince, as some people would call him, would become one of the most famous PBA players during his stint. A part of it could be because of his dashing good looks, but give the man some credit because he can play ball. He’s best known for his outside shooting and finesse.

Noli Locsin – Often undersized in the power forward position, the Tank filled that size gap with pure strength and skill. Noli Locsin was a consistent low post threat during his time with Jaworski, although he began to fade out as soon as he parted ways with Jawo.

Jayvee Gayoso – Known to most Ginebra fans as Mr. Adrenaline, Jayvee Gayoso would always be remembered for hitting the toughest perimeter shots when it matters the most.

Pido Jarencio – Before coaching the UST Growling Tigers to a 2006 UAAP basketball title, Pido was known for his ability to put the ball in the basket. He was one of the most lethal shooters during that time and was basically the go to guy during the dark ages of Ginebra.

The end of an era

During the 1998 Philippine Elections, Robert Jaworski decided to run as a Senator. And thankfully for him, his popularity in the hardwood carried on to the said elections. Jaworski won a post in the 11th Congress of the Philippines as a Senator, garnering about 9,000,000 votes or 30.6 percent of the voters during the elections.

It then created a conflict between his coaching career and his career in the Philippine Senate. As a result, Robert Jaworski took a leave of absence from coaching and handed over the coaching chores to Rino Salazar.

While on the leave of absence, team owner Danding Cojuangco decided to hire San Miguel’s Allan Caidic as a player-assistant coach. The move angered Robert Jaworski as he felt passed over because he was not informed of the team owner’s decision.

Robert Jaworski then surprised everyone by resigning as the head coach of Ginebra and officially turned over the coaching chores to Rino Salazar for good.

At age 52, the resignation of Jawo should not come off as a surprise. After all, he’s been in the league ever since its inception in 1975. But, because of his love for the game, maybe everyone expected Jaworski to stay for as long as well, maybe for as long as he’s still alive. That’s the impression that Robert Jaworski left on the court and that’s why it came off as a surprise when he decided to finally resign from the house that he once built.

The effect of Jaworski’s sudden resignation was not only confined to the Ginebra franchise but the whole Philippine Basketball Association as well. The PBA felt the impact of the absence of a Robert Jaworski, who was the face of the league ever since it all began and all of a sudden, without warning, he’s got no business or whatsoever with the league anymore.

But just like any other organization, just like any other franchise, just like how the Chicago Bulls was when Michael Jordan left them, as cliché as it may sound the show must go on, not only for the Ginebra franchise but for the PBA as well.

Enter, the Barangay Ginebra Kings

It was another transition period for the Gin Kings who was suddenly looking for an identity after the loss of Jaworski. The franchise once again ran into tough and hard times, ending dead last in 1999 All Filipino Conference, securing the unenviable task of facing the Mobiline Phone Pals who was the best team after the eliminations. Needing to beat them twice in order to advance, the never-say-die mentality of Ginebra once again showed.

After pulling off an upset in the first game, Ginebra was down in a 20 point hole early in the second game, but that never-say-die attitude instilled by Jaworski re-surfaced. The team bounced back from the hole, leading to one of the most memorable finishes in PBA history.

With Mobiline ahead by just a single point with 2 seconds to go, Ginebra had one final shot to complete the biggest upset in PBA history by beating Asi Taulava and the top seeded Mobiline Phonepals.

Timeout Ginebra.

After mapping out their play during the timeout, it was time for execution.

Noli Locsin with the inbound, Marlou Aquino frees up Bal David with a screen, David receives the ball. David goes baseline, spins around his defender and took the shot just enough to beat the buzzer…

Bang. It hits glass, and it goes in.

Ginebra pulls it off again. But this time, without the man who instilled the never-say-die attitude giving them instructions from the bench.

The moment was made even more memorable when after the game the camera flashed towards Asi Taulava, a 6’9 powerhouse Center and he was seen crying. What made it memorable? Name one situation where in a 250 pound, 6’9 man cried because of the actions of a lanky 5’7 guy. See. This one’s for the books.

Despite Ginebra pulling the upset in the quaterfinals, they would still end up losing to the eventual champions Shell in the Semifinals. After that, most of the team members of the 1998 Championship would be traded, as the management decided to revamp its line-up. Despite of all the memorable things that happened after Jaworski left, the fact remains that Ginebra still has a long way to go before they regain back the glory days of the late 80s and 90s.

Vince Hizon left for the Metropolitan Basketball Association, Noli Locsin and Marlou Aquino would get traded for Jun Limpot and Vergel Meneses. Bal David would get sidelined with injuries and it’s all back to scratch for the Ginebra franchise.

A spark, out of nowhere

In the 2001 PBA Draft, Ginebra pulled of a surprise when they drafted Mark Caguioa. It was a gamble for most analysts at that time because no one was really familiar with the game of Mark Caguioa. Little did they know that Mark Caguioa, was to become the modern day Robert Jaworski for the Barangay Ginebra Kings.

The thing is, there is always a player in Ginebra wherein an opposing fan or team would love to hate. Robert Jaworski was that man during his time on the court and Mark Caguioa was his predecessor. Mark Caguioa’s cocky antics to go along with his overall talents as a basketball player would just be enough to be the crowd darling for Ginebra fans and to be the most hated player on the other side of the fence.

Mark Caguioa’s entry to the team gave the team the much needed offensive sparkplug that they have been looking for. His demeanour on the court elevates the game of his team and energizes the crowd at the same time. Caguioa’s addition helped the team in reaching the 2001 All Filipino Conference finals, something that Ginebra hasn’t done since the 1997-1998 season. Caguioa would also win the 2001 Rookie of the Year award.

Though they eventually lost to San Miguel, things are now looking brighter for the crowd darlings.

To further build a team around Mark Caguioa, Ginebra acquired Eric Menk from Air 21, picked Rommel Adducul in the 2003 PBA Draft and got Jayjay Helterbrand back to form the lethal backcourt combination called the Fast and the Furious that will dominate the league for years.

A Fast and Furious Run

After finally getting comfortable with the system, Ginebra’s rebuilding paid off. In the 2004-2005 Season, with everybody healthy and ready to play, the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings would finally win a title after 7 long years, but it didn’t come easy. Ginebra struggled early in the tournament and ended up seventh after the eliminations, forcing them to go through the tough wildcard phase.

And the result?

One of the sweetest display of heart and resilience from a basketball club.

Ginebra would come back from a 21 point deficit in an elimination wildcard game against Sta.Lucia which got them a ticket to the quaterfinals stage where in they have to win atleast two games to qualify for the semis. After winning 2-1, they survived a nail-biting 3 game series against powerhouse Talk and Text. And in the finals, they defeated Red Bull Barako in 4 games to win their first championship in 7 years.

For a team who only won 7 out of 18 games in the eliminations, that is feat.

In the Philippine Conference, Ginebra would once again flex it muscles this time by starting off strong in the eliminations, eventually getting the top seed and an automatic semifinals berth. In the semis, they outlasted sister team San Miguel in a 5 game series, winning by just having an average margin of 5 points per game. In the finals, they proved that last conference was no fluke as they defeated the Talk and Text Phonepals in 6 games, winning their first back to back championships in the history of the franchise. Eric Menk was named the most valuable player for the season, sealed by two finals MVP awards.

In the next two years Ginebra would prove to be contenders for the title but would always come up short in the Semis. But in the 2006 PBA Philippine Cup, Ginebra would win its 3rd title in 3 years. Led by the Fast and the Furious tandem of Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand, Ginebra would comeback from a 0-2 deficit in the finals and then win 4 straight to seal the deal. Jayjay Helterbrand was named the Finals MVP and Mark Caguioa was then named the best player of the conference.

Ginebra was thought to struggle n the 2007 Fiesta Cup when three of their best players, Mark Caguioa, Jayjay Helterbrand and Eric Menk would be loaned to the national team. Rudy Hatfield, their energetic power forward, would also leave the country because of personal matters. But thanks to the prolific scoring of their import Rod Nealy and a string of role players who played their hearts out every game, the crowd favourite exceeded expectations.

Though they eventually got eliminated by San Miguel in the quaterfinals, the thousands of Ginebra fans ended up satisfied with the way their team performed.

Ginebra would then bounce back next season, this time by bringing a HUGE reinforcement.

Ginebra struggled to find a suitable reinforcement for them early in the season. After experimenting with two imports, they settled down with 7’1 D-League prospect, Chris Alexander. Alexander would then catapult them into winning 13 straight games, including a sweep in the semifinals against bitter rivals Barako Bull to give Ginebra their 4th championship appearance in 4 years.

Winning the title for Ginebra was not easy as they were hampered by injuries all through out the season. With their skipper, Ronald Tubid, questionable for the series and Jayjay Helterbrand getting injured in the second game, the aspirations of winning their 4th championship in 4 years were getting pale against a young and talented Air 21 team.

But thanks to the efforts of Chris Alexander and the heroics of Ronald Tubid who returned surprisingly in the 4th game, Ginebra was able to get over the hurdles of injuries and win a thrilling 7 game series. This marked the 4th championship in 4 years for the Kings.

Ginebra is yet to win a title after the thrilling 7 game series against Air 21. Much like the past Ginebra teams, age and injuries eventually caught up with them. They had a finals appearance in the 2009 Fiesta Conference, but lost to sister team San Miguel in a pulsating 7 game series. In the 2010 season Ginebra only ranked 4th and 5th in the two conferences respectively.

The present context

And listen to the crowd roar! One can only imagine the famous Sev Sarmienta scream that quote at the top of his lungs in the middle of a do or die semi-finals basketball game against sister team San Miguel…


Hear it. Feel it. Come along with it. Twenty-thousand fans inside the coliseum, cheering, jeering and screaming for their favourite team.


Listen to the crowd roar. Savour it. Feel it. Enjoy it.

A different ending? Not quite.

It is still the same disappointing end that came upon the team during the past 3 years.

Much like the great teams in the past, age and injuries will eventually catch up with them. And much like the situations in the past, the crowd will always be behind the team..

.. no matter the frustrations, the disappointments and the anger.

It’s been 26 years since Robert Jaworski first wore a Ginebra uniform. Great championship teams in the past are long gone, from his time to the time of the Loyzagas, the Aquinos, the Davids and the Caguioas. But, Robert Jaworski was able to build an identity that will always be distinguished to the house that he built and was upheld by the players that preceded him.

And until that identity of having a never-say-die spirit comes to an end, always expect to hear the crowd roar..


Savour it, hear it, feel it, enjoy it.

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