It’s sort of hard to put into perspective that Jimmy Alapag is approaching his TENTH year as a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) player.
I remember that January 12 afternoon at the Glorietta Activity Center when the headliner was not the drafting of prized De La Salle University point guard Mike Cortez nor the influx of highly-touted talent from the recently defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) led by second overall pick Rommel Adducul, but the unforeseen trade consummated only that day that sent 1998 PBA MVP Kenneth Duremdes to Sta. Lucia for the Realtors’ fifth overall pick—which eventually turned out to be Brandon Cablay.
ALSO READ: Some Game 1 observations
We at the media table were still buzzing about the implications of the shocker and why the Aces would give up arguably their heart and soul for an unheralded rookie. The next “buzz” came after the Coca-Cola Tigers had announced their pick, ninth overall in Reynel Hugnatan. It wasn’t so much the drafting of Hugnatan that created the ruckus, but the collective celebratory cheers that came from the side of Talk n’ Text (the Phonepals at the time), as their representatives hurriedly climbed the stage to have their tenth pick known to all: Jimmy Alapag from the University of California-San Bernardino. Eventually, the man who would be known as “Mighty Mouse” would go on to claim the Rookie of the Year plum; the lowest draft pick to ever snare the title until eventual teammate Larry Fonacier in 2005-06.
Over a decade later, Alapag is still making waves in the pro hoops circuit; winning five championships with Talk n’ Text and picking up three Mythical team selections, nine All-Star appearances, an All-Defensive Team inclusion and an MVP award, among others.
Now that he has climbed to THIRD ALL-TIME in 3-point FGs made and maybe on the cusp of yet another Philippine Cup championship, some are now making a case for this diminutive cager as being acclaimed as “The Best Point Guard in PBA History”.
This is a bold statement. The devoted fans of such greats like Robert Jaworski, Hector Calma, Ronnie Magsanoc, Johnny Abarrientos and even Olsen Racela will be quick to dispute this. In fact, if you consider Ricardo Brown as a point guard—which he was in his playing years with the Gokongwei franchise—then mentioning Alapag in the same breath as these elite gentlemen could even be deemed as sacrilegious.
My question is: why not?
As far as achievements go, Alapag is one of only five point guards (if you include Brown) to ever win the MVP trophy. With all due respect, Magsanoc, Calma and Racela never did that. Among all active PBA players, Alapag is the highest on the list in the all-time assists category; the one true stat that determines a point guard’s value. He still has time to catch other pertinent numbers in his career, which may continue for at least another five years.
“It’s sunk in a bit that it’s been ten years,” Alapag told me in an “interview” with him on Twitter via Direct Messaging. “I find myself having a deeper appreciation for everything that I’ve been blessed with; from my coaches, teammates, the fans, and of course, the support from my wife (actress/entrepreneur LJ Moreno) and family. It’s just amazing how fast time really does fly.”
When Alapag burst into the national consciousness as a pro in 2003, he had veteran pivot Asi Taulava and co-rookie Harvey Carey helping him form the foundations of today’s Tropang Texters. Now with a vaunted line-up of experience from Ali Peek, Ranidel de Ocampo and youth in such stalwarts such as Larry Fonacier, Jason Castro and Jared Dillinger, Alapag is now reaping the fruits of his decade-long toil with the same organization that took him in when nine other franchises snubbed him that historic January afternoon almost ten years ago.
“(To be mentioned) in the same class as The Big J (Jaworski), Johnny A., Brown, Olsen, Ronnie and the rest, (I am) truly honored,” Alapag professes. “They set the bar. Through their accomplishments, it set a standard for the rest of us (point guards) to try to achieve the same, or even try to raise the bar higher.”
Another turning point in the struggle to be the best point guard in the league came when Alapag developed a fierce rivalry with Baranggay Ginebra’s heady Jay-Jay Helterbrand, which saw the latter copping the 2008-09 MVP award.
“We (Helterbrand) had many classic battles and always seemed to bring the best out of each other,” Alapag reminisces. “His MVP season pushed me to work even harder because he was playing at a level I wanted to get to. (I) always had a lot of respect for him. I always felt he and I played with the same fire to compete and win.”
When the topic of determining the greatest point guard in PBA history arises, however, notice how even Kings fans will not even mention Helterbrand’s name—in respect to the individuals mentioned above. But people don’t balk at having Jimmy’s name said—as long as the list is a TOP FIVE and not THE GREATEST ONE.
This is a sensitive issue that might open a whole new can of worms.
Many will argue that Alapag falls into the same category as guys like LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado, JVee Casio and even Paul Lee. I will say that that is not an accurate comparison of where Jimmy is and what he has achieved.
So are we comfortable placing Jimmy Alapag among the icons of the league?
Air 21 head coach Franz Pumaren had an astute answer: “It’s hard to select just one to be called ‘The Greatest Point Guard in PBA History’ because they all played in different generations,” he explains. “Jaworski worked with Francis Arnaiz and then there was also (Crispa’s) Bernie Fabiosa in the 1970’s. In the 1980’s Hector (Calma) was the benchmark, then came Ronnie (Magsanoc). In the 1990’s Johnny (Abarrientos) showed the way, then Jimmy and Mike Cortez became the new crop. Now it’s LA (Tenorio) and JVee (Casio). It’s a difficult undertaking. There will always be debates.”
Stats-wise, Jaworski will apparently always own the all-time in total assists while Abarrientos’ career total of 1,358 steals will be a monumental record to topple, even for “The Snatcher” himself as Wynne Arboleda is sitting on eighth on the all-time list; a good 600+ thefts behind. Jaworski and Abarrientos, along with Magsanoc, Calma, Racela and company have all retired, however. Alapag now has a “clear-path” to these numbers. If he continues at his present pace of logging more than 32 minutes a game for the next five years, will he be in line to being heralded as the Greatest Point Guard in PBA History?
Alapag’s résumé is starting to become hefty and significant. Another Philippine Cup title and perhaps another Finals MVP recognition may just push him to be among the elite. But will he ever be considered The Greatest Point Guard in PBA History? I think that is up to us.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.