Losing Larry

“Nabalitaan mo na ba yung trade?” a colleague told me as I was preparing to cover the game between TNT Katropa and San Miguel Beer.

“Yung kay (JR) Quinahan?” I answered, pertaining to an earlier rumor that the former Extra Rice Inc. member would reunite with coach Yeng Guiao for Sean Anthony and Bradwyn Guinto.

“Hindi lang yun,” he answered back as he told me about a complicated four-team deal involving the three MVP teams with GlobalPort acting as a conduit. It was so complicated that I drew a diagram on a piece of paper.

“So sinong bibigay ng TNT?” I asked. “Larry (Fonacier),” he answered.

I’m not sure if he knew it was already a done deal. I don’t know if he was even aware of the possibility of being traded away.

In the age of new media, sometimes the people involved are the last to know. Coaches have found out they’ve been replaced through Twitter. Players have learned they’d be reporting to new teams through news articles these read on their Facebook wall.

I talked to Ali Peek, who was my analyst for that game on PBA Rush, and it caught him off guard. He’s played with Larry before, even won championships with him. Ali was part of the TNT squad that barely altered their lineup, opting to keep their core intact instead of panicking after tough conferences. Now, TNT was ready to part with one of the players who have helped them become a dynasty not too long ago.

It feels like Larry has been with TNT forever. Like Jimmy Alapag, the Baby-Faced Assassin was a consummate TNT guy. Walang ere. Walang yabang. Walang kaba. Sure, his numbers are down this conference but the same holds true for most of the Katropa with the way minutes are distributed by coach Nash Racela. Larry has proven he can still be effective playing in short spurts.

I honestly thought Larry would retire with TNT. He’s getting up there in age and the quick substitution patterns of coach Nash would extend his career. But I guess we should all stop being surprised about abrupt endings in the PBA. If Jimmy was sent to Meralco, if James Yap was traded away by Star, then anyone else could end up anywhere for any combination of reasons.

But I felt bad. I’ve always been a fan of Larry from his Ateneo days. As a Purefoods fan back in 2005, I was ecstatic when the Chunkee Giants had the opportunity to select him with their 13th pick overall. My happiness lasted up until Purefoods picked….drum roll please… BJ Manalo.

Larry would ultimately make Purefoods pay by helping Red Bull beat them in the 2005-06 Fiesta Conference Finals. Like that was not enough, he made them regret the choice even more by winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year award, made them pay even more.

He was later on traded to Alaska where he helped them beat the San Miguel Beermen in the 2010 Fiesta Conference Finals. Larry would find his way to TNT where he won five more championships.

larry-fonacier-finals-mvp-013012

And there I was about to witness the end of it.

The Katropa, without Jayson Castro, RR Pogoy, and Troy Rosario, were stuck in a tight game against the San Miguel Beermen sans June Mar Fajardo.

Larry hit a three at the 3:25 mark to extend their lead to 12 points, 96-84. But the Beermen remained stubborn. They went on an unbelievable run to cut their deficit down to just 2 points, 100-98.

He hit another three to extend their lead just when the Katropa desperately needed a basket and then he hit another one to put the game away.

But his reaction, or lack thereof, finally convinced me that he knew. Larry didn’t sport his usual sheepish smile. No extended celebrations with his teammates. He was a pro doing his job. He was a man already looking forward to what’s next.

I felt bad because he would have to start again with NLEX. Beyond the win and playoff bonuses that could have been his with another TNT run, I felt bad because I knew Larry was a winner; he has always been a winner, and the NLEX Road Warriors still have a long way to go before they become title threats. With coach Yeng’s track record, I think they’ll get there at some point. Larry will just have to accept that he’ll spend a few of his prime years waiting for a team to get better instead of chasing more rings.

But maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe it was not about TNT not needing Larry anymore. Maybe it was about NLEX needing him more. Maybe the player who has won titles with every team he has ever played for could beat the odds again by continuing that record with NLEX. Maybe we the Baby-Faced Assassin has one more run in him.

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