FTS TBT: Allein Maliksi’s Road to Recovery

One of the things we wanted to do here in FTS is to look back at some of the articles we’ve written in the past. For the first FTS Throwback Thursday post, I picked Allein Maliksi as he’s about to play his first international game tomorrow with Gilas Pilipinas. Looking back, it’s astounding how many challenges he faced in the past to finally get this opportunity to play for flag and country. But has Allein posted on his Instagram account earlier this week: The secret of success in life is to be ready when the opportunity comes (Benjamin Disraeli).

Published on GMA News Online on October 2, 2013

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Allein Maliksi walked into an Ortigas coffee shop without a limp. The reports about his health had been bleak. The MRI suggested that it was a torn ACL and a sprained MCL, a combination that would take Allein six to eight months before he could be ready for basketball again. The clouds were starting to darken when he arrived. Last Sunday, dark clouds also hung over him and his basketball career when he fell down clutching his knee in pain.

It was a Tuesday afternoon when we met, the same day his San Mig Coffee Mixers battled the Meralco Bolts in game two of their best of five semifinals series. But instead of preparing for their big game, Allein found himself here, talking about what happened and dreaming of what could have been.

In their do-or-die game against the Alaska Aces, Allein drove to his left for a shot. He planted his left knee like he has done throughout his career, a move usually followed by a shot fake and a fadeaway jumper. This time it was different. His left knee gave out as he crumpled to the floor.

“Yung una kong naramdaman yung grabeng pain pero, tinitiis kong hindi sumigaw. Nung replay na nung nangyari dun na ako napasigaw sa sakit,” Allein said. “No!” was all what he mustered to shout as the pain crept from his knee. “Naranasan ko na kasi yung ma-injure sa tuhod. Alam kong mahirap tapos kailangan ko na namang ulitin lahat.”

Back in 2008, after serving a year of residency following his transfer from the University of Manila, Allein was ready to suit up for the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers for the UAAP. Early that season, there were already murmurs in the UAAP community that a deadly scorer was about to make the Tiger offense more dominant.

On a February morning that year, Allein practiced from 5:30 to 8:00am with Team A, but since his coaches thought he could use more seasoning, they required him to play for their Team B in the Home and Away Invitational League barely an hour after practice.

“Kalaban namin yung NU, bantay ko si Jonathan Jahnke,” Allein said, recalling the story like it happened yesterday. “Pagod na kasi ako nung game tapos di pa ako kumakain. Tumalon ako para kumuha ng rebound tapos nag-land ako sa right leg ko lang.” He then demonstrated what happened to his knee using his arms. He line up his fists and quickly moved the one forward while moving the other backward. It was the same motion he used to tell his trainers what happened to him last Sunday. “Umiyak ako nun sa bench. Wala kasi akong alam sa ACL. Akala ko tapos na yung career ko. Iniisip ko na lang ‘Paano na yung pangarap ko? Paano na yung pamilya ko?’”

Allein went through the tour of rehabilitation for torn ACLs. Five months after his injury, he was deemed by doctors as fit for basketball again but they were wrong. He re-injured his ACL in practice, but this time he stayed patient, spending eight months out of action to let it heal completely.

Maliksi’s road to the PBA and the San Mig Coffee Mixers

After he graduated from UST, he turned into a basketball journeyman. He played in the PBL, ABL, and Liga Pilipinas. However, he never got the playing time he needed to make a name for himself. Fate finally smiled on Allein as the PBA D-League opened its doors. He signed up with the Luigi Trillo-coached Cebuana Lhuillier Gems and won the Best Player of the Conference award over the likes of Cliff Hodge, Chris Ellis, and Calvin Abueva. His team however lost to the NLEX Road Warriors, bannered by that aforementioned trio.

Allein was selected eighth by Barako Bull in the 2011 PBA Draft. He was later plucked by Barangay Ginebra. “Mahal ko yung Ginebra,” Allein candidly admitted. “Yung mga coaches parang second fathers ko na. Si Dylan parang kapatid ko na talaga.”

The trade back to Barako Bull caught Allein offguard. However, he had no choice but to accept it. He embraced his role as the primary option on offense, and during the break prior to the Governors’ Cup, coaches of other teams pegged him to be a contender for the Best Player of the Conference award. His inspired play did not go unnoticed as San Mig Coffee immediately traded for him. He was playing and making a bunch of new fans, until tragedy struck again.

“Lahat gagawin ko para makabalik na mas malakas pa, kasi ako ang bread winner ng pamilya ko,” Allein said. “Mahirap yung mga pinagdaanan ko para marating ko yung point na ito kaya di ako papayag na ngayon pa ako susuko.”

It was the perfect ending to his story, the closing quote to a feel good player-with-an-injury-but-a-positive-outlook narrative. Allein, however, was just getting started.

“Yung unang memories ko nung bata ako, yung nakatira kami sa skwater,” Allein shared. It took me aback. I thought I was here to talk to him about his injury, his upcoming operation, and the long road back but Allein knew it would not be enough. If people are to understand the lengths that he will go through just to get back in game shape, they need to know his story.

One of the barsitas walked towards our table. She offered us samples of French bread, the newest food item in their menu. Minutes earlier she also offered us small cups of their new coffee concoction. Allein passed up on both. Food came easy now but it used to be a daily struggle for the PBA player.

“Madalas yung ulam namin asukal lang o yung tsitsirya,” he said. “Di ko nga alam kung paano ako lumaki kasi walang sustanstya yung kinakain ko nung bata ako,” he added with a smile to mask the old pain.

“Yung bahay namin sobrang liit. Yung dingding namin nakasandal sa wall ng La Loma cemetery. Ni wala kaming toilet, yung arinola lang na puti. Tapos pag maliligo ako, kailangang pumila para sa tubig kasi iisa lang yung gripo,” Allein went on. His description of his childhood home felt like it came from old Filipino movies. The end of their stay there, fittingly, followed the script.

“Na-demolish yung bahay namin kaya lumipat kami sa lola ko sa dad ko,” Allein recalled. The space was limited in his lola’s place but she had a small area not in use. Allein and his family had no other choice so they decided to stay. “Alam mo ba yung kural?” Allein asked. I knew exactly what it was but I said no, maybe out of fear for what might come next.

“Parang kulungan ng baboy yun. May mababang dingding tapos may maliit na gate. Yun yung tinayuan namin ng bahay pero di rin kami masyadong nagtagal doon,” he continued. The Maliksi family then moved to his maternal grandparents’ place. Allein took his phone and started browsing. “Alam ko may picture ako nung tinirhan namin,” he said as he swiped through photos.

It was a small room for even a single occupant but Allein’s family of four stayed there for years. Allein stayed there until he made it to the PBA.

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Dual tragedies in life

Most people who know Allein do so because of his PBA stint. Some may know him as a part of the UST Growling Tigers. A select few may even know that he started playing serious basketball only when he was in college at UM. But few knew about his real story.

“Naaalala ko nung nagkasakit yung nanay ko,” Allein said. “Birthday ko nun tapos bigla na lang siyang dinugo. Sabi nung duktor sa amin nakunan daw siya, kaya dinala namin sa Fabella.” His mother was misdiagnosed. It was Stage 3 cervical cancer not a miscarriage. Allein stayed with his mother in the ward, staying up for as long as he could, even after a day in school and basketball practice. “Pinapaypayan ko siya kasi walang electric fan sa ward. Pero paminsan di ko kinakaya, nakakatulog talaga ako. Na-gi-guilty nga lang ako pag-gising ko kasi nakikita kong ang daming kagat ng lamok ng nanay ko.”

With some help from a government agency, Allein’s mother survived. With his mom now out of danger, Allein went back to concentrating on his basketball career.

Some basketball fans may know this is not Allein’s first ACL injury but few know about another tragedy he suffered soon after.

“After nung ACL injury ko, one week akong umiiyak,” Allein admitted. “May kasama ako sa apartment namin pero di ko talaga kinakaya. Tumatalikod na lang ako at nagkukumot para di nila masyadong mapansin na umiiyak ako.” The tears did dry up but it didn’t stay that way for long. “One week after kong ma-injure, na-stroke ang father ko,” he admitted. It was another devastating blow to his rocky life but Allein and the resilient Maliksi family pulled together got through this new trial again.

“Naisipan ko talagang mag-ligang labas kasi iniisip ko yung pera,” he admitted. “Pero inisip ko na lang na maapektuhan yung paglalaro ko sa UST kung mahuli ako.” Allein instead found a loophole. There’s a rule against playing for pay in commercial leagues but there’s no rule for practicing with a private basketball club in exchange for food and allowance.

“Pagkatapos ko sa UST practice, pumupunta pa ako sa Wang’s [Basketball Club],” he said. “May 250 kasi na allowance doon twice a week. Tapos libre na rin yung pagkain ko.” Without support from his sick parents, Allein fended for himself. “Paminsan inaabutan ako ng ibang ka-practice ko. Si Vergel Meneses binigyan ako ng 1,000 dati sobrang saya ko noon kasi pag wala akong pera pati yung tig bente singko na nakikita ko sa daan pinupulot ko. Iniipon ko yun kasi saying rin.”

Everything looked like it was on the upswing for Allein Maliksi. He was an important part of perennial contender. He’s part of the team’s young rotation who will take over when the older guards finish their careers. He’s playing his best basketball and he is up for a new PBA contract. It looked good until an old foe took it all away again.

“Expiring na ako sa October,” Allein said. “Kinakabahan ako kasi nag-loan ako para makabili ng bahay. Tapos ngayon di ako sigurado kung anong mangyayari sa negotiation ng contract ko.” He has all the right in the world to be nervous. Allein did not live a comfortable life until he made it to the PBA. He’s just starting to turn things around for his family and now he suddenly can’t do his job anymore.

The negotiations and his new contract will all be beyond Allein Maliksi’s control. All he knows is that he’ll do everything to come back at an even higher level. “Basta ako sisiguraduhin kong sulit yung paghihintay ng team ko,” Allein said in closing.

He has spent 14 months of his life working to defeat the injury. Now he’s out to fight it for another six to eight months. Most of the time, the problem with players returning from ACL injuries is that they end up being tentative. But according to Allein, San Mig Coffee fans don’t have to worry about that. “Ayokong ma-brand ako na injury-prone pero mas ayoko naman yung sabihan ako na hindi 100 percent. Kaya pagbalik ko galing sa injury na ito, asahan niyo na babalik yung dating laro ko.”

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