I wrote this post ins 2014. Back then Ginebra was a team in transition. They were moving away from the era of the Fast and the Furious and into the Twin Towers era. I thought that Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand were close to hanging up their legendary jerseys.
Here we are, three years and one championship later. Caguioa and Helterbrand aren’t so fast and furious anymore. But they adapted their games and accepted new roles in a totally different team. In my opinion, the Fast and the Furious are just as hungry as they were when I wrote this article three years ago.
Flashback to Ginebra’s last game in the Philippine Cup: San Mig Coffee opened up a double-digit lead heading into the second quarter. At that point, it looked like the Mixers were going to run away with game seven of their semifinals matchup. Enter Mark Caguioa.
The Spark single-handedly brought Ginebra back into the game thanks to one of his signature scoring barrages. But looking closely at how he scored, there was something noticeably different. He wasn’t hitting fade-aways, pull-ups and floaters like everyone was used to. Caguioa was scoring from the free-throw line, off offensive rebounds and broken plays.
This wasn’t beautiful basketball. It was gritty. It was dirty. It was primal. Watching Caguioa during that second quarter stretch was like watching a trapped bear gnawing its leg off. There was a sense of desperation, a damning rage in his game.
Ginebra would go on to lose that do-or-die game. PJ Simon exploded in the fourth quarter and blew out the Barangay. A footnote to that game seven win by San Mig Coffee was Simon’s defender during that searing-hot scoring run: Jay-jay Helterbrand.
A lot of people would look at that match-up and see how Helterbrand was overmatched. The younger, more athletic Simon just dominated him repeatedly. But the flipside of that match-up was how Helterbrand, ever so cooly, accepted the assignment and gallantly faced Simon without question or complaint.
Helterbrand was put in a terrible situation but made no qualms about it. He was a faithful soldier that was sent on a suicide mission. He stood his ground and played good defense. Simon was just unstoppable that night.
This season is an important season for Ginebra. They are a team in transition. Caguioa and Helterbrand are old school muscle cars that are running alongside newer, faster, younger models.
In this year’s Philippine Cup, Ginebra unveiled the Twin Towers, their new weapons Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar. The offense changed decidedly, with a lot of the action running through the two beasts inside. Additionally, LA Tenorio has taken up a larger responsibility as point guard of the team. He has slowly adopted a leadership role and is bit-by-bit living up to his moniker as Ginebra’s Gineral. Chris Ellis and Mac Baracael have also emerged in the past few conferences as versatile players on both ends of the floor. Looking ahead to the Commissioner’s Cup, Ginebra has recruited a hotshot import in Leon Rodgers to ramp up their scoring even further.
Examining this Ginebra line-up, one sees them stacked to the brim with talent, oozing with firepower and ready to run with young legs.
Two years ago, Caguioa and Helterbrand would have fit into this roster perfectly. In fact, they would have been leading the charge, running and gunning on the break. Caguioa would have been attacking the basket hard with Helterbrand bombing away from the outside.
However, in the past few conferences, they’ve lost a step in their game. Age and injuries have reduced some of their horsepower. It begs to be asked, how much do The Fast and The Furious have left in their tank?
The obvious move for Caguioa and Helterbrand is to take a step back and let the kids run the show. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Let Tenorio, Slaughter and Aguilar do the heavy lifting. After all, there’s enough talent in the team to get them back in the playoffs right?
The Fast and The Furious aren’t aiming for just another playoff exit. They want another championship, possibly their last one together.
This is why looking back at game seven of the Manila Clasico semifinals series, there was a poetic irony with how Caguioa and Helterbrand boldly fought back. Even if reason dictates otherwise, Ginebra still needs them. The young guns still rely heavily on the old guard.
The beautiful thing about athletes getting older is that age strips them of everything else and reveals them at their bare form. Underneath all the scoring, swagger and accolades, Caguioa and Helterbrand are warriors. They’re not going to ride off in the sunset gracefully. The Fast and The Furious will continue to rebel against age, against doubters. They will continue to race on, hoping that their defiance will win them one last ring.