Kelly Nabong: The Good Guy I Never Knew

Editor’s Note: Unknown to many, I first met Carla Lizardo not as a courtside reporter but as a writer. Back when I was still working for GMAnews.tv, I was able to work with her on For The Win and she was invited because of her coverage of the collegiate basketball scene. Thankfully, she has decided to write again. With her access to PBA players and coaches, I’m sure this is the first of many she’d write as Carla has a lot of amazing stories to tell.

Written by Carla Lizardo

I’ve always been a little bit scared of Kelly Nabong.

As a courtside reporter of the PBA, I’ve heard stories about him getting into in-game scuffles in the past and I’m also a witness to his on-court intensity. However, I never had an impression beyond that because I never actually got the chance to talk with him in my three years on the job. That’s probably because I was too nervous.

 It didn’t help that I was working on the sidelines during the infamous Meralco Bolts game last Governor’s Cup where Kelly got into a heated confrontation with coach Jimmy Alapag. It was that game when he furiously ripped his jersey in half, stayed at the end of the bench, and angrily refused to join any of the huddles until the game was over.

 I remember my floor director telling me to try and get a report right after the incident. I went over to the side of the Meralco bench, where a fuming Kelly was shouting for some water.

I chickened out.

He was so angry at that moment that I kinda felt like if he saw me creeping around he would shout at me too.

One season later, and with Kelly joining a new team, I finally gathered up the guts to ask for an interview.  I hesitantly knocked on Globalport’s locker room door and asked if I could ask him a couple of questions. He came out with a big smile on his face and immediately obliged. He was very accommodating, and I was pleasantly surprised.

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 I started things off lightly, asking about his transition to his new team. He shared that he’s thankful for the trust given to him by coach Pido Jarencio and the GlobalPort management. “They give me more than 30 minutes a game so the least I could do is perform for them,” he said. He’s definitely been impressive so far, averaging a double-double of 12.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

 Stats aside, one thing that has really stood out for me this conference is Kelly’s calmness on the court. Despite the increasing physicality of the games, he’s been unfazed by fouls and calls. He’s been the absolute picture of Zen.

 Kelly told me that he hasn’t taken any additional measures to be more laid-back. “I am actually a very calm person until something kicks in my head that I really don’t like,” he opened up. “Whatever happened before with Meralco, I’ve put that in the past. The week after that, I was pissed off. I was hurt and I was mad. But after a week, I kinda just realized that everything happens for a reason and I just have to move forward from there. Because if I keep thinking about it, it’s going to take me ten steps back instead of two steps forward.”

 His new coaches agree that people may have been putting too much emphasis on the past – negative incidents that do not truly reflect who Kelly is. They say that his intensity on the court stems from his desire to win and his passion for the game, not from a bad attitude. That’s why they’ve placed their trust in him to be one of the leaders for their young team.

 As fate would have it, the day that I got to talk to Kelly was when faced his former team, Meralco.  I asked him about his former teammates and he only had nice things to say. Pointing out, “There’s absolutely no bad blood between me and Meralco. I love those players.”

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We were still standing outside the locker rooms talking as the Bolts were heading in for their halftime huddle. Kelly gave each and every single one of those guys a hug, a chest bump, or a high five. There were smiles all around, though they knew they would soon meet on the court.

When Kelly finally faced off against his former team, he ended up with a 17-point, 17-rebound performance to lead GlobalPort to a victory. He had a physical matchup with Reynel Hugnatan, but there was laughter in between plays. He was also there to help when someone from the Bolts who ended up on the floor. During postgame interviews, he reassured everyone – this was not a revenge game. It was his desire to win. Nothing more, nothing less.

So that’s how I finally got to know a bit more about Kelly Nabong. And it only took one ten minute conversation to make me realize that it was completely silly to be afraid of him. I admit that I’m guilty of being one of those people who ended up focusing too much on the negative. Turns out, he’s actually one of the nicest guys in the PBA.

All photos are from PBA Images

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