By Carlo Pamintuan
Last Wednesday night, I was at the Araneta Coliseum to cheer for B-Meg. My team won but I left with a heavy heart.
With a little over two minutes left in Game 2 ROS-B-Meg, PJ Simon collared a rebound of a Rain or Shine miss. The Llamados led by 5 points at that point. There was no need to panic, no need to rush anything for the Elasto Painters. There was ample time to get back into the game with a couple of stops. But you can’t tell Paul Lee that. You can’t tell him to give up on this possession and focus on the next one. That’s just not how he’s built. He wants it here and he wants it now. With the ball firmly in Simon’s grasp, Paul aimed to swat it away. He reached for the ball and apparently re-injured his shoulder in the process.
Paul collapsed to the floor; pain was plastered on his face. In hindsight, it was clearly a bad decision. A swipe at the ball caused him to miss the most crucial stretch of that game. It might even cause him to miss the rest of the series. Should you blame Paul for trying to steal the ball? Was it a cheap swat that could cost his team dearly?
After Paul appeared to re-injure his shoulder, I momentarily forgot which team I was rooting for. I remember cursing and feeling I was punched in the gut. A few seconds after, chants of “iyakin” filled the coliseum. I know this is the last thing Paul wants to be called. Sabihan mo nang mayabang. Sabihan mo nang feeling. ‘Wag mo lang siyang sasabihang duwag o iyakin.
In the tough streets of Raxabago, Tondo, in Paul Lee's home court, if you get hit, you hit them back. If you’re thrown to the floor, you pick yourself up and play again. You don’t cry. You don’t go home to tell Nanay. You continue playing or your get the hell off the court.
The guy in front of me shouted, "Acting lang yan!" A part of the crowd was jeering Paul. I was distraught. I wanted to get up and tell them that Paul is a good guy. I wanted them to understand that his “angas” does not spill off the basketball court. I wanted them to understand that Paul is not the kind of player who’d shy away from the crucial moments of the game by faking an injury. Someone asked so everyone could hear, “Sa balikat na-injure bakit di makalakad?” He’s down because it hurts. He’s not playing because he can’t.
Paul Lee dropped a great line when I visited him in Tondo for an interview a few months ago. I'll never forget it. “Dito sa amin bawal ang iyakin.” I went there not knowing what to expect. Media has given Tondo a bad rep for as long as I can remember. I’ve also known Paul Lee as a cocky player who plays with his heart on his sleeve. I thought Tondo was dangerous. I thought Paul was smug. I was glad to be proven wrong on both accounts.
Paul told me then that he wanted to win a championship so that the people of Raxabago, Tondo can look up to him and be proud that one of them made it. Now he needs to dig deep and re-learn all the lessons the tough life has taught him. He either forces himself to play or he forcibly abandons the only thing he wants to do. It will be a hard decision to make. Even for a tough guy like Paul Lee, it will be painful either way. CP