MANILA, Philippines – Ginebra San Miguel will retire the jersey of its most celebrated basketball player, Robert “The Big J” Jaworski, on July 8.
It is a fitting tribute to the man, the legend and the playing coach who became one of country’s biggest sports icons.
“For so many people out there, salamat po sa inyong lahat sa pagmamahal na ibinibigay n'yo sa akin hanggang ngayon, kahit saan ako pumunta, mapamahirap o mapamayaman,” said the now 66-year-old Jaworski during a press conference arranged by Ginebra San Miguel, Inc. (GSMI) on Friday.
Jaworski led Ginebra to monumental hard court battles that bore 4 championship titles in 13 colorful years.
In appreciation to his contributions to Philippine basketball and popular culture in general, the famed basketball franchise has set a fitting tribute for “The Big J.”
His jersey that bears the legendary No. 7 will be retired after the first game of the PBA semifinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Jaworski said he was surprised when the Ginebra management informed him of the tribute.
“’Yung pong retirement tama po ‘yun sa jersey. Ako po’y ginulat nila, plano ko po’y mag-ensayo para sa 2016 [Olympics] e… malay n’yo po, ‘di ba?” he said.
Before joining the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in 1975, Jaworski made a name for himself by towing the University of the East's Red Warriors to the UAAP championships in 1966 and 1967.
He later became part of the famed PBA team, the Toyota Super Corollas, for 9 seasons and became a vital cog in the squad’s fabled rivalry with the Crispa Redmanizers.
In 1984, he joined Ginebra and turned the team into an overnight sensation with a runner-up finish against Crispa. Jaworski’s name has been tied with the franchise since then.
Ginebra is Jawo, Jawo is Ginebra
GSMI President Benie Marquez said the retirement of the No. 7 jersey is their way of showing how much they appreciate their most popular product endorser.
“Retiring a jersey number is one way of honoring a person for his contributions. We thought that now is the good time for him to receive that honor,” said Marquez.
He added that Jaworski has become synonymous with franchise and the Ginebra brand.
“Kahit saan ka pumunta ngayon, saan mang sulok ng Pilipinas, ‘pag sinabing Jaworski, alam nilang Ginebra. Malaking bagay ang nagawa niya in promoting Ginebra.”
‘Never say die’
For the sports community, Jaworski’s legacy is linked to his dogged determination to success no matter how big the odds are.
“It’s really his spirit. Jaworski is always a fighter, from his college days to his coaching days. He never stopped playing, fighting hanggang kaduluduluhan ng laro,” said former PBA Commissioner Noli Eala.
“‘Yun ang sinasabi nating never-say-die ni Sonny Jaworski.”
Former sports writer and now San Miguel Corp. media officer Jon Hernandez said Jaworski was an influential coach.
He said Jaworski could turn an average player to a very good one through motivation.
“Any player ‘pag nalipat sa Ginebra siguradong nagiging magaling na player. Nai-imbibe nila ‘yung never say attitude ng team,” he said.
“Yung team kasi n’ya hindi naman star studded ‘yan eh. Kaya lang dahil tinatalo nila ‘yung mga goliath, parang underdog sila. Aspirational kasi ang dating nun eh. You can beat all odds kahit na mahina ang team mo. Naka-identify ang masses dun,” Hernandez explained.
Sports columnist Quinito Henson, for his part, told how Jaworski treats his fans.
He said the "Living Legend" never fails his fans. No matter how long the line is, he keeps on signing autographs and posing for pictures.
“Ang reason n’ya kung bakit siya si Sonny Jaworski is because of the fans. ‘Yan yung term na ‘giving back.’ S’ya ang nagpersonify n’yan.”