I first got to work with Ronnie Nathanielsz way back when Vintage Productions was covering the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). At that time, I was in my first job at an ad agency where the PBA was one of our first clients.
Aside from doing print ads, I conceptualized and wrote the first-ever PBA Trivia Contest that was run on television. My creative director asked me to have the PBA verify all the questions and answers. That put me in touch with Tito Ronnie.
We met in the old C. Palanca office in Legaspi Village, Makati. He looked at the mechanics, the questions and answers, and other promo details, and told me, “You did good, kid.”
Of course, I knew who he was. Who didn’t? Despite my young age, I was politically and socially aware and we were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Tito Ronnie eventually found out where I stood but we never ever had discussions about it. We kept it strictly to work.
Going back to that first meeting, here’s how it ended.
“Rick, you know what’s next?”
I shook my head.
“You prepare for a continuation of this promo. This will be successful.”
And it was. Just as he predicted.
A year later, I moved on to another ad agency but we would work together more than a decade later when I was working with Solar Sports as marketing manager. At that time, I also put on another hat, as a creative person who produced sports documentaries. The first one I did was titled, "Glory Road: The Story of Philippine Boxing." We had a lot of footage at that time but so did Tito Ronnie. It also so happened that both Solar and Tito Ronnie were not on speaking terms for some reason.
My then boss Peter Chanliong knew I was friends with Tito Ronnie so he tasked me to inquire if we could borrow footage. We expected a “no” but Tito Ron lent it. No questions asked. “I am doing this for you and for Philippine boxing.”
No matter what he felt back then towards Solar, he still lent it. “No politics,” he said. “Do this for the love of the game.”
Cut once more years later when I was working as the media officer for the Philippine Men’s Football National Team. The Azkals, as the team is fondly nicknamed, had exploded across the national consciousness because of its breakthrough performance in the 2010 Suzuki Cup. The squad was introduced to a larger audience during the halftime break of a PBA game at the Big Dome.
Nathanliezs pulled me aside and first commended me for working with football. During my time with Solar, we were the first ones to broadcast matches by the PMNT. Moving on to Gatorade after that, I made sure that we sponsored the Azkals and gave them their first ever print ad and press conference.
“You don’t think like the ordinary journalist,” he told me. “Your corporate experience in advertising and marketing will help them and yourself in your career. Grow that.”
It was a nice and encouraging endorsement.
Growing up, I bought all the local sports magazines and cut out many columns that were my favorites and placed them in a scrapbook. It was a thrill working with people like Tito Ronnie, Quinito Henson, Tito Talao, Tessa Jazmines, Rhea Navarro, and others who I only read and saw from afar. Even better, these people were very supportive and they constantly pushed me to go farther. But Tito Ronnie was one of the more vociferous supporters.
One time we had some coffee at Greenhills (he had tea) and what was supposed to be an hour or so of chit chat lasted three hours as he regaled me with stories. We did have some spirited debate as we disagreed on some topics. But that was just work. Maybe, I would surmise, friendship too. Maybe for some it would appear that he was puffing his chest. On the contrary, he always left lessons for me. He told me of mistakes and enemies he made (and friends too) and how to address them.
The last time we spoke was during the recently concluded PBA Governors’ Cup finals between Barangay Ginebra and Meralco. Despite the basketball atmosphere, it was football that we talked about. He demanded to know why I stopped writing the sport that I first loved and played as a kid. I don’t know how he knew that I had not watched nor covered a football match in three years. “Go back,” he intoned. “Besides, it’s Suzuki Cup time. Write your stories and analysis. Go do it.”
A few days later, I was in the office of Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta interviewing him about the state of the game. And I applied for my Suzuki Cup credentials and wrote an article about James Younghusband.
Back tracking to over a year ago, during the press conference that announced the hosting of the Olympic Qualifiers in Manila, we sat next to each other in one of the tables. I never knew that Tito Ronnie took an interest in my career. “It’s good to see that you are writing books,” he noted. “Keep it up and write more. Philippine sports needs it.”
I responded by telling him that he should write one, maybe two, given all that he has covered, seen, observed, and called all these years. He laughed. “I don’t have the time to do it. But if you help, I may reconsider.”
Of course, I said yes.
Except that Ronnie Nathanielsz will never get to do that now as he passed away most unexpectedly a few days ago.
I guess he may not have a book written but there is his large body of work out there in print, online, and on video on what he has reported and opined. As for these tributes that follow… consider them the foreword.
He was a top man in sports writing and sports journalism in many folks’ books.
Thanks, Tito Ronnie. For all the kind words and support. It’s our turn to get in the last word.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.