MANILA – When one hears the name Marc Pingris, two things immediately come to mind: basketball and "puso" (the Filipino word for heart).
San Mig Coffee's blue-collar forward dives for a loose ball, fights for every rebound, plays through pain and pumps his fist up in the air, shouting in celebration for a hard-earned shot.
"Puso lang talaga," Pingris told reporters after their historic win against South Korea in the FIBA Asia games last year, pointing out that the Gilas Pilipinas players did not receive big salaries for their participation in the national team.
But where did this 6-foot-4, 200-pound forward got his big, big heart?
Marc Pingris battles for the rebound against Kim Joo-sung. Photo by Nuki Sabio, FIBA Pool
In its episode last Sunday, Pingris took the "Rated K" crew to a market in his hometown of Pozorrubio, Pangasinan, where he once sold fruits with his mother.
"Dito ako lumaki sa palengkeng ito," he said, while handing a buyer a slice of watermelon, which he said costs only around P2 when he was young.
Erlinda Prado, Pingris' mom, recalled how she had to wake up very early in the morning just to buy fruits from Urdaneta and travel back to Pozorrubio to sell them.
"Mga bandang ala-una ng madaling araw, bibiyahe ako sa Urdaneta. Pagdating ng alas-kuwatro ng madaling araw, magdi-display ako ng prutas," she shared. "Kaya noon, ang ginawa ko, doon na kami sa palengke natutulog."
Pingris recalled those nights when he had to sleep in the market with only a sack as his blanket.
"Imbes na 'yung kumot ko, malabot, e sako lang. Dito kami natutulog dati dahil kapag iniwan mo 'yan, kapag binuksan 'yan lugi ka na," recalled the 2013 PBA Governors' Cup Finals MVP, pointing to the spot in the market where he used to sleep.
On the side, the young Pingris also peddled ice cream around the town to help his mom financially.
"Naransan ko rin magtinda ng ice cream na hindi alam ng mother ko. Uuwi na lang akong may dalang bigas," he fondly recalled.
Her mother, not knowing where her son got his pasalubong, would ask him: "O saan mo kinuha 'yan baka kinukupit mo 'yan."
Prado said he only learned about her son's ice cream racket when his classmate told her about it.
It was during those years when Pingris first held a basketball after his childhood best friend told him: "Sayang 'yung height mo. Maglaro ka ng basketball!"
"Sinubukan ko pero mahirap talaga. Pagsalo ko ng bola dumidiretso sa ilong ko. Dumudugo 'yung ilong ko," shared Pingris, who also recalled playing basketball barefooted.
"Hindi ko nararamdaman 'yung sakit, kumbaga nag-eenjoy ako sa laro. Nararamdaman ko 'yan pagtapos, 'yung makikita mo na lang may sugat ka pala, natanggalan ka ng kuko sa paa."
Ana Perla de Guzman, his high school adviser, tried to lend Pingris some shoes, but even at an early age, he already had big feet.
"Malaki na ang paa niya noong mga third year na siya—mga size 10 na siya. Pinapahiram ko siya, pero maliit lang—mga size 7 o size 8. So sabi ko, hindi puwede, hindi kasya," she said.
Pingris eventually learned to love the game. He would spend hours practicing with his teammates, whose leftover food he ate during times when he really had nothing.
'Yung mga styro dun, mga tira-tira ng teammates ko [ang kinakain ko]—talagang naghahanap lang ako ng makakain," he said. "Habang kinakain ko naiiyak ako sa sarili ko. Awang-awa ako sa sarili ko."
It was during those moments when he promised himself repeatedly, while crying: "Balang araw kakain ako ng masarap na pagkain."
His hard work caught the attention of basketball scouts who brought him to Manila where he pursued a career in sports.
Pingris saw basketball as his way out of poverty. So when the opportunity came, he grabbed it the way Hanamichi Sakuragi—a character from the anime Slam Dunk often compared to him—grabs a rebound.
"Nagpa-practice ako ng three times a day sa FEU (Far Eastern University), and then practice player rin ako sa MBA (defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association). Mga six months ko ginawa 'yun," he said. "Si Coach Boycie Zamar, kinupkop niya ako, sa bahay niya ako natutulog, tumira."
Zamar trained Pingris who would often practice with his idol, MBA's 2000 MVP Rommel Adducul.
"Mahirap man talagang kinapalan ko na ang mukha ko na magpaturo. 'Kuya Rommel, paturo naman ako ng ginagawa mo,'" he said.
Pingris' hard work and dedication began to pay off in 2004 when he was drafted third overall by FedEx Express in the PBA.
But for rookies, the first year is always tough.
"Kabado ako kasi idol na idol ko si Danny Ildefonso e, pati si Rommel. Tapos ang first game ko San Miguel pa [ang kalaban]. Payat ako and kabado talaga ako kasing malalaki mga katawan nila e," he said.
"Pero kahit kabado ako, very excited ako dahil ito na 'yung simula ng pangarap ko. Kung ano 'yung sipag ko nung college ako, mas dinoble ko talaga. Inisip ko rin na mas nahirapan 'yung mother ko na nagtrabaho para sa amin."
In a span of 10 years, Pingris was able to bag six PBA championships, two finals MVP awards, an All-Star MVP award and Defensive Player of the Year award among others.
Pingris' current team, San Mig Coffee Mixers, is gunning for a grand slam with Coach Tim Cone calling the shots.
He is also a key member of Gilas Pilipinas, who won the silver medal in the FIBA Asia games last year and is now preparing for a "very, very tough" FIBA Asia World Cup in Spain this September.
The Philippine national team is grouped with former gold medalist Argentina, as well as former podium finishers Greece and Croatia in Group B.
But Pingris is not backing out from the tough match-up against taller basketball players because he knows Filipinos have a bigger heart.
"Hindi kami pupunta sa Spain para lang magbakasyon. Kahit matatangkad [ang kalaban], kanila Gasol man kami matapat, pupunta kami doon dala-dala 'yung puso at yung bandila natin," he vowed.