OPINION: Trust Norman Black

Rick Olivares

Posted at Oct 04 2016 02:24 PM

Meralco Bolts coach Norman Black. Photo courtesy of PBA Media Bureau

Thou shalt believe.

It’s not a commandment but in the book of Norman Augustus Black, he asks for your trust.

He knows what he is doing. After all, he’s done this a gazillion times. You can read up on the chapters on San Miguel, Sta. Lucia, Ateneo, and Talk ‘N Text.

Oh, that book isn’t written yet? Well, the final chapters still have to be played out.

Having said that, I am not sure whether to call him Black Moses for his propensity to lead the downtrodden to the Promised Land or the Black Caesar for conquering new frontiers. After all, his second name is Augustus.

Watching Norman Black being interviewed post-match after his Meralco Bolts dispatched heavily favored Talk ‘N Text in their semi-finals series to advance to the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals, I thought he struggled to hold back the tears.

The last time I saw him this way was in 2008 when he guided the Ateneo Blue Eagles to its first UAAP title in seven years. During the college team’s five-peat, it’s creed was to “Believe.” He sure made believers out of the unbelievers. I laugh at it now when Ateneo alumni called for his head after losing his first game ever as Blue Eagles coach. And there were even those within the MVP Group who thought he didn’t have the stuff.

Well, after he worked his Black Magic, I find it even more laughable that these jokers had the moxie to sidle up to him and ask for a photograph.

Maybe he’s heard the whispers that his methods don’t work. That he won with all-star teams in SMB, Ateneo, and TNT.

We aren’t getting ahead of ourselves here. All the Bolts did was make the finals. Except that this is a big deal.

People conveniently that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Magnolia, as SMB was known prior to its return to the pro league, won only one match in its debut in 1986. Black had to undergo several years of heartache with Ateneo until he finally molded a team to win it all. His way, I will have to stress.

The Bolts could possibly be his best work. Even without a title. Yet.

Five years in the PBA and they’ve only made the semi-finals twice; once under Black’s watch. In this team’s collective history, they have mostly underachieved. The turnover of their roster is like those department stores that thrive on hiring contractual employees. Here today. Gone tomorrow. Journeymen. Discards. Players whose ages aren’t on the calendar any more (although one of them told me that they’re still on the lotto card that doesn’t sound so bad at all).

I heard Jared Dillinger say he felt bad when he was traded by TNT to Meralco. He went from playing with the Jackson Five to being exiled on Main Street. Sure it was an opportunity to be the man elsewhere but he must have felt like Mitch Richmond too when he went from the up and coming Golden State Warriors to the Sacramento Kings that struggled big time until the arrival of a whole new batch of players and he was an afterthought.

I spoke with Ken Bono who thought it was nice to be with a Purefoods team that kept winning. But he didn’t want to be this generation’s Cris Bolado, who with all due respect is a great person. But Jumbo Bolado as he was known by was considered a lucky charm for teams and his teams (save for his college squad, National University) won. He traded a warm spot in the reserves for a chance to play.

I heard Jimmy Alapag say that he shouldn’t have unretired so as not to blemish his incredible career. He says he doesn’t worry about such because that is for others to decide. What matters though, he told me, is that he tries.

There are reclamation projects – not the coach’s term, mind you – like Ryan Buenafe who seemed to battle more his inner turmoil than foes on the court, Rabeh Al-Hussaini who left to play abroad then returned as the humbled prodigal son, and Bryan Faundo and Jonathan Uyloan who both give Meralco the answer to the trivia question of which team has the most number of undrafted players in uniform.

It seemed like the only bright spots were the drafts of Chris Newsome and Baser Amer.

But Meralco fell flat in the season-opening Philippine Cup where they went 1-10. When the Bolts booked the semis in the Commissioner’s Cup, reference was oft made to their first conference finish which Black would dismiss sometimes rather testily. That’s all in the past, he would riposte. Today is today.

All he asks you is to believe.

It’s not a commandment. But it will be.