Asi Taulava was living the dream in 1999. As a young 26-year-old who was about to enter his prime, he had just been hired to play for the Mobiline Phone Pals. He was a sure-fire star given his sheer talent, physical dominance, and skill. There was no question during his PBA career, he would succeed.
With the success of a basketball player comes a certain lifestyle attached to it. The baller lifestyle. Players draped in chains, going to parties left and right, and purchasing luxury items like there’s no tomorrow. Why not right? They had the status, the recognizability, and the means.
Taulava lived this life then, the type of life young players today dream of achieving. He’d sleep late while not eating properly. Living this way felt good, and he could enjoy everything he wanted, and dominate the next day in the basketball court. Success. Money. Comfort. This was the life.
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But reality hit Taulava in the face 14 years ago when he was 33 years old. Every athlete has the same undefeated foe: time. The physical capabilities of a player can remain elite at only a limited time. The big man’s game was centered around power, but the game was becoming faster, catering to guards. Something needed to change.
Change can be such a frustrating thing to face, especially for athletes placed on these grand pedestals. They’re powerful beings. Why change? Why adapt to the game instead of the game adjusting to your self-proclaimed greatness?
Because that’s the beauty of the game of basketball, says Taulava. “It changes. If you don’t change with it, it’s time to give it up. You have to adapt to survive. It can’t be the same all the time. You can’t be stuck in your old ways.”
Evolve or die
The power of a basketball player, especially in the Philippines, is immense. But it can’t always be about the baller lifestyle. Discipline needs to be exercised. An athlete needs to embrace the basketball lifestyle. The correct lifestyle.
One of the most glaring things he needed to change was his weight. With the game becoming quicker, he needed to have the necessary agility to keep up with his younger teammates and competitors. So aside from lifting weights for his strength, he added more drills to improve his laterals.
When it came to his skill on the court, he adapted to the changing style of play and started to practice shooting more threes. A player’s power isn’t forever but skill can’t ever go away. He spent more time practicing his shot so he has the capability to stretch the floor for his guards.
But more than skill, the most evident change in Taulava was how he lived his life. What he ate, his priorities in life, as well as his outlook when it came to his status as an athlete. He couldn’t simply rely on his talent. There was hard work which needed to be applied so he could continue to hold the power of a basketball player.
“The maintenance now is a lot harder than when I was younger,” Taulava says. He could no longer sleep late or eat unhealthy food. If he did, he probably would have been retired a long time ago. So aside from simply doing these specific drills, it’s the level of detail and professionalism he shows in doing these. During NLEX practices, he’s always the earliest in the gym along with star guard Kiefer Ravena. All of that work at the age of 47, and he loves every minute of it.
With the grind comes values instilled in Taulava. As a proud father, he tries his best to instill these in his children. “I have four daughters, I’m a girl dad,” he says, proudly. “I don’t want anything given to them.”
When time permits, he shoots around with his daughters—basketball players like him—so he can help them out with their respective games. But more than those moments together as a family, he wants the actions he does to serve as a lesson for his kids.
“This is what hard work can get you,” is what he’d say to his kids then when talking about himself. He has the absolute right to say that. He’s had a long and fruitful career with his upcoming 21st season in the PBA incoming.
When it comes to basketball, it’s no longer a matter of if Asi will retire, it’s a matter of when. But despite rumors surrounding his future plans, Taulava hasn’t announced anything just yet. As a matter of fact, he still wants to play.
“I don’t want to get my ass kicked,” he says, laughing. “Thankfully for me, the fire is still there.” The competitiveness in him still remains, all for the sake of chasing a second PBA championship.
But whether Taulava wins another ring doesn’t even matter when it comes to his legacy as a basketball player. What matters is this:
During mornings, he brings his kids to school. Afterward, he goes straight to NLEX practice, does individual work from 8 A.M. to 10 A.M., then team practice from 10 A.M. to noon. If time permits, he does extra work. He picks up his kids, bonds with them at home, and plays some video games. Or at least, he used to.
“I don’t have money for video games anymore. They're too expensive!” Taulava says. “Food is expensive man.” Not just any food. The correct food all for the sake of the correct lifestyle. He must do it so he can still continue to spend time with the things he loves. Basketball. His family. Most importantly, life.
Asi Taulava may not be living the baller life anymore, but he may just be living the best one yet.