MANILA, Philippines – Already a champion in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), Renaldo Balkman can add another trophy to his collection if he leads San Miguel Beer to the crown in the 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
Balkman was one of the heroes for Alab Pilipinas when they outlasted Mono Vampire in the best-of-5 ABL finals series in May. The 34-year-old Puerto Rico native had 32 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in Alab's 102-92 triumph in Game 5, sealing a breakthrough title for the franchise.
Now, Balkman has another title in mind – this time, in the Philippine Basketball Association.
"Like what I told you when I first started, one game at a time, and now, we here," Balkman said after tallying 23 points and 16 rebounds in SMB's 104-99 triumph over the Alaska Aces on Sunday.
"We in the finals, man," he declared. "We played great tonight. This is what basketball is made of."
"I came out here with one goal, and it's to make it. And we made it to the finals, and now, we gotta win it. We here."
Balkman has been a workhorse for San Miguel since joining the team three games into the conference. They lost in his first game back, a 105-103 setback to Alaska, but have been on a roll since then.
The Beermen swept TNT in the quarterfinals, ousted the Aces in four games in the semis, and now, have a chance to rack up a second title this season – keeping them on track for a Grand Slam.
That Balkman would be the import to lead them to glory in the Commissioner's Cup seemed almost unthinkable a season ago, when the fiery import was still banned from the PBA for his on-court meltdown five years ago, while playing for the Petron Blaze Boosters.
At the time, Balkman lost his temper completely, a breakdown that culminated with him putting his hand around the neck of Arwind Santos. For his actions, he was fined P250,000 and banned for life. It was just this year that the PBA moved to lift the ban – paving the way for Balkman's comeback.
"I'm really blessed, man," said Balkman, who is averaging stellar numbers of 29.44 points, 13.22 rebounds, 4.44 assists, 2.89 blocks, and 2.11 steals per game for San Miguel. "I want to thank God first. My injuries that I had before, but I still got it, and I keep playing."
"People say, 'Oh, he might be too old,' because I just turned 34 this year, but I still got it," he added. "I got a lot left in my tank. As y'all can see out there on the court, I give my all every time. We came out there tonight, and we came out with the win."
Balkman vowed to come out with the same intensity when they play in the best-of-7 finals, against either top-seeded Rain or Shine or perennial crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra. A showdown against the Gin Kings will be especially interesting, as it will pit Balkman against celebrated import Justin Brownlee – who was his teammate with Alab Pilipinas when they won the title.
"Every finals is the same," Balkman said. "We just gotta go out there and play hard."
"It's a blessing for me," he added. "I just won one, and I'm trying to come back and win another one right now. That's my goal."
"This has been a great year for me," he also said. "I'm glad to be back in the finals. I'm glad to be here."
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.