For most of his career, “the Big J” Robert Jaworksi was known for making everybody on his team look good. During his playing days in the PBA, Jaworski acted as floor leader and an inspiration to every team he played for from Toyota and Gilbey’s Gin to later on Ginebra San Miguel, where he became playing coach.
He looked at the team first before looking out for himself. He was the ultimate playmaker and embodiment of what leadership is all about. His first option was to take care of the ball and find players who have better scoring opportunities before getting buckets himself.
That’s it took a while — August 3, 1989, 32 years ago today, to be exact — before Jaworski reached the 10,000 points milestone, the seventh player in PBA history to do so. And he did serving as playing coach of the Añejo Rhum 65ers. He joined the other pioneering PBA players who made it to the elite club ahead of him, such as Atoy Co, Ramon Fernandez, William “Bogs” Adornado, Francis Arnaiz, Philip Cezar, and Abet Guidaben.
It took 14 years before Jaworski accomplished the feat because, as early as 1985, he was already the playing coach of the most popular team in the PBA, Ginebra San Miguel.
Jay P. Mercado, acknowledged in local basketball circles as a trusted chronicler of PBA history, offered a reason why it took 14 years, and at the age of 43, before Jaworski reached the 10,000-point club.
“He had an injury in 1982 that sidelined him for practically 80% of the entire season. But yes, his coaching stint was also a factor given the less playing time he gave himself while handling the dual role,” Mercado messaged ABS-CBN News.
But was age a big factor?
“It wasn’t age, since he was still capable of scoring in the 20s regularly in the mid to late 80s. Game 4 of Anejo-Purefoods proved as such when he led the 65ers in scoring, with 28 points,” added Mercado.
Jaworski, known as the “Living Legend”, had reached several milestones in the early stages of his career: 500 steals; 1,000 and 2,000 defensive rebounds, the only guard at that time to do so; and the 5,000-point club where he was a member as early as 1980.
But for Rino Salazar, a long-time teammate of Jaworski who also became the longest-tenured assistant coach of the “Big J”, seeing Jaworksi scoring is just part and parcel of his humongous contributions in basketball. And as early as their playing days at Toyota, Salazar had already seen the makings of the 1978 Most Valuable Player becoming a head coach someday.
“Si Sonny, marami siyang nagagawang mga bagay. He’s been doing a lot of stuff inside the court. He does it so well and that made him so special,” said Salazar.
“Nu’ng araw pa, si Sonny can play 5 positions. He can play point guard, as shooter, forward. He can be a good rebounder and can play the post. Kaya nga si Sonny is a once in every generation player because during our time. He can play regardless of position and that’s the kind of a player we need now in basketball. The players also listen and look up to him.
“Nakikita ko na sa kanya ’yun na magiging coach siya, even when we were playing. I’ve seen his knowledge, his professionalism and his heart in the game. Doon pa lang, nakikita mo na ’yung tao. But hindi ko akalaing magiging playing coach siya. Lalong napakahirap noon. ’Yun ang hindi alam ng mga tao dahil sa ginagawa niya. That’s really hard.”
Emer Legaspi, who played with Jaworski at Toyota from 1977 until it disbanded by the end of the 1983 season, recalled that it was Jaworski himself who coached the team when the the former had his PBA debut.
“Naalala ko first PBA game ko, out of town kami noon, tapos wala si coach Dante Silverio dahil he’s competing in a racing tournament overseas, so si Jaworski ang coach namin,” added Legaspi.
Jaworski also acted as coach in an interim capacity in several games.
At the time when Fort Acuña got fired at halftime of Game 3 of the championship game of the 1980 All-Filipino finals between Crispa and Toyota, it was Jaworski who was seen giving instructions to the players.
It also happened in the 1982 All-Star Game as Jaworski, who was injured, coached the North All-Stars.
Joble is a sports journalist who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and followed the league as a fan way before that.
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