Nine years ago on August 19, Philippine professional basketball saw the beginning of a new chapter.
June Mar Fajardo, the 6-foot-10 center from Cebu, was selected as the top overall pick in the PBA Rookie Draft and it wouldn't be long before he became the league’s most dominant force.
Fajardo was picked by Petron, then the brand that carried the San Miguel franchise, and immediately became the team’s main man.
But before he asserted his dominance, Fajardo had to be guided by 2-time PBA Most Valuable Player Danny Ildefonso, who was then at the tail end of his career.
Ildefonso, a future PBA hall-of-famer and member of the league’s 40 greatest player, took The Kraken under his wings and shortly after Fajardo flexed his muscles and made his presence felt in the league.
His size, strength and likeable personality made him the next big star of the PBA and his game had to extend all the way to the international competitions.
The young Fajardo was included in the Gilas Pilipinas program and although he played as a backup to naturalized player Marcus Douthit, the future franchise player of the Beermen worked his way up and started to get better and better.
Fajardo became a part of the historic feat when Gilas Pilipinas defeated South Korea in the semifinals of the FIBA Asia Championship, as the country qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.
In the World Cup, Fajardo’s road to greatness started as he became one of the most efficient big men along with Douthit.
Fajardo’s teammate, Ranidel de Ocampo, could attest to that.
“Kami ni June Mar, roommate kami niyan,” De Ocampo said. “Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Kuya June Mar, pag-uwi natin sa Pilipinas, mahina sa iyo 5 MVP’.”
The ever humble Fajardo replied: “Hindi naman.”
De Ocampo’s prediction was wrong. Fajardo didn’t win just 5, but 6 Most Valuable Player awards. After Arwind Santos won the MVP in Fajardo’s rookie season, The Kraken started won the next six awards, on top helping the Beermen to 8 championships.
A new dominant figure was born and greatness unfolded. A new dynasty reemerged, as San Miguel Beer lived up to the franchise’s winning tradition. To date, the Beermen remains the winningest PBA franchise with 27 titles.
Fajardo is still very much at the peak of his career and is on a comeback trail after missing last year’s bubble tournament with a fractured tibia. It was one of those down moments of his career, but perhaps, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than losing his mom, Mama Marites, who passed away recently.
Mama Marites was Fajardo’s No.1 fan.
As he tries to complete his comeback, Fajardo is devoted to continue the values left by his mom — to stay out of trouble.
Fajardo was one of only few guys who stayed away from the melee, which happened during the 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers game between the Philippines and Australia. He remembered what his mom had told him many years ago.
“Ayaw ni Mama na nakikipag-away ako,” Fajardo said.
True enough, Fajardo has never picked on anybody on the PBA court. He never bullied anyone. One would definitely have a hard time recalling if a player had picked up a technical foul in his first 9 years in the PBA.
That good boy image was a legacy shared by his mom and continues to be upheld by Fajardo.
He’ll leave the nasty side to his play on the basketball court, where he remains dominant, imposing and feared by anyone who’ll defend him inside the shaded lane.
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