MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) More than a year after Mac Cardona attempted to take his own life, a development that sent shockwaves throughout the entire basketball community, "Captain Hook" is back in the PBA.
Cardona returned to the hardcourt as a member of the GlobalPort Batang Pier, playing for his former college coach Franz Pumaren and alongside former De La Salle University teammates Mike Cortez and Ryan Araña.
He was received warmly by the fans at the Araneta Coliseum on Sunday evening, and Cardona responded by putting up a respectable line of four points and two rebounds in eight minutes of action. The Batang Pier lost, 99-109, to NLEX, but for Cardona, the evening was a success.
"Sobrang happy ko nakapaglaro ulit ako ng basketball," said Cardona, who played a couple of games with Zark's in the PBA D-League before finding his way back to the big league.
"Hindi ko in-expect na makakabalik ako sa PBA, since 'yung nangyari sa akin last year," he admitted.
Throughout his four-minute conversation with reporters after the game, Cardona never specified what exactly happened to him. It was the elephant in the Big Dome – everyone knew that Cardona was just a year removed from a suicide attempt – overdosing on pills – that saw him wind up in a coma.
Almost a year later, he explained in an episode of "Rated K" that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and excessive depression – partly caused by his own dwindling basketball career – was one of the reasons for his suicide attempt.
LIFE IN THE D-LEAGUE
It took some time for Cardona to get back on his feet, but he was helped by his stint with Zark's in the D-League. Indeed, for the former King Archer, the call from the fledgling franchise was a sign.
"Noong may tumawag sa akin sa D-League, 'yung isang owner doon na tinawagan ako kung pwede na maglaro ako. Sabi ko, baka ito na 'yung sign. Sign na siguro ni Lord ito, na bumalik ako sa basketball," said Cardona.
His brief career with Zark's ended mid-August, when the Jawbreakers were eliminated from the Foundation Cup. Not even a month later, he found himself back in the PBA, and after the game, he grew emotional as he was surrounded by reporters wanting to hear his story.
"Thankful ako kay Coach Franz, thankful ako kay Boss Mikee Romero, na binigyan nila ako ng pagkakataon para ipakita ko na kaya ko pa maglaro," said Cardona.
LIKE A ROOKIE
The sheer experience of stepping back onto the basketball court gave him goosebumps, Cardona said, and he felt as though he was a rookie again, as though he was back in the UAAP once more.
"Nawala ako ng isang taon, nakapag-pahinga ako, at least, 'di ba?" he said. "Tapos 'yung pagbalik ko, excited na excited ulit ako maglaro."
"Parang rookie talaga ang pakiramdam ko ngayon," he added. "Hindi ko nga alam kung ano ang itsura ko sa court. Basta, happy lang ako na nasa PBA ako, na nakita ko ulit ang mga tao sa PBA, na masaya sila na naglalaro na ulit ako."
Cardona repeatedly stressed that he has moved on, that he is making the most of the new chance at life that has been given to him.
"Kung ano man 'yung nangyari sa akin in the past, alam ko na may pagkakamali ako doon," he said. "Pero for me, it's time to move on na lang, kasi alam ko na wala akong magagawa sa kung ano 'yung nangyari sa akin."
"Naka-move on na ako sa lahat, (I'm) moving forward," he added emphatically.
Now, Cardona simply wishes to focus on basketball, and Pumaren gave him that chance.
NOT AN ACCOMMODATION
Pumaren stressed that despite his long history with Cardona, the player's inclusion in the Batang Pier roster is not a case of "political consideration."
According to Pumaren, Cardona is simply expected to "give a spark, energy, and a few points" to a GlobalPort team that is missing one of its top point guards, Stanley Pringle, due to illness of the Fil-Am guard's father.
"He just has to get away from other extra-curricular activities and just concentrate," said Pumaren of "Captain Hook," with whom he won two UAAP championships. "This is his opportunity."
Pumaren further explained that their signing of Cardona is not an "accommodation" because of his relationship with the player.
"Basketball fans might think that it's more on an accommodation on my part, signing him up," said the coach. "But he proved himself, that he deserves to be in the PBA, he deserves to be part of GlobalPort."
"If you can see, he just played a couple of minutes, and he contributed four points right away," Pumaren pointed out. "Prior to that, he was injured for the longest time. So the rhythm, timing, I don't think it was there yet."
"But as you can see, I think down the road, he can help us."
Pumaren stressed that Cardona will need to keep on proving himself, and moreover, gain the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates. His status as Pumaren's former player in La Salle gives him no special considerations, the coach added.
"Kasi people, probably are thinking that he was my former player, but you know, in the PBA, it's not all about accommodation. This is not politics, that it's a political consideration. No. It's a results-oriented league. If the guy can help, why not? If the guy won't be able to help us, so be it," said Pumaren.
At the same time, however, Pumaren is only too glad to be able to help Cardona, especially as he was shocked at the news that the player had attempted suicide.
"You know, in life, if you can give an opportunity to other people, there's always room for people to change. If he stumbles down, and if there's a chance for you to pick him up, then why not?" said Pumaren.
"And this one, this is not a political accommodation, this is not because he played for me or he's my god son, or whatever. We feel that he can help us," he said emphatically.
A group in the Philippines is dedicated to addressing those who have suicidal tendencies.
The crisis hotlines of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation aim to make those individuals feel that someone is ready to listen to them.
These are their hotline numbers:
Information and Crisis Intervention Center:
(02) 804-HOPE (4673)
0917-558-HOPE (4673) or (632) 211-4550
0917-852-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-6876
0917-842-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-4084
In Touch Crisis Lines:
0917-572-HOPE or (632) 211-1305
(02) 893-7606 (24/7)
(02) 893-7603 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)
Globe (63917) 800.1123 or (632) 506.7314
Sun (63922) 893.8944 or (632) 346.8776
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