Only a few among the all-time greats in the PBA can be considered versatile players.
Ramon Fernandez — a 4-time PBA Most Valuable Player and Hall-of-Famer who retired as the all-time leading scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker, among others — can be considered a freak of nature.
During his prime as a player, Fernandez is probably the only certified big man who can bring up the basketball like a guard, dish out assists like a playmaker, and even come up with steals normally seen with smaller, faster players.
That makes Fernandez one of the greatest players in the PBA.
In fact, Norman Black, his former coach and one of the few imports to be feted with the Hall of Fame award, puts "El Presidente" on top of his list.
"There's been a huge debate on who's the best ever local player in the history of the PBA," said Black. "When I was watching 'The Last Dance', one thing I've found out is people will remember what they would remember. If you weren't around in the 1980s, you're not going to remember anybody from the 1980s. If you were here when LeBron James dominated, you will remember LeBron James."
"So there's no question if you ask a young guy, out on the street today, he's going to say one name and one name only -- June Mar Fajardo. I had the pleasure of coaching against June Mar in college and that's one of the advantages coaching in the amateur or college ranks. Majority of the stars in the PBA now, I coached against them when they were in college."
According to Black, Fernandez was unstoppable and practically no one on his team could stop the future star of the PBA back then.
"June Mar was a handful. Ford Arao was probably the only guy who did a decent job on June Mar," added Black. "Nobody could handle him. Noy Baclao couldn't handle him. Rabeh Al-Hussaini couldn't handle him. It was only Ford, for some reasons, I don't have any idea why, who did a decent job on June Mar and we were able to beat them in a college championship for one year.
"June Mar has been a great player even before he entered the PBA. If you ask people today, they would probably say June Mar."
But Black was able to play against and later on coach Fernandez.
"My problem is, I've seen June Mar and I've seen guys before, so my choice would be Mon Fernandez. Why would I say that? Look at the entire package. He had won the most championships in the PBA. He led the league in scoring, rebounding, assists (2nd all-time), steals (2nd all-time), block shots," said Black.
"In addition to that, he's 6-foot-5, he's taller than me. I'm only 6-foot-4 and a quarter. He's a legit 6-foot-5, but he could dribble the ball like a guard. We were winning championships before with San Miguel because of Mon's ability to bring the ball up off a rebound. He didn't have to outlet and he would push it and he will have the edge already. He had all the skills and not only that, he holds the records, for the time being, at least.
"So my choice would be Mon Fernandez, no disrespect to June Mar. June Mar, I love you, you're the nicest guy in the PBA, but I will go with Mon Fernandez."
Black was coaching Fernandez when "the Franchise" became a member of the league's 1,000 steals club, joining Bernie Fabiosa as the only other player to achieve the milestone at the time.
He recorded the feat on October 13, 1988, in his first few games as a member of the San Miguel Beer team.
Fernandez was coming off a controversial split up with Purefoods where he was benched right after Game 1 of their best-of-5 championship series and wasn't fielded the rest of the way for alleged involvement in game-fixing.
The accusations weren't proven, however, and Fernandez was traded to San Miguel Beer for Abet Guidaben. It was the second time both players switched teams.
Fernandez would help the Beermen in winning a championship in his first conference with the squad n the 1988 Reinforced Conference and then continued their winning ways the following season where they won a grand slam.
Rey Joble is a sports journalist who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and followed the league as a fan way before that.