MANILA, Philippines -- There were no extra-curricular activities, no warnings or technical fouls when Calvin Abueva made his highly-anticipated return to the PBA on Monday night.
There was, however, plenty of energy on both ends and no rust to be found anywhere as "The Beast" powered the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters to a come-from-behind 114-110 triumph over the NLEX Road Warriors in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.
In his first PBA game after 16 months, Abueva put up 21 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, and one steal. He hit a huge shot with 44 seconds to play to keep Phoenix in control, and corralled the final rebound before running out the clock in the Fuel Masters' fourth win of the conference.
"It's magical that he's here," Phoenix coach Topex Robinson would later say, even as he stressed that they tempered expectations for their mercurial forward.
Abueva, who was suspended in June 2019 following a series of on-court incidents, said that he paid no mind to those expectations. His focus, instead, was squarely on the game, and how he can contribute to his team's victory.
It was, for him, the first step towards fulfilling a promise that he made to PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial when his suspension was lifted.
"Binigay ko naman 'yung best ko," said Abueva. "Sabi ko kay Comm, I (will) give my best every game."
"Hindi lang 'to sa game, sa susunod sa game. At hindi lang dito sa season na 'to, sa next season and next-next season. Hanggang matapos ang career ko, I'll give my best," he added.
That he could be one of the best players in the PBA had never been in question. Abueva was the Rookie of the Year in 2013 and the Best Player of the 2016 PBA Commissioner's Cup. In the 2019 PBA All-Filipino Cup, he averaged 14.8 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
The question has always been about Abueva's temperament and his antics, which at times took the focus away from his on-court production. In 2018, he was involved in the unsightly brawl between Gilas Pilipinas and Australia; last year, his clothesline on former TNT import Terrence Jones was the final straw for the league.
In his first game back, there were no signs of those antics from Abueva. The hard-nosed defense and the never ending hustle were there, but he not once stepped over the line. On social media, PBA fans took note that he even helped up NLEX's Anthony Semerad at one point, despite the other player being a longtime nemesis.
"Pinaghandaan ko talaga itong first game ko at tinulog ko talaga nang maaga at nag-extra sleep ako kanina. Mindset ko kung paano kami mananalo this game," he said afterward.
Abueva is aware that his emotions will be tested. He knows that at some point, something may happen in a game that will frustrate him.
His experiences of the past 16 months have prepared him for this kind of situation, however.
"Challenge 'yan sa akin. Expected ko na 'yan, pero may reminders lagi ako na nasa taas, na keep focused, keep your game good," said Abueva, who was required to undergo counseling by the PBA as a condition of his reinstatement.
"At lagi kong iniisip na hindi, hindi gulo, hindi anger 'yung mga iniisip ko. Iniisip ko lagi dito kung paano kami mananalo this game," he said.
For Robinson, who shed tears last Friday as he pondered Abueva's suspension, all they can do is to keep supporting their player. Robinson has had a long relationship with Abueva, having served as his collegiate coach in San Sebastian, and he is in a unique position to bring out the best in "The Beast."
"It's a blessing to have him here," he said of Abueva. "Everybody was expecting he's gonna be all out and loose, but at the end of the day ang importante is we gave him support."
"And I think that's what he always needed during the year and a half that he was gone. So we just have to continue supporting Calvin because again, he's part of us, he's part of our family, and we're always gonna protect our family," he added.
"We're always gonna be our brother's keeper."