One part of Barangay Ginebra’s championship victory party at the San Miguel Corp. headquarters Monday night called for all the players to stand on stage as a queue of fans met them there to have autographs signed and pictures taken.
Much of the attention fell on Jayjay Helterbrand and, even though that portion of the program took an hour or so to finish, no one smiled and looked genuinely delighted through every second of it than he did.
The night was a celebration of Ginebra’s Governors’ Cup title, but this one had a bittersweet taste to it as this was Helterbrand’s last moment attending a team event as a player after officially announcing earlier in the day that he is done playing in the PBA.
“I’m just gonna be able to relax for now,” he said.
That must have been how he felt the entire night. A stellar career that he can look back on and a future spending more time with his family that he can look forward to, Helterbrand couldn’t have envisioned his life turning out the way it did.
In a candid interview with ABS-CBN News, a carefree Helterbrand gamely talked about his first game in the PBA (which he recalled vividly), the first time he met Mark Caguioa (he thought little of him) and the biggest regret he ever had playing in the league.
At one point the new PBA season will start again. You’ve been a part of season-openers the past 17 years or so. While your teammates walk out in the traditional parade, any idea what you’ll be doing on that night?
I don’t know. (Mulls.) I plan on spending Christmas with my family so I’ll probably be in the States.
What do you think is the biggest adjustment for you not playing anymore?
I think just the daily grind. The getting up and going to practice. I have a lot of time on my hands now to do whatever I want, but I’m definitely gonna stay active. I’m not gonna get out of shape. I’ll keep working out and other than that, I don’t know. I really don’t know what I’m gonna do with myself.
I think that’s the best part, anything goes right now.
Exactly. There’s no pressure to do anything. I’m just gonna be able to relax for now.
When you thought to retire, was that regardless whether Ginebra won the championship or not?
This was definitely my last season for sure. I actually knew after the championship last year and I told myself I’m gonna try one more time. It’s just a blessing we won one more championship. So very happy for that.
Game 4, Ginebra was down big to Meralco in the third quarter. You get called by coach Tim Cone to sub in to inject life into the team basically like last year, same scenario, same game in the finals. What was running through your head?
I just wanted to contribute. There wasn’t really anything supercrazy that was going through my mind. Every time I’m called, I’m gonna go out there and do what I do and play the best that I can. But I did tell myself I’m just gonna focus on the defensive side and try to get as many stops as I could and I’ll let my team score so we could have a chance to get back. And we almost did it. But I think it was better that it went to Game 7 because it was sweeter. It was harder but it was definitely better.
Remember your first day with Ginebra?
I do. My first game was against Sta. Lucia. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life. My game showed it. I was hesitant. I was timid and everything. I think my first play, Ronnie Magsanoc stole the ball from me. And I said, “Oh man, that wasn’t a good way to start.”
But he was already old at that time.
He wasn’t that old. He still had his quickness. He was still pretty good. But I remember saying, “Man, this isn’t going to be easy.” And it took a while before I got my PBA legs under me. I really remember that vividly. I remember we used to have the shiny jerseys. I remember going up for a layup. Marlou Aquino and Dennis Espino were there. I was like, “Wow, this is it. I’m here. It’s no joke.”
You said it took a while before you got your PBA legs under you. When was that moment that you sort of realized you belonged?
I think it was when Bal David got injured. Before then I was really getting limited minutes because Bal, a great point guard that he was, I had to wait my turn. When he got injured, I got my opportunity and I never looked back.
The first conversation with Mark Caguioa, what was that like?
We were roommates out of town. And right away, me and my guy just clicked. We were just basically talking about our life and the road that took us to get to the PBA. We realized how much everything was similar and we realized that we liked a lot of the same things, things that we liked off the court. We were like, “Man, are we brothers from some other life or something?” We were inseparable from that time on. We’ve been close.
Did he let you joke about his blond hair?
You know what, first time I saw him, I was like, “Who was this guy?” He was like a surfer. He had the blond hair, Hawaiian shirt and seashell necklace. I was like, “Man, there’s no way this guy can play ball.” And then the next thing I know, we drafted him. I was expecting (Shell forward) Mike Hrabak. He was the one who tried out with us. He didn’t even try out for us. I never even knew him until I saw him in the draft.
Best coach you’ve ever played for.
It’ll have to be championship coaches. Coach Jong (Uichico), coach Siot (Tanquingcen) and coach Tim (Cone). As far as motivation, I’m going to have to go with coach Alfrancis (Chua). Great motivator. He knows how to get his players to play and the other coaches did as well.
What do you think of your moniker, “Fast and the Furious?” You cool with it?
I think it fits. When I first got in the league, Mark used to tell me, “Slow down, man. You’re out of control.” I had to learn how to control my speed. Before, I just tried to beat everybody with just speed and I realized you had to change up your pace, not go 100 miles an hour every time. And Mark, you know how he plays, the Furious, he’s all just reckless abandon, man. So I think it’s like the movie, it’s excitement all the time.
Have you seen all of them?
Yeah, I have. And what, there’s going to be a “Fast 8?” That’s why I think it’s a successful because it’s an exciting movie and that was our style, we were exciting to watch.
The fiercest competitor you’ve ever faced?
Biggest rival I’ve had was Jimmy Alapag. Every time we played against each other, we would go at each other, man. We always had great games, great battles.
Most bizarre thing a fan ever asked of you?
To adopt their baby. She was serious, and I was like (cringes).
What’s the story behind your number, 13?
That’s the day my daughter (Keana) was born, September 13.
Opposing player whose guts you hate the most?
I don’t really have one. Each guy just goes out there and tries to compete. I don’t think I’ve ever played against anyone that tries to intentionally hurt you or anything. If they did, I never noticed. I can’t say that I hate a player.
Teammate you’re going to miss the most besides Mark.
I’m gonna miss all these guys, but a guy who really helped me most was Joe (Devance). Him and me we talk a lot. He would help me in the times I would feel down coz he’s the type of guy who’s really upbeat and happy. We were texting each other (Monday) night. He’s just full of encouragement and just a positive guy. I appreciate him. He’s an awesome teammate and everyone knows that.
Joe mentioned that there were times this season that it was a struggle for you. Can you take us through that time?
It was tough coz I really wanted to help the team. I wanted to be out there on the court. I honestly didn’t think I was part of the team watching. I’m so used to contributing. But at the same time I learned there’s no reason for me to be bitter and mad. Just enjoy it and enjoy the time you have because no matter what you’re still blessed doing what we do. And when I started thinking that way, I started to have more fun. Like I said, Joe was a good part of that and we won a championship.
I was just trying to have fun, cherishing everything because I knew that end was near. I just wanted to end my career on a good note. I didn’t want to have issues with anyone. I just wanted to go ahead and support the team, even though that wasn’t the role that I wanted. I’m a competitor and I want to go out there and play, but it’s OK. I realize everyone goes through that and it was my turn. It was time to be mature and accept it.
What’s your biggest regret, if anything?
My biggest regret would be not spending enough time with my kids. I pretty much sacrificed everything with them so I can play and provide a good life for them. And Keana and Jalyn, I owe so much to those kids and I love them so much and I just want them to be proud of their dad. In doing that, I sacrificed my time with them and I regret that so much coz I missed them growing up.
Of the six championships, which one was the most memorable one?
My first one and then my last one. My first one because I put so much into that, I gave my everything and to finally give a championship to Ginebra after all those years, that was amazing. And the last one, it’s the opposite. I didn’t do too much but to end my career in a championship is the best way to go out.