MANILA—NorthPort import Michael Qualls claimed that he was on the receiving end of racist taunts from an NLEX player, but refused to let it get under his skin.
Qualls had to be separated from NLEX players following an incident with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, which saw him step on NLEX's Paul Varilla after attacking the hoop.
"I just be trying to get to the basket. He fell, then I didn't want to hurt my legs so I didn't have anywhere else to step," said Qualls, denying Varilla's claim that he stepped on the NLEX guard deliberately.
"Before I knew, when I was getting up, that's when I was getting swung on," he added.
NLEX center Poy Erram did not take kindly to seeing his teammate get stepped on, and grazed Qualls with an elbow to the back of the head. From there, the situation turned chaotic, with Christian Standhardinger hitting the floor and Erram and Qualls needing to be separated.
Both Erram and Varilla were tossed out of the game. Qualls would go on to finish with 39 points in a 115-90 victory for NorthPort, which allowed them to force a do-or-die game for a spot in the PBA Governors' Cup semifinals.
According to Qualls, he had received racist taunts from an NLEX player even before the incident escalated.
"One of them players called me the N-word, and I didn't like that," he said. "Just a couple of racist comments."
"It really doesn't affect me, because I love everybody, so it's cool," he added.
Qualls could not definitely identify the player, but maintained that it was "cool."
"It happens," he said. "I won't let nobody get under my skin."
"I just want to win. As long as we win, that’s enough talking. They can talk, they want to fight or whatever do whatever outside the court, but other than that, I’m me who I am every night and I’m not going to back down from anybody. Neither is our team," he stressed.
No one from NLEX could stop Qualls on Monday night. He went 13-of-28 from the field and had 16 rebounds and 5 assists to boot.
It was Qualls' best game so far in a NorthPort uniform, and it came at just the perfect time as they needed to stay alive in the semis race.
"I just want to stay aggressive, exploit mismatches. If they put somebody smaller on me, I want to attack them. If they have somebody big on me, I just want to blow past them," he said.
Qualls' brush with Erram and Varilla may turn out beneficial for NorthPort, as the two players are at risk of suspension for Wednesday's game. The import insists that this is a non-factor for him, however.
"It's cool," he said. "They can be there if they want to. It really doesn't matter."
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