In the eyes of those who watched him through the years, Robert Jaworski was indeed an inspiration to many Filipino ball players.
He embodied the never-say-die spirit, which is still being carried by the most popular team in the PBA, Ginebra San Miguel, a team he led to greater heights.
The "Big J" had a long list of accomplishments, but not every one of them is appreciated.
But for basketball purists who love the game, there was one performance that made Jaworski more endearing.
On this day in PBA history, 35 years ago, Jaworski played a total 58 minutes in Game 4 of the best-of-7 championship series between Ginebra and Manila Beer.
The Gin Kings won, 145-135, in double overtime, as import Michael Hackett knocked in 45 points, including a turnaround jumper with 2 seconds left that sent the game to the first extension period.
Hackett, Billy Ray Bates and Jaworski, who was already 40 years old at that time, played without relief as "The Living Legend" became the first local player to play nonstop in a game.
To those who played with him at Ginebra, Jaworski was seen as a true hardcourt hero.
"Si Jaworski ang attitude niya sa game, hanggang nakakatakbo siya, hanggang kaya niya, maglalaro siya. He has played hurt before, but he would continue to play on," said long-time assistant coach Rino Salazar. "Hindi ’yan katulad ng ibang player, masakit daw ang tuhod, ayaw na."
"Hanggang kaya niya, maglalaro ’yan. He gave his best, 100 percent, every time he plays."
Jervis Cole played for Jaworski's champion team in 1991 and was amazed that a 46-year-old player can still keep up with his younger rivals.
"I never had a player-coach in my entire career," said Cole. "But here's a guy who plays and assumes the role as coach at the same time. I remember he hit some big shots during our championship series against Shell and I was being doubled or tripled team and he's one of the guys who stepped up. If I'm 46, I won't be playing any more, but he was still competing at such a high level."
Leo Isaac, who played for Jaworski for several years, recalled one story that attested to his playing coach's stamina and longevity.
"For some reasons, hindi ko alam if sira yata ’yung sasakyan niya and ’yung iba pang sasakyan is ginagamit rin ng family niya, one time, he asked me, 'Leo, sabay ako sa iyo.' So I told him, ‘Sige, coach.’ So when I reached the gate of his subdivision, sabi ni coach Jawo, ‘Dito na lang ako.’
"I replied: 'Coach, malayo pa, ah.'
He responded: 'Hindi, ija-jogging ko na lang.'
Jaworski's 58 minutes of playing time was the best by a local player until it was broken by rookie Jun Limpot when he played for Sta. Lucia during the Realtors' triple-overtime game against San Miguel Beer on November 9, 1993.
Rey Joble is a sports journalist who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and followed the league as a fan way before that.