PBA: Marc Pingris takes pride in journey from 'batang palengke' to PBA icon

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 26 2021 04:15 PM | Updated as of Dec 26 2021 04:16 PM

Marc Pingris grew emotional as he thanked those who played a role in his basketball journey. PBA Media Bureau.
Marc Pingris grew emotional as he thanked those who played a role in his basketball journey. PBA Media Bureau.

MANILA, Philippines -- Marc Pingris had to hold back tears when the Purefoods franchise officially retired his No. 15 jersey on Christmas Day.

It was the ultimate honor for "Pinoy Sakuragi," who played the bulk of his 16-year PBA career with the Hotshots. He won nine championships with the team, including a Grand Slam in the 2014 season. Along the way, Pingris would be recognized as one of the league's best, winning two Finals MVP awards and three Defensive Player of the Year trophies.

On Saturday, the Purefoods franchise honored Pingris and his longtime teammate, Peter June Simon, by retiring their jersey numbers during the halftime of the "Manila Clasico" at the Araneta Coliseum.

"Nakakaiyak pala rito, grabe," Pingris said.

The retired forward was effusive in his gratitude to the management of Purefoods and San Miguel Corp., as well as to his teammates and coaches, and the nearly 5,000 fans who watched the game and the jersey retirement ceremony at the Big Dome.

It was the first Clasico to be held in front of a live audience since October 2019, and it reminded Pingris of their many battles against Barangay Ginebra.

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"Sorry sa mga ibang team, pero Manila Clasico ang pinaka the best. Sorry, but 'yun. Lahat naman the best, pero iba 'yung Manila Clasico," he said.

He thanked his mother, Erlinda, and his wife, Danica, who were both present at the ceremony. Pingris had to pause his speech as he honored his mother, who raised him and his siblings in their humble hometown of Pozorrubio, Pangasinan virtually by herself.

"Gusto ko lang i-honor 'yung mother ko, sa pagpalaki niya sa amin," said Pingris. "Hindi hindi ko akalain na ang isang batang palenke pala eh makakalaro sa PBA."

Pingris has never forgotten his roots, often referencing his humble upbringing when discussing his basketball journey. Despite his height and natural athleticism, Pingris was a relative late-bloomer when it came to basketball, and first played at the Philippine School of Business Administration before he was eventually discovered by Far Eastern University.

At 6-foot-4, Pingris was undersized for a power forward, especially at the international level where he often represented the Philippines. But he always maintained that this was a non-issue for him.

"So lahat ng mga nanonood ngayon na mga bata, hard work lang. Kulang ang talento kung walang puso," he stressed. 

This was the exact legacy that Pingris -- and Simon -- left not just in Purefoods, but in the PBA and Philippine basketball in general, according to Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.

Victolero had coached both players at the tailend of their careers but still bore witness to the work ethic that paved the way to their success.

"Kumbaga, they have talent, but they want their talent na ma-harness nila, talagang mag-improve pa. And you will see PJ and Ping na, you know, they are early in practice, at huli din silang aalis, because they want to show the leadership, they want to show the new guys kung ano 'yung culture ng Purefoods franchise," said Victolero.

"'Yun 'yung malaking bagay na naiwan nila," he added.

Pingris and Simon are just the fourth and fifth players to have their jersey numbers retired by the Purefoods franchise, joining icons such as Rey Evangelista (7), Alvin Patrimonio (16), and Jerry Codiñera (44).