My best PBA conference, as told by Larry Fonacier

Larry Fonacier and Talk 'N Text held off an upstart Powerade Tigers squad in the 2012 Philippine Cup finals. Paul Ryan Tan

It's almost a distant memory at this point, but there was a time that the basketball future of Larry Fonacier was uncertain. Entering the 2005 PBA Draft, Fonacier was recovering from an ACL injury suffered during his final UAAP season in 2004. It was a long and arduous rehab, and during that point in time ACL injuries were still looked at potentially career-ending.

But Fonacier persevered, and took on the challenge of having to prove himself all over again. Though he slipped to the second round of the 2005 PBA Draft, he was eventually picked by Red Bull Barako 14th overall. It proved to be a fortuitous series of events, as Fonacier fell into a great situation - familiar teammates, under a coach who gave everyone, regardless of their circumstances, an opportunity.

Under Yeng Guiao, Fonacier proved just how good he was. He won the 2006 PBA Rookie of the Year, and helped Red Bull win a championship in the Fiesta Cup in his first season. And though he was dealt to Petron two seasons later for a brief spell, he found success once again with the Alaska Aces as they won a championship during the 2010 Fiesta Conference.

But it was a trade to Talk 'N Text in 2010 where Fonacier's career really took off. He won five titles with TNT, and was Finals MVP of the 2012 Philippine Cup. He was also a member of Gilas Pilipinas, and was part of that legendary team that defeated South Korea during the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. Along the way, he carved out a legacy as a reliable shooter (over 35% from the 3pt line for his career), as well as a versatile defender with his length and rock-solid fundamentals.

After being traded to NLEX in 2017, Fonacier has proven to be an important part of the team with his veteran experience, and trusty shooting. As he reflects on a career filled with several achievements, he lists down those that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

What would you consider as your best conference in the PBA?

My best conference in the PBA was, I think, when we beat Powerade in the [2012 Philippine Cup] Finals and I ended up winning Finals MVP. What was memorable about that season was before the finals we had to overcome a 3-1 deficit against Petron to enter the finals. So we were on the brink of being eliminated yet we pulled through that season.

Are there any other seasons that are memorable for you?

Obviously my rookie season with Red Bull would be a very memorable one for me. Who can forget about that? I was coming off from a very long layoff and no one was really expecting us to go far that conference. And I wasn't expecting much from my play, but coach Yeng (Guiao) just gave us all a chance to play and I was just so fortunate to be with so many veterans, so many smart players in the team who took me under their wing and helped me succeed and learn and grow as fast as I could during my rookie year. So that was very special There was really no pressure playing for me that conference. And I just felt really free and I enjoyed playing that year so much.

You've played on legendary teams like Red Bull, Alaska and TNT. Which team was the most memorable for you?

Red Bull, Alaska, and TNT were all very special and memorable teams to me, but they all have their unique stories. In Red Bull, I just loved how we just broke through with no expectations and we were just going against the powerhouses of the league. And we just really didn't care what other people thought of us. We just really played together as a team. And it worked out for us. And Coach Yeng just gave everyone a chance to shine. It felt like - it felt like an Ateneo reunion for me during my first year with Rico (Villanueva), Bugs (Paolo Bugia). It felt like family. It felt like I didn't need to adjust a lot during my first year there.

In Alaska, I like how Coach Tim really broke down the fundamentals for me - defensively and the game as a whole. I thought I knew how to play basketball because of my success in college, high school, and Red Bull, but it was all starting from scratch - it felt like starting from scratch with coach Tim. He really taught me all these important details and fundamentals. And it was a struggle to begin with; it was boring. It wasn't like my previous teams where we would just play and flow through the game.

With coach Tim it was really systematic. And the triangle offense, probably the hardest offense to master in basketball. But it was so fulfilling that we as a team mastered the thing and it was such a beauty to play as one unit in that kind of system where other teams couldn't figure out what we were trying to do. And I was so fortunate that we went to multiple championships there, and got one championship before I left for TNT.

In TNT, it was just sustained excellence for years. The pressure, the demand to stay on top was memorable for me - what it took to stay there and to keep winning. Even Gilas, TNT prepared me for that. So all these legendary teams I'm just so fortunate to be part of.

Among all your championships, which one is your favorite?

My favorite championship was probably in 2013 [Philippine Cup], coach Norman's first conference in TNT. I think that was the most intact our TNT dynasty was. We were all heathy, we were all playing at the peak of our careers. And add to the fact that coach Sandy (Arespacochaga), coach Jamike (Jarin), coach Gene (Afable), boss Pao (Paolo Trillo) were there. I could experience it with them, these guys I won championships in high school and college with. It's very rare for a player to bring his high school and college coaches to him in the pros and succeed at that level. So that was very special for me. It was really a fun time to play, playing with the coaches that pretty much taught you how to play basketball since you were a kid. So that championship.

What is your favorite Gilas memory?

My favorite Gilas memory is the extra shooting till midnight with Jimmy and Gabe. Those were the times where we were so tired, and we still had to travel back home but we were so motivated to sharpen our shooting and just talk about what we should do in the game. Just visualizing all the big shots, big moments, and preparing our minds for the game. I don't know if we can have another kind of practice like that again, but those are legendary players that I spent time with.

And for me, the off-court events were more special than those inside the court. If there was something special for me, of course what game was special for me, probably the Taipei game where I just felt that my teammates were just helping me make all the shots I could take (Fonacier scored a team-high 21 points highlighted by 5 triples to lead Gilas Pilipinas in an 84-79 loss to Chinese Taipei during the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship).

On the court, probably that was it. But off the court, those practices where our bond becomes stronger and those are times that I will never forget. Those just helped build the team, and those are some things a lot of people don't see but they're so crucial in our success.