Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Master coach Topex Robinson and forward Calvin Abueva maintain a close relationship which led to The Beast's much-awaited return to the court after 16 months of suspension.
Robinson admitted it was hard to have Abueva every day in practice and tell him that he had to stay behind while they go out to play.
"I remember the game against Ginebra, I have to come up to him, pumunta ako sa room niya just to tell him: konting hintay na lang," Robinson said on Sports Page on Tuesday.
"It came to a point na naiinip din siya. Meron din siyang iniisip outside of the bubble na nakakadagdag sa sarili niya na ma-down. It was really hard because nagtatanong siya sakin, wala ako masagot eh. Yun yung mahirap, wala akong masabing date."
"So I made a vow to him. Ewan ko kung ano yung iniisip ko during that time, but I went up to his room. Sabi ko, 'Calvin 'pag di ka pa rin nakalaro against NLEX, sabi ko aalis ako dito kahit anong mangyari. Yun yung commitment ko sayo," he added.
The coach became emotional in a post-game press conference on October 24, after their win against the Magnolia Hotshots. The day after, the PBA announced that Abueva's ban would be lifted.
"There was never a date talaga na he's gonna play. I was just like, sabi ko siguro eto na yung time. So we played Ginebra, we played Magnolia kaya naiyak ako."
The pair has been together for almost a decade, since 2011 to be exact with the San Sebastian Stags in the NCAA. They also teamed up in Alaska in the PBA.
While the pair was temporarily split when Robinson moved as an assistant coach for Phoenix, it wasn't too long until Abueva was transferred to the Fuel Masters. They were even neighbors at some point, living in the same condominium.
"Medyo malalim na relationship. It's been fruitful. Sabi ko sakit na naman ng ulo 'to," Robinson joked. "But I value the relationship I have with Calvin."
Abueva shared how the long layoff made him reflect about his past transgressions on the court.
"I do my best sa ginagawa ko sa loob. Pinapakita ko na talaga kung sino si Calvin Abueva," he said. "May one time nakashoot ako ng three points. Nag-celebrate ako isang beses. Sinigawan ako, 'Huy! Magfocus ka!' Pangalawang three points, ayun wala nang extra. Na-focus ko na sarili ko."
Abueva recalled they had been summoned by PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial.
"May hinihintay palang signal sa [psychologist] para masunod lahat ng pinapagawa. And then Sunday ilalabas yung papel. Hintay lang, ilang oras na lang. Nag-meeting kami 11, mag-11:30. Nilabas yung result 10 AM ng Sunday. Nag-eensayo ako na walang kasiguraduhan, pero 99% parang naramdaman ko na makakapaglaro ako," he shared.
Abueva admitted he was anxious to play in his first game back, knowing he would be playing for someone very special in his life.
"Ang aga ko natulog. Nag-extra sleep ako. Sinabi ko sa isip ko, yung game na to para sa lola ko kasi nag-suffer siya ng mild stroke. Mas nakakalungkot kung 'di niya pa ko nakikitang naglalaro, kasi number one fan yun na sumusuporta sakin kahit saan," said Abueva.
"Wag mo muna lalabas yung gigil na excited ka, di yung kumbaga bubulusukin mo o babanggain mo lahat," Abueva shared about those first few seconds of the game against NLEX, "Nagpa-sub muna ako kay coach, extra hangin ako. Maya-maya bulusok nanaman. Kaya yung first game na yun sobrang halaga sakin, dun ko nakuha yung momentum ko."
Abueva finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists and earned Best Player of the Game honors.
The tables even turned when Robinson got a technical foul in Abueva's second game back, against the Alaska Aces.
"'Di ko alam kung aawatin ko siya," Abueva said while laughing. "Takot nga akong lumapit sayo nun eh. Bahala ka dyan."
Robinson though said it was a sacrifice he was willing to make.
"I don't mind getting T'd or getting thrown out para lang sa kanya. Sabi ko medyo magastos yun, madugo yun pero yun yung commitment ko sa kanya," the coach said.
Robinson admitted he was making up for that one time he failed to take action--when Abueva clotheslined TNT import Terrence Jones, which led to his indefinite suspension.
"May isa akong pinagsisisihan. When that incident happened sa Talk 'N Text, nakita ko na eh kasi kilala ko siya. Sa tingin pa lang niya, sa galaw niya alam kong may gagawin na siya eh. So sabi ko, I will never let that happen again," he shared.
Topex also personally took it for himself to help Calvin go through the long process of going back to the PBA.
"I think ang pinakamahirap for me to consider was to convince him to do it. Kasi nga parang walang kasiguraduhan pero bakit ko gagawin 'to, yun yung napakalaking question for him," the coach shared. "And talagang kailangan mong bantayan. When I spoke to him about the procedure, I came to his house pa just to speak to him personally. Kasi feeling ko pag tinawagan ko over the phone or via Zoom, I don't think I could relay it as honestly na maiintindihan niya."
"Yung una, 'di niya alam kung bakit kailangan niyang gawin. I think yung inexplain ko sa kanya, eto yung kapalit. Dun ko nalaman na determined talaga siya na bumalik na. Again, no guarantee but he took it with courage and sabi niya, 'Eto yung gusto kong maging direction ng buhay ko'. Sabi ko, kahit anong direksyon ng buhay mo, pero kung di rin siya committed to that 'di rin mangyayari."
"I'm so proud of how he's doing it. How he's handling it," Robinson shared. "Andyan pa rin yung competitiveness. Pero ngayon mas may control siya sa emotions. You know sometimes he's gonna lose it, but we're gonna provide him support."
It was not lost on Calvin that he had been given a third chance in the PBA after a prior suspension with Alaska.
"Parang may pinapalabas sakin na, huy, kaya mo naman maglaro ng diretso, nang walang extrang ganito, extrang ganyan, focused ka pa rin sa kung ano nilalaro mo," Abueva reflected. "In time natutunan ko na ayos palang maging ganun na laro, at sakin, saka ka na mag-celebrate pag tapos na."
Abueva also recounted personally apologizing to Ray Parks inside the bubble after he insulted his girlfriend last year.
"Nagkita kami, at nabanggit ko na, 'Hey bro, sorry for the past few years na nangyari.' Sabi niya, 'It's okay, keep up what you're doing. I wish you're gonna come back soon.'"
Robinson added that he encouraged Phoenix to make the most of the PBA bubble, which could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"When is the last time nakita mo player mo almost 24/7? It never happened," he said. "Challenge ko sa kanila, 15 years from now, when you talk about the bubble. Ano yung masasabi mo sa apo, anak mo at that time, ano yung kwento na pwede mo maibigay? We're in a better place. We get to do what we love. Paglabas mo may pagkain ka, sumusweldo ka, what more can you ask for? Might as well be the best version of ourselves. Andito na kami, we get to bond, we get to talk. Cherish this moment kasi this will just make us stronger as a team."
Robinson also appreciated how the bubble made them all bond as a PBA family, even with players and coaches outside of their own teams.
"One thing I appreciate about the PBA as a family is nagbabakbakan kami sa court pero pagbalik dito we treat each other as our own... 'Yun yung mga experiences na sabi ko I'm gonna cherish. What more can I ask for? Andito lahat. You can represent the PBA as a family, it's really a blessing for us to be here," he said.