During the third quarter of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel's title-clinching Game 6 triumph over the Meralco Bolts, Scottie Thompson stood at the free throw line to complete a three-point play.
As he waited for the ball, the crowd of over 20,000 started to chant in unison.
"M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!"
As the chant cascaded down from the far reaches of the Mall of Asia Arena to the court, Thompson had only one thing on his mind: make the free throw.
"I actually got nervous when I heard that," he admitted after the Gin Kings' 103-92 win Friday night. "I was worried I'd miss my free throw, and I did!"
Thompson could be forgiven for the miss, for it's not every day that the biggest fandom in PBA history openly lets you know that you're their choice for best player in the league. Besides, Ginebra went on to clinch the Governors' Cup crown several minutes later, and Scottie was a near-unanimous choice by the PBA Press Corps for Finals MVP.
The MVP chants, though, speak to a larger narrative at work here. The 28-year-old Thompson has played his entire seven-year career with Ginebra, and he has long ago endeared himself to the franchise's passionate fans. His work ethic, hustle, history of game-winners (a must for any Ginebra legend) and penchant for grabbing impossible rebounds all fit in nicely with the team's never-say-die mantra.
But now, as Thompson reaches the peak of his powers and the Gin Kings have established themselves as one of the best teams over the last six seasons, a new responsibility is being placed upon his shoulders, one that comes with being the most popular player on the PBA's most popular team.
Scottie Thompson could now very well be the face of Barangay Ginebra.
"I think we all search for that thing," said his coach Tim Cone. "He's young and he's just won the Best Player of the Conference and MVP of the Finals. So yeah, I think he's developed in that way. And I don't think anybody on our team is gonna begrudge him that. He's so well-liked, he's worked so hard for the things that he gets. It's the same with Mark (Caguioa). Mark is such a nice guy and his teammates love him. It's very fair to say that about Scottie."
The fans clearly love him, too. Thompson's no. 6 jersey is easily the most popular among fans during Ginebra games, already eclipsing the no. 47 of Caguioa, the most recent acknowledged face of the franchise.
By most accounts, Thompson is perhaps the unlikeliest of Ginebra heroes. While Ginebra legends like Robert Jaworski and Caguioa were never afraid to speak their minds, Thompson's signature move off the court is his humility. Reporters interviewing him sometimes wish they had bionic ears when transcribing his audio because he barely talks above a whisper. The franchise's earliest heroes were known for their physical play; Thompson is universally well-liked by his peers.
On the court, Thompson is perhaps more Jaworski than Caguioa with his fine all-around game (in a prescient move, his father named him after Scottie Pippen). But he will inevitably be compared more to Caguioa since their careers overlapped and there is a linear passing of the torch.
Thompson, of course, shies away from such comparisons and isn't eager to snatch the mantle from his veteran teammate just yet.
"You still can't take it away from Mark Caguioa. I'm still a long way from his accomplishments. He's done a lot and I'm still just getting started."
Thompson has a point statistically speaking. No player has scored more points or appeared in more games in a Ginebra uniform than Caguioa. He is the last Ginebra player to have won MVP, has three Mythical Five citations, and was Rookie of the Year. He has played his entire career, which started in 2001, with Ginebra. He also has four more titles than Thompson.
But Caguioa's career has also slowed down considerably as he's barely seen action in the past three seasons. Thompson, with every rebound he has grabbed over taller players, has inched up the pantheon of Ginebra greats. He won his first Best Player of the Conference award in the recent Governors' Cup. He was clearly the best player in the finals, and is one of the most recognizable and marketable PBA players today.
In Cone's mind, Thompson is already there and worthy of the title.
"It's a great legacy if you think about it. It started with Jaworski being the face and then Caguioa. Maybe Bal David was for a little bit, but then it went to Mark. And now it's Scottie. Five, six, eight years from now it might be someone that we don't know about yet. But it's a great legacy to follow."
An MVP would surely cement Thompson's status as a Ginebra icon; he would become just the third Gin King to win it after Caguioa and Eric Menk. The award won't be handed out until a few weeks from now, but already Thompson and TNT's Mikey Williams are in the conversation.
True to form, Thompson brushes off such talk.
"I'll leave it to fate to give it to me. If it happens, it happens. If not, it's okay. But the focus is winning another championship. I want a championship more than a special award. It's addicting. After you win one, you want to win more. There are a lot of other players who are deserving."
The MVP race for Season 46 is unique since there were only two conferences, and no player of significance reached the finals of both. Magnolia's Calvin Abueva was Best Player of the Conference while Williams was Finals MVP in the Philippine Cup, where Ginebra was ousted in the quarterfinals. Thompson, though, won both awards in the Governors' Cup.
"I think he's gonna be hard to deny," Cone said. "We know there's a lot of deserving guys out there. But Scottie's the freshest in our minds right now. He has been beyond spectacular, and that's what MVPs do. To me, he has been so valuable for us because all of the things that he does. And he's a totally complete player because of what he does on the floor and what he does off the floor. He's a tremendous teammate, he's so easy to coach. Always has been. You just don't see him off the floor or in practice like we do. He's a great teammate. He's been so incredibly valuable to us, and I think that's the definition of an MVP. How valuable he is to the team, and his value is unquestioned."
Cone's chief assistant Richard Del Rosario believes Thompson "has a good chance" of winning. But regardless, Del Rosario thinks we are seeing a special player evolve right before our very eyes.
"Scottie has really blossomed into a complete two-way player through the years," Del Rosario said. "What sets him apart is that with all the awards and accolades that he has received, he has remained humble and hardworking. I'm just lucky to be witnessing this up close because I'm sure that in the future he will be acknowledged as one of the greatest players in the PBA."
Asked if there was any particular moment, play, or game that made him think that Thompson had finally made that big leap, Del Rosario said it was a confluence of events.
"That's what's unique about Scottie. There is no singular moment but a collection of moments in the game. That's why he's tough to guard."
The scary part for the rest of the league is that Thompson is just entering his prime. So while he might already be the face of the Ginebra franchise, he could very well end up being the face of the PBA in the coming seasons. Cone is already a believer.
"I think you're just starting to see the start of Scottie's career. I think he's just gonna get better from here."