A Tribute to Chris Tiu

On Saturday night, in a basketball court in Cubao, Chris Tiu may or may not have played his final game as a professional basketball player.

Nothing has been decided, Tiu said postgame, but the things he did on the court that night told the opposite. It certainly looked like a decision was made, before tip-off, that he is going out, Chris Tiu-style.

That means lulling his defender to sleep with his mastery of basic basketball fundamentals and not-so fancy footwork, before pulling up for a textbook midrange jumper.

Or efficiently using a screen for a mechanical stepback three.

Or driving hard to the basket, throwing his body against a taller, more muscular defender to fish for a foul.

Against the NLEX Road Warriors, in Rain or Shine Elasto Painters’ season-ender, Tiu dipped into his classic, leather satchel to pull out all his tricks.

He faked to the right then shifted to the left for a pull-up over Larry Fonacier. He orbited around a screen and drained a trey over Emman Monfort.

Then around the 2:40 mark in the fourth quarter, he put his head down and attacked the defense of NLEX import Aaron Fuller, using up the last few drops of King Eagle fuel reserve for a sudden burst of speed.

A foul was called on the 6-foot-6 Fuller–falling victim to Tiu’s patented trap of extracting points from (usually larger) unsuspecting defenders. Tiu took four dribbles and cooly sank a free throw for his 29th point. Then he took three more dribbles and calmly sank another free throw for his 30th point–a new career-high–and that was it.

Nothing spectacular about those two freebies, really. Except that those seemingly uneventful points, which extended the Rain or Shine lead to 9, may or may not have been Tiu’s last in the PBA.

Now 33, Tiu spent the last six years of his life in the league outsmarting and outshooting pro athletes more athletic than him. What he lacked in explosiveness, he made up for in ingenuity, a rare trait often mistaken for being dirty.

Tiu never plays dirty. Yet his play can’t be described as squeaky clean either. He plays smart. And tough. The blend of smart and tough you’d want to invest in at a sport where having a high IQ is as valuable as a high vertical leap. It’s really difficult to estimate Tiu’s value other than he’s the kind of guy you need to be with in a zombie apocalypse. He’d know what to do. And he’d look good doing it.

With his prime time smile, hair always parted to the side, bangs always kept in place, Tiu looks part baller, part entrepreneur each time he brings the ball down. He could play in a collared shirt, walking shorts with a brown belt, and a pair of boat shoes and he would’ve made it work. He’s just unique like that, representing a brand that’s solely his own.

His game is one you can’t simply replicate, no matter how many Tiu-torials you take. Because Chris Tiu is a rare individual, a rare mix of athlete and celebrity without a hint of controversy, a born leader willing to be a follower, a fierce competitor minus the antics, a “rich kid pero hindi maselan,” as his Rain or Shine teammate Beau Belga aptly put it.

Earlier this year, the rich kid found himself unconscious for a few seconds on the floor for having his face in the way of a swinging tree branch. The tree branch belonged to Malcolm White, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound accident waiting to happen.

When he came to, Tiu spat out a mouthful of blood, sprang to his feet, and quickly went after White. While other rich kids might have been stretchered out of the arena and straight to Belo, Tiu stayed. Minutes later, busted lip and all, Tiu was back on the court, hitting a triple to ice the game.

This is the epitome of a PBA role model that his fans and colleagues will no doubt miss, which is why with 25 seconds left in Saturday’s game, in what could have been his last day on the job, Tiu walked to the bench to cheers and applause and admiration.

To end the season, Tiu broke his own career-high numbers with per game averages of nearly 11 points, three rebounds and four assists. The perfect ending was already set. All that’s missing is Chris Tiu, wearing a collared shirt, hair parted to the side, formally announcing his retirement from the game.

As a tribute to a basketball legend, whenever you get hit in the face with a lip-busting, wayward elbow or when you’re starting a milk tea business or when you’re facing your last day at work, ask yourself this:

What would Chris Tiu do?