Why I Cheer for the PBA: The Meralco Bolts and their hunt for a PBA title

The PBA is one big roller coaster ride. Just last season, the league has experienced highs (record-breaking attendance numbers in the Governor’s Cup Finals) and lows.

Even with all the controversies and issues, the fact still remains: the PBA is our ride, it’s our league.

To hype up the start of the 43rd season of the league, the SLAM PH writers have teamed up to write about how why they’re cheering for the PBA.

From Danny I and SMB to Johnny A to Manila Clasico and this year’s rookies. These are the reasons why we got started. These are the reasons why we’re still here.

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The internet is a gold mine of all sorts of videos. You can kill time for an entire day, hitting ‘play next’ repeatedly and laughing your ass off. That’s what I was doing when I stumbled upon this clip of a gym cleaner playing basketball.

For several months, this kept popping up on my Facebook feed. I would watch it every time, wondering if it was as unreal as it seemed. I kept asking myself, ‘science can’t really be THAT involved in basketball, right?’

In one of the more recent times I watched that video though, I realized that it somehow paints a picture of the recent rise of the Meralco Bolts in the PBA. The cleaner represents Meralco. The security personnel represents the teams that perennially made it to the semis and the finals.

Meralco kept getting locked out of the big stages, reduced to watching the same teams fight for championships. But as they watched, they studied. As they studied, they learned. And as they learned, they began to engineer their team into one that’s worthy to dance on that stage.

The initial foundation was putting multi-titled coach Norman Black at the helm. Before him, Meralco wasn’t really doing bad, but they weren’t really going anywhere either. They made the playoffs from time to time, but were never legitimate threats to the title.

In Coach Norman’s first conference with the Bolts, they immediately broke into the quarterfinals of the 2014-15 Philippine Cup. It was the tournament that had that complicated two-phase quarterfinal round. They eliminated Purefoods in the first phase but was knocked out by Alaska in the second.

PBA - Alaska vs Meralco - December 14, 2014 - 5

Come the Commissioner’s Cup, Meralco started shaping up to be a contender. They opened the conference with five straight wins, with Cliff Hodge and import Josh Davis leading the team. But after that streak, they went on to lose five of their next six games. That did not derail the Bolts, though. They still entered the quarters and swept NLEX in their best-of-three tiff. That, however, led to them getting swept by Rain or Shine in the best-of-five semifinals.

In the Governor’s Cup, they made it to the quarterfinals again, forced sudden death against twice-to-beat San Miguel, but lost in the end. The Beermen went on to win the chip that conference.

Meralco went through another season of falling short of the finals. But it was obvious that they were making positive strides. Many recognized that the Bolts were on to something good. Those thoughts, however, died in the 2015-16 Philippine Cup, when Meralco only won one of their 12 games.

There was excitement surrounding the Bolts after drafting two notable rookies in Chris Newsome and Baser Amer. Back then, they were two kids with pockets full of potential. Meralco needed a guy who could help unlock those, so they acquired Jimmy Alapag who came out of retirement. Thus, even bigger hype. On paper, it read as an excellent move. But on the court, it just didn’t translate as instantly as Meralco wished it would.

PBA - Rain or Shine vs Meralco - December 17, 2015 - 2

The Bolts faltered in the Philippine Cup, only to be revived in the following tourney by import Arinze Onuaku. With the recent addition of Newsome, Amer and Alapag, the Bolts’ backcourt looked really good. It was their front court that seemed quite bland. That’s why, with an import providing size down low, they performed much, much better. Onuaku, being so dominant, was named the Best Import of the Conference. Meralco finished the eliminations with an 8-3 slate, tied with San Miguel for the best record. It was only the tie-breaker (win over the other) that prevented them from landing the top seed.

Things were going so well until their sudden death game five against Alaska in the semfinals. Meralco lost. In a snap, that great run they were on fell in vain.

The loss was disappointing. It was difficult to deal with. However, the Bolts knew just how to deal with the defeat. All they had to do was look at the bigger picture and stay true to the long-term plan. What they wanted to do was break into the finals, and crushing as the loss was, that was the closest they’ve come to their goal.

Learning from their Commissioner’s Cup campaign, the Bolts went with another inside force in the Governors’ Cup. They tapped Allen Durham. And with the education that they received from heart-wrenching losses, Meralco came back a better team. As individual players, they were better. So On the same mission actually, but with a more passionate drive. That was what got finally got them their franchise’s first finals appearance since they entered the league in 2010.

pba-ginebra-vs-meralco-october-19-2016-prt-1

Finally, the goal was achieved. They were in the finals, set to play Ginebra in a best-of-seven series. When we’re young, we’re taught a very important lesson: when a goal is achieved, the only possible next step is to set a new goal. Meralco got their finals appearance. They now had their eyes on the championship. However, that was deprived of them via a Justin Brownlee buzzer-beater that seemed as if it was taken out of a classic sports movie.

You can probably predict now what happens next. Yes, the same cycle. Meralco got wounded, they healed, the got back. Just like they’ve done so over and over again. Much like that gym cleaner. He couldn’t make the shot. So kept trying. He kept recalibrating and recalculating. Then, he’d keep shooting.

This past season, Meralco made some more moves. They acquired Garvo Lanete, Mike Tolomia and Ranidel de Ocampo. Those three guys proved to be very useful in the Bolts’ 2017 Governors’ Cup, where they made it back to the finals. Although, again, it ended in a shoulder-dropping defeat against Ginebra.

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Believe, however, that Meralco will be willing to go through the cycle again and again until that next goal is achieved. It shouldn’t be long before Meralco shoots another shot and makes it.

It began with a plan. Then mixed in a whole lot of patience. That’s what turned an always-almost Meralco squad into a respected contender in the PBA. Sure, they haven’t actually won a title yet. And until then, we won’t really know how legit they are. But we’ve seen the strides they’ve been making. Trust me, Meralco is on to something.

READ: PBA 43rd Season hype articles

My favorite PBA memories

Coach Tim Cone continues to teach and win

Watching the ageless Asi Taulava

The thrills of a Manila Clasico

June Mar Fajardo’s potential captured my heart

Before the drama and dynasty, I’ve stood by the San Miguel Beermen

My Ginebra childhood, and why some things Never Say Die

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