Let me confess something to you: I was a Purefoods diehard.
I was a fan of Purefoods ever since I became aware of its existence. I can probably put the blame on my basketball-crazy dad for naming me after the franchise’s superstar—Alvin Patrimonio. The thing is, I was destined to be a Purefoods fan. It’s neither a blessing nor a curse. It is what it is.
I was supposed to be a lifer, a guy who would stick it out with the team through thick and thin. However, everything changed after the 2014 Grand Slam feat. No other team had won all three season titles for the past 18 years prior to that run. That historic run by San Mig Coffee only raised my expectations for this team. Somehow, these high hopes led me to where I am right now.
First Stage: Denial
To me, the historic Grand Slam and four-peat was a shocker, a pleasant surprise. San Mig Coffee never dominated the season, but they got the wins when they mattered the most. They were the sole champions of 2014. For some time, they looked like they wouldn’t slow down anytime soon. The team was in cloud nine with all the successes they’d achieved.
But the higher you fly, the harder you fall.
The hopes of five-peat ended abruptly after a quarterfinal loss to Meralco during the 2015 Philippine Cup. It was an eerily unfamiliar sight to see. For the past year, the newly christened Purefoods Star Hotshots was able to find ways to win and escape elimination. That time, they didn’t. The team simply had no answer to what the Bolts had thrown their way.
But I thought it was fine. After Purefoods lost the first title, I hoped that they would be hungry again. The team would use the failed five-peat bid as a motivation to bounce back and defend the next two trophies.
I was wrong.
The title defense ended with two semifinal exits against Talk N Text and Alaska. Neither Denzel Bowles nor Marqus Blakely could save the team from losing.
Despite the disappointing season, I still thought everything was fine. They would bounce back, right? Sooner or later, they would find a way to get back to the old winning ways. After all, this was a team which was built to win.
Second Stage: Anger
But then, something unimaginable happened.
After five years with B-meg/San Mig Coffee/Purefoods, Coach Tim Cone was transferred to Ginebra.
I was puzzled and furious at the same time. Why in the world would the management do this to the team? To us fans? Why would we let the guy responsible for the Grand Slam walk away?
Purefoods was just one year removed from its last title, yet the coach was already transferred to, of all teams, Ginebra. Really? Did the organization just actually let its bitter rival improve at the team’s own expense?
The transfer of Joe Devance didn’t help to ease the pain, either. It was like salt was rubbed over the deep cuts. We had so much success when Coach Tim and Joe were on our side. Suddenly, in spite of all the accomplishments, the Purefoods fan in me had to look at Coach Tim and Joe with despise and root against them every Manila Classico game.
Since then, I had to bear seeing Purefoods lose one game after another against Coach Tim, Joe and the rest of Ginebra. No matter how big the lead was, Ginebra found a way to steal the game from Purefoods. With every heartbreaking loss that I witnessed, a part of me was eaten away by rage and resentment.
Third Stage: Bargaining
Please, not James.
I could never forget the day when Star decided to trade away James Yap. It was a normal Thursday afternoon at the office, when suddenly, an all-caps tweet by ESPN5’s Chuck Araneta shattered my heart into a million pieces.
HOMAYGAD PAUL LEE FOR JAMES YAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!
— Chuck Araneta ???????? (@chuck_araneta) October 13, 2016
I was rattled, to say the least. Sure, Paul Lee is a great player and a superstar in his own right. But we’re talking about James Yap. After Alvin retired, James became the face of the Purefoods franchise. He led the team to seven titles. The likes of Kerby, Joe and Marc (for a little while) had left the team, but James was always there—the constant in this ever changing game of basketball.
For 12 years, James was Purefoods. He led the Chunkee Giants’ Philippine Cup title in 2006. He was there when the TJ Giants worked its way up to a sweep to clinch the 2009-2010 Philippine Cup trophy. He withstood the ups and downs of B-meg’s campaign and helped bring a title in the 2012 Commissioner’s Cup. He enjoyed the all the success, including four titles, with San Mig Coffee. He was still the face of the team when Purefoods tried to recapture its old glory with the Star Hotshots.
I never thought that I would see him in another uniform.
But it happened.
He won’t be the face of Purefoods anymore. I won’t be able to see him retire in the same way that Alvin hung up his jersey for good. I can’t help but wish that it wasn’t him who was dealt away. There were a dozen other guys who could be swapped for Paul Lee. I didn’t care if two or three guys were asked in return for Paul. I won’t even mind if the trade didn’t push at all.
But please, not James.
Fourth Stage: Depression
Days after the deal pushed through, one of my friends who used to be a Purefoods fan asked me: Rain or Shine or Star?
It was a legitimate question. It can be argued that James was the most famous player on that team. I couldn’t blame the fans if they jumped over to RoS after that trade, including my friend (which he did).
Me? I was still rooting for Star. Maybe it’s the sentimental value of being a diehard Purefoods fan. I had known this team for a long time, and it wouldn’t make sense if I bail out on them after all that I’d been through.
So, I made the conscious choice to endure Star’s first season of the post-James Yap era. I believed that I had every reason to be excited about the team. Paul’s in his prime. Aldrech Ramos came back. Jio Jalalon and Ian Sangalang looked like they can be the future of the franchise. Chito Victolero would be a good coach. I tried to be upbeat with whatever’s ahead of the team.
Except that I wasn’t at all. Yes, they improved over the disaster in the previous season. But for some reason, I still couldn’t let go of the fact that James wasn’t on the team anymore. The emptiness lingered as the season went on.
The awkward feeling deepened more during the first matchup between Rain or Shine and Star after the trade. I was only able to watch the highlights of the game. Nonetheless, seeing James in the opposing team’s uniform was painful. It was then that I was only able to fully grasp the fact that James is not with Star anymore.
It was somewhat a successful season for Star. They were able to reach the semifinals of all the three conferences. But I had to admit, I couldn’t care less about how they performed in that season.
I was fixated to the thought that James Yap was able to achieve greater things in his new team. He was able to hit his 1,000th three pointer in his debut with RoS. He became a member of the 10K points club wearing an Elasto-Painter uniform. Somehow, these little things mattered more to me than what Star had achieved.
Final Stage: Acceptance
Changing names is a common practice for PBA teams. At some point, San Miguel became Magnolia and Petron. Ginebra was Añejo. Heck, Purefoods/B-meg/San Mig Coffee changed names more times than I changed my mobile number.
But I was honestly startled when news broke out that Purefoods/Star will change its name to Magnolia Hotshots. Wasn’t that the same brand endorsed by San Miguel years ago? The team that Marc Pingris got traded to?
More than that, I believed that going back to the old Purefoods name was the last good thing that happened to this team. Maybe that’s the reason why I still held on despite all the mess that happened. Purefoods may be a small part of Star’s team logo, but it was enough to pull me back to the rich history of the franchise. It reminded me why I was a diehard fan in the first place.
The recent move feels like an ending to an inevitable fallout. From the departure of Coach Tim Cone to the trade that banished James Yap, every move that this team made after the Grand Slam run alienated me as a fan. Changing the team brand to Magnolia is the final nail to the coffin, the culmination of all the events that transpired.
I realized that my feelings for this team isn’t the same as before. I feel like this is not the same Purefoods team that I cried for, that I cheered for, that I fell in love with. Not anymore. It was good, but now’s the time to let go.
I’m not the same diehard fan that I was before. I’m free. Maybe I’ll come back sooner or later; for now, it’s over.
Am I happy? Am I sad? I don’t know.
It is what it is.