I still remember my very first encounter with June Mar Fajardo. It was opening day of the 2012-13 PBA season, his rookie year. It was June Mar’s first day in the PBA. And coincidentally, it was also mine. That was my first day covering the big league.
Along the tunnels of the Araneta Coliseum, I waited for rookies to come in so I could ask them to fill up information sheets for the TV broadcast. One by one, they arrived. When I got to June Mar, he asked: “Kailangan pa ba to?” But before I could even respond, he filled up the form anyway.
That was my first encounter with The Kraken. Simple and very ordinary. But I’m glad it stuck to me. Because what I didn’t know at that time was that I was talking to one of the greatest players the PBA will ever see.
Last night, Fajardo made history by becoming the first player to win four consecutive Most Valuable Player awards. He’s only 27 years old. And he’s only been in the league for five years. But the has four MVP trophies already.
June Mar has quenched the Filipinos’ thirst to see a big man of his caliber. No disrespect to all other bigs we’ve seen in the league. But Fajardo is just on a different level.
I remember talking to Jayson Castro a few years back. I asked him what separates Fajardo from other big guys. “Ang bilis niya e,” he responded. That came from a guy who surely knows a thing or two about speed.
Then you take a look at what he can do with a basketball. He can post up. That’s a given. But he can also hit you with smooth-looking jumpers (a la James Yap) and every now and then, he’ll even bring out the euro-step. These are things that were beyond imagination for big men. Until June Mar came in.
Recently I saw the feature on God Shammgod – an NBA player who did not see his career flourish because he was ‘ahead of his time.’ Perhaps the same could be same about Fajardo. There wasn’t anyone like him before. But he used that towards his favor.
Fajardo is tall. He’s skilled. He’s dominant. But the biggest reason why he’s the best player in the league is because of how he’s changed the landscape of the game. Of the league. In so many ways.
Before June Mar emerged as a force in the PBA, it was a guard-heavy league. We celebrated the likes of Castro, Jimmy Alapag, Paul Lee, James Yap and Mark Caguioa. In fact, before June Mar, the last time a center won the MVP was Erik Menk back in 2005.
Nowadays, we still appreciate our guards – especially the uprising of younger talents like Terrence Romeo, Stanley Pringle, Baser Amer and many more. But the focus has somehow shifted to the bigs. And Fajardo is largely responsible for that.
Teams have constantly made moves to size up just to match up with the Kraken. They would stack up on bigs just so they would have more ammo in stopping Fajardo’s onslaught. But none of it mattered. June Mar continued to plow through all of them, collecting championships and MVPs.
Only two guys have won four MVPs in the PBA before – Ramon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio. But being the humble giant that he is, June Mar will surely tell you he’s not worthy to be in the same circle as those legends.
But his trophy cabinet would beg to differ. The scariest thing about it is that there’s still space in that cabinet. And even then, he will probably have to build another one at some point in his career.
I’ve never seen anyone as good as June Mar Fajardo in the PBA. Maybe it’s just unfortunate that I’m not old enough to have seen the greats of the past. Or maybe I’m lucky that here to witness the greatest player the PBA will ever see.