Kings of the Bubble: Ginebra is no longer just the People’s Choice

Whether it be in the Araneta Coliseum, outside the AUF Gym in Pampanga, or just outside the local basketball court, all it takes are three syllables to start a passionate chant.

GI-NE-BRA.

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel is a team that has transcended basketball in the Philippines. For years now, they’ve been the undisputed People’s Choice team. If the NBA has the Lakers, the PBA has the Gin Kings. Even Twitter knows what’s up.

Screengrab from Twitter trending list last December 9, 2020

Despite being synonymous with the word popular, the Gin Kings haven’t attained as much success as you’d think, if you didn’t know their history in the context of the league. They aren’t the team that’s won the most championships in the league; that title belongs to the San Miguel Beermen. They’ve never even won a Grand Slam. As a matter of fact, in the SMC group, they’re the franchise with the least number of championships.

Why then is Ginebra People’s Choice?

Photo from the PBA

Quite frankly, it’s their story. They are a marketing campaign done right. Never mind that their success on the court doesn’t match their hype. What the franchise has done is to tell its fans a tale that is inspiring and relatable. This story, in a mantra: Never Say Die.

They’ve always been viewed as the underdogs, but they’ve always had the personalities to make you believe. From the gritty Robert Jaworski to the electric Mark Caguioa, Ginebra’s always had charismatic personalities. These players made you believe that their teams could overcome the odds and come out as champions every time they stepped on the court. It didn’t matter that their opponents were better on paper. They had heart. Sometimes, that’s all that mattered to the fans.

It wasn’t surprising then that this PBA season felt rather awkward for Ginebra fans, but in a good way. Aside from games being held inside a bubble, the Gin Kings were heavily favored to win the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.

This was something new for them. Before, there was always a June Mar Fajardo or a Jimmy Alapag they had to get over. This year, Ginebra was the team the rest of the league needed to beat if they wanted to win the championship. They were no longer the underdogs. They were the clear favorites even before the season was paused due to the pandemic.

Photo from the PBA

Being title favorites comes with its perks, but there are also cons to it, especially from an emotional standpoint. This was especially evident during Game 5 of the Finals against the TNT Tropang GIGA. For most of the game, it felt like Ginebra was sleepwalking and just going through the motions.

Watching that version of Ginebra naturally led to conflicting feelings. Frustration. Annoyance. Confusion. It’s normal to feel these, especially when you’re in a situation that’s unfamiliar to you. We’ve always associated the Gin Kings for being pedal to the metal, and defiant with their style of play. Never Say Die, right?

Missed defensive rotations on a couple of possessions and 50-50 effort on a closeout game don’t live up to that mantra they’ve bannered for years now. Was there something wrong? Was the Ginebra of old dying?

One Ginebra fan on my timeline remarked, “As a Ginebra fan, medyo disappointing.” But he also added, “Pero I’ll take it pa rin if it will result to a championship.”

Quite frankly, this is how elite championship teams operate. From their amazing head coach to their unbeatable depth, the Barangay Ginebra have the make-up of a team that are favorites, not underdogs. Being held to that standard requires some form of sacrifice, especially regarding our emotional desires. Championship teams can’t always be down 3-1, making magical comebacks. Going pedal to the metal in every game is not only humanly possible, but it can also be dangerous for one’s longevity in this league.

Photo from the PBA

Work smart, not hard. It doesn’t always have to be a dramatic story that finishes with a storybook ending. Not everything has to be a dramatic finish. It’s tough to accept, but this is the new reality Ginebra faces today. Don’t worry, it comes with its perks. One of them? Trophies.

Despite a sloppy first half, Ginebra turned it on when it mattered the most and closed out the TNT Tropang GIGA in Game 5 of the 2020 Philippine Cup Finals. There was some drama since this was the franchise’s first All-Filipino championship in 13 years. But for the most part, this was what everyone expected to happen. They had the best coach, the deepest roster, and the steadiest journey in the Bubble. Ginebra got the job done and achieved what was expected of them. Achieving lofty expectations isn’t a bad thing. It actually means they’ve solidified their stature as a true championship team.

Photo from the PBA

It will take some time for Ginebra fans to get used to this. Five championships in a span of five years is something this franchise has never done in its history. In the words of CM Punk, they’re no longer the Boston Red Sox. They’ve become the New York Yankees. That should be celebrated.

The story may not be as dramatic, but they’re still People’s Choice. Mention those three magical syllables and you will still get that same passionate chant as you did years ago. The only difference now? They have a bunch of trophies to raise along with the raucous crowd they attract.

GI-NE-BRA.