Ode to the Finals MVP: June Mar Fajardo belongs in the pantheon of PBA Legends

June Mar Fajardo is the most dominant player of this generation.

He is widely viewed by casuala and hardcore fans alike as the gold standard of the PBA today. He’s the big man fans have been dreaming of for the longest time, someone with a blend of size, skill and mobility, rarely seen in Filipino bigs today. He’s become the ultimate inevitable in this league, a sure 20-10, and if we want to stretch it even further, a sure MVP. Not even a sure MVP CANDIDATE. A sure MVP WINNER. There’s no one in the league right now who has come close to the excellence of June Mar.

But, somehow, there were always lingering doubts about the legitimacy of June Mar’s greatness. There were discussions about him being the GOAT, but they were always taken not just with a grain of salt, but with as much salt as you put in your Penoy when you’re feeling sinful. He’s a great player, no doubt, but to compare and place him in the same conversation as the likes of Mon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio seemed blasphemous. There were those who argued that a large part of June Mar’s success now is because of the other-worldly starting five he plays with. As an individual, June Mar wasn’t in the same pantheon as those players yet.

But he changed the narrative with his epic Philippine Cup Finals Game 5 performance. By putting up 42 points and 20 rebounds, he locked up not just the Finals MVP. The Kraken also put himself in the same level as the likes of Fernandez and Patrimonio.

It wasn’t like Junemar was playing all that bad during the course of the Finals that he had to put up 40-20 just to lock up the Finals MVP award. It was usual Junemar, putting up 20-10 lines as if it was nothing.

PBA Finals G1 MAG-SMB

That was the problem though: there was nothing particularly special about what June Mar was doing in the Finals. Most of the talk was bout Arwind Santos and Marcio Lassiter, and it was easy to understand why. The Finals MVP award, for the most part, is the, “Who did more than what he was expected in the Finals” award. The only reason you wouldn’t follow that particular criteria is if one player was head over heels better than everyone else.

June Mar, as good as he was playing, wasn’t exactly playing head over heels above everyone, through no fault of his own. He didn’t have to, because he had quality teammates who were doing plenty of work for the rest of the team. Arwind was the one making big baskets in the clutch, being an absolute match-up nightmare for the Hotshots. Marcio, on the other hand, was a two way beast, who was doing his best Klay Thompson impersonation minus the dog and the awkward dancing.

Marcio and Arwind not only had the excellent play, but also the narrative to win the award. June Mar, on the other hand, just had the excellent play. It’s understandable then why he was left out as a possible candidate for Finals MVP.

Come Game 5, the San Miguel Beermen were pushed to the brink, at least in their eyes. It wasn’t like if they lost this game, the series would have been over for them. They weren’t the one facing a 3-1 lead, they HAD the 3-1 lead. But the Beermen, being the championship team that they are, treated the way they were pushed by the Hotshots as if it were a do or die situation. Come the second half, after a couple of fiery words by captains Chris Ross and Arwind , the Beermen flipped a switch. At the very core of that was June Mar.

“Usual” Junemar Fajardo was treated as an inevitable, a consistent, dominant force who you could rely on any given day. He was a silent operator, one who didn’t growl at every made basket, and focused instead on getting his teammates to work around him so they could get the big moments. The Arwind hand of God three versus Alaska. Chris’ masterful performance during the 3-0 lead comeback. Every Alex Cabagnot Crunchman moment.

With the game on the line and one quarter to try and salvage the Beermen, June Mar flipped a switch. The fourth quarter and the two overtime periods were his to take. It was The Kraken’s moment.

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For the entire series, he was matched up against Ian Sangalang, the fourth year player who’s suddenly emerged as a rival to June Mar. He may have not had the size and heft to match The Kraken, but he was agile and incredibly skilled. Any time June Mar would have to defend Ian one on one, he had difficulty handling Ian since he couldn’t match Ian’s foot speed.

But this was a different situation Junemar was facing. In his eyes, the title was on the line, and something had to be done so they could win their fourth straight Philippine Cup title. The situation at hand lit a fire inside the Philippine Cup BPC, and we were set to witness a the Kraken unleashed in the biggest stage of them all.

June Mar started his rise by being more aggressive than usual. All series long, Rafi Reavis has hounded him with his length and wiry strength. June Mar has been forced to kick the ball out back to San Miguel’s guards since he’s had such difficulty sealing.

During the fourth quarter, this particular sequence just showed how evident June Mar’s struggle is against Rafi. But at the same time, we were witness to a beast that had ruthless aggression, someone who wouldn’t give up despite the difficulties he’s had trying to seal:

Junemar aggressive

That kind of nasty gets to defenders. When a force like June Mar decides to use it, it’s downright scary and difficult to counter. As a defender, you’ll continue to hound him, but you’re bound to second guess yourself. “What else can I do so I can defend this guy without fouling?” Forcing June Mar to give up the ball is already a tedious task as it is, but trying to defend the second chance at a seal without fouling? It’s close to impossible, and it set the tone for the rampage June Mar was set to go on.

As the fourth quarter progressed, June Mar continued to do work by crashing the boards, going after loose balls and trying to seal as much as possible to try and bend defenses. Just sealing tires defenders out, so it’s not like his efforts were for naught. The message was clear: This was no longer the relaxed, happy-happy Kraken. There was a mean streak to the way June Mar played that screamed “NO ONE IN THIS LEAGUE CAN STOP ME!” In that moment, no one could stop him.

Junemar growl

A second overtime can be taxing both mentally and physically. June Mar embraced the moment and continued to pounce. The length and effort of Rafi was brushed aside by the determination of June Mar.

Junemar Rafi

With the Beermen leading 99-94 with two minutes left in the game, June Mar had the opportunity to deliver the dagger for San Miguel. Defending him was Ian Sangalang, one of June Mar’s main rivals.

Nothing could stop him. This was June Mar’s moment. He isolated, jab stepped, then quickly spun to the baseline to deliver the dagger for SMB. BBQ Chicken.

Junemar BBQ

It’s these moments that create the greats. Those who suddenly find themselves in the toughest of situations, and still find a way to manufacture something out of nothing.

The amazing thing about June Mar’s Game 5 performance wasn’t that it was a do-or-die situation. It’s easy to motivate yourself when there’s no tomorrow. June Mar’s dominance wasn’t born out of necessity. It was a conscious choice for him to end the series and win the championship right there.

Game 5 of the 2018 Philippine Cup Finals was Junemar’s moment. He was able to undoubtedly catapult himself in the conversation among the greats of the game.

We were witness to the holistic growth of The Kraken. He was no longer just the 6’10” monster who was built like a tank. We saw the footwork that aided his overall offensive gifts, and the conditioning that he had to withstand 53 minutes worth of hits from the toughest of players. The Magnolia big men may have played less minutes than June Mar, but The Kraken had the experience and confidence to put up a performance of legendary proportions.

2018 PBA Finals SMB-MAG

42 points, 20 rebounds in a closeout game where his team was pushed to the brink. He pushed back, so hard in fact, that there was no question by the end of it all who the Finals MVP was. At the same time, June Mar ended any doubt. He is officially in the conversation for Greatest of All Time. Patrimonio. Fernandez. Now Fajardo.

June Mar Fajardo is the one inevitable in the league right now. The resume says it all. Six time PBA champion. Six time BPC awardee. Four time MVP. Two time Finals MVP. Once in a lifetime talent. Possibly the Greatest of All Time.

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