Etched in our minds as basketball fans is a very specific genre of dominance. Like different artworks in a school contest, various strokes are used, and colors aren’t always the same. Yet, there is a unifying theme that ties all of them together. That theme for basketball? In a word: Otherworldly.
The strokes and the colors aren’t always the same. In the NBA, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s way of taking control of a game is different from LeBron James and Chris Paul’s. In the PBA, June Mar Fajardo’s methodology is completely opposite that of Stanley Pringle. Yet you can’t deny that the feeling you get when watching all six players is the same. You’re in awe because what you’re watching is out of this world.
LA Tenorio is anything but otherworldly. He stands at 5’7”, just three inches more than the average height of the Filipino. He’s never had incredible athleticism, nor has he been the quickest player in any of his teams. Yet somehow, despite his physical limitations, he’s built a career that is undeniably Hall of Fame worthy.
Nicknamed the GINeral, Tenorio’s success has always been linked to his leadership and guts. Even during his Ateneo days, Tenorio was defiant and always had impeccable control of his basketball team on and off the court. He was the veteran you wanted your young and talented teammates to be with on the team bus. He was a consummate professional.
But being a consummate professional isn’t enough. In the NBA, Udonis Haslem and Nick Collison were always model teammates to their respective organizations, but they were never treated as franchise cornerstones. The same can be said for the Harvey Careys and the Rudy Hatfields of the PBA. Effort, charisma, and heart can only get you so far. What then makes Tenorio stand out?
Ginebra’s leader been answering that question with every assist and bucket he’s produced in this year’s PBA Finals. We’re still witnessing the guts and the leadership that’s made him a legend in Philippine Basketball. But what’s allowed Tenorio to dominate these Finals, in his own unique way, is one very specific quality: IQ and feel.
Notice how I italicized IQ and feel as one and not as two separate entities. If you separate then, the story changes. With IQ, you can always make the right pass, but maybe not in the right moment. With feel, you can have a good read of what the moment calls for, but maybe you fail to recognize the better basketball option present at that time.
Both qualities are good. IQ recognizes the technicality required to play the sport, while feel refers to the emotional intelligence needed in playing something that deals with humans. But when you combine them, you get something that is great. A player with IQ and feel showcases the very peak of the human being. It isn’t necessarily otherworldly, but it is still excellent. It’s attainable, yet awe-inspiring.
That’s what Tenorio has done for the Gin Kings this entire series. He hasn’t had out of body experiences like RR Pogoy’s Game 2 and 4 performances, nor has he had the steady, physical presence of Stanley Pringle and Japeth Aguilar. Tenorio’s emerged in the right moments, a testament to his feel. When in those moments, his execution has been exquisite, a testament to his IQ.
It’s something that Tenorio wasn’t innately born with. His dominance in the clutch in this Finals is a culmination of years of experience in high-stakes basketball. From breaking out as a rookie in the 2001 UAAP Finals, to his numerous stints in Gilas, he’s seen it all. He’s a student of the game. We’re all witnesses to his application of all of those lessons in the PBA Finals.
Idolizing Tenorio is not only entertaining, but also enriching. So, sit back, relax, and get your notebook ready. The GINeral has some lessons to teach on dominance and it would be wise to take down notes.