June Mar Fajardo was about to ascend towards basketball immortality once again. The Kraken was set to be awarded his sixth straight PBA MVP award, another record for the big man out of Cebu. As amazing as that achievement may be, it was as inevitable as death and taxes. June Mar has been the PBA’s undisputed best for six straight years. Ending his streak would require either a miracle, a herculean effort from another athlete, or god-forbid, a total disaster.
As June Mar scootered his way to the center of the Araneta Coliseum, he was met with a rousing ovation from various members of the league. Staff from different teams, management from other groups, and even opposing players, gave the Kraken high fives and was greeted with wide smiles. It was an extraordinary sight. It may also have been a necessary one, especially given June Mar’s current situation.
Coming into February 2020, June Mar was feeling great. Despite the abrupt end to the Grand Slam quest of the San Miguel Beermen, the reigning MVP had plenty of reason to feel good. At the core of this, was the added rest he got after the early finish to their season. Their elimination was an opportunity for June Mar to take a break not only physically, but also mentally. The proud Mama’s boy spent a lot of time with his family back in Cebu fishing and relaxing with loved ones. He was home.
That much-needed break gave June Mar the chance chance to recharge. He’s been playing virtually non-stop for nearly five straight years. He deserved that break.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising to hear that the moment June Mar had returned to basketball in Manila, he was looking extra spry and energetic. That was the general mood of the entire team. Practices were both intense and energizing. The Kraken, in particular, was looking stronger than ever.
For the rest of the league, it was terrifying, but also inevitable, to think that the Kraken had gotten better. But at this point, should anyone even be surprised? Just when everyone thinks June Mar’s performance is about to drop-off, he finds ways to add new facets to his already elite game. It was looking like the PBA was about to get another dominant season out of June Mar. At that point, only the Kraken could stop the Kraken.
That was correct. Only the Kraken could stop the Kraken.
Last February, an unfortunate accident happened during the final scrimmage in San Miguel’s practice. As June Mar rose up for an open lay-up, he suddenly found himself crashing down to the floor. There wasn’t anyone else around to hinder his landing nor did he jump wrong. It should have just been a regular fastbreak layup. Instead, what the Beermen got was their franchise player down on the floor and his entire season seemingly lost in a snap.
The once rejuvenated Beermen suddenly lost their joy. The silence was deafening. Some even teared up because of the gravity of what had just happened. Not only had they just lost their MVP, but they were witness to something no one was ready to see just yet: the basketball mortality of June Mar Fajardo.
Because of how dominant June Mar has been during the past decade, it’s easy to take his achievements for granted. In fact, instead of being celebrated, June Mar has been criticized far more often. The refrains are familiar ones.
Hanggang PBA lang.
Magaling lang dahil sa team.
Hanggang laki lang naman siya.
After the injury, fans and even haters were facing two conflicting, yet sensible realities. Firstly, June Mar’s MVP run in the past six seasons is an incredible feat, no matter what microscope it’s placed under. In other MVP races, voter’s fatigue plays a factor when a player is repeatedly in the spotlight. But in the PBA, it doesn’t exist because June Mar is just too dominant, voters are left with no choice but to cast their ballots for the Kraken. A vote against June Mar is essentially a criminal offense. He is that good.
Then there’s the second reality. The more painful one: streaks aren’t meant to last forever. The 27-game winning streak of the 2013 Miami Heat. The three-peat runs of the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Wrestlemania win streak of the Undertaker. All of those eventually had to end. And now, the MVP streak of June Mar Fajardo is added to that list. Because of his tragic injury, his streak stops at six MVP awards.
The end of the streak not only opened the field for the rest of the PBA, but it also presented to us a sobering thought. PBA players – actually, all athletes – are mere mortal no matter how much we put them on a pedestal. June Mar is no exception. As brilliant as he is, all it took to end his amazing run was a freak accident during practice. Events like that are proof that you can’t have everything in life. That’s why you have to savor the good moments when they come.
That’s exactly what the PBA did as June Mar drifted towards the way of Commissioner Willie Marcial to receive his sixth MVP. They savored this talent, because they know people like June Mar don’t come often in this life. He is an extraordinary talent, potentially even the greatest of all time. To litter his career with criticisms instead of praise would be to disrespect all of the hard work he’s put in behind the scenes.
The next time June Mar makes his way onto a PBA floor, it won’t be in a scooter. It will be in a San Miguel Beermen uniform, in full gear ready for another PBA game. Maybe he wins MVP again. Maybe he starts another MVP streak. There’s still a lot of questions when it comes to June Mar’s future. But one thing is sure: he is both magnificent and mortal. Because of that, he should only be celebrated. Doing anything else would be criminal.