“Nawala na yung sumpa.”
Those were the words out of Arwind Santos’ mouth shortly after leading the Petron Blaze Boosters to a game 7 victory Sunday night to win the 2011 PBA Governors’ Cup.
“Sabi nga nila sa PBL, sa UAAP, nag-champion ako, pero malas daw ako dito. Siguro ngayon putol na yung paniniwala nila na ganyan,” he added.
It took Santos five long years before he won his first title in the PBA, in a journey that has been marked by one heartbreak after another. Despite a sterling amateur career, he often struggled to find the glory that came so easily to him before he entered the professional ranks.
Apart from being part of the losing team in the finals twice, Santos had been runner-up for the league’s Most Valuable Player award three times. But on Sunday, all the glory was his; he led his team to the title and also won the finals MVP award.
Perhaps fittingly, his moment of triumph came against Kelly Williams, his friend and rival.
“Hindi kami nagpapansinan nung series kasi alam namin may mga trabaho kaming kailangan gawin and yun eh tulungan ang team namin,” said Santos. “Pero magkabigan kami. In fact, kumpare ko nga yan eh.”
The two entered the league the same year; Williams was picked first, while Santos was second.
And for the past few years, it seemed that Santos’ destiny was to remain just that: No. 2.
But the 6-foot-4 do it all forward willed his team — and himself — to the top spot with a heroic performance. He finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds — hist 14th double-double of the season — and added three blocks, and three steals. More importantly, he anchored the Petron Blaze defense all game, switching out on guards to prevent penetration while rotating back against the athletic Talk ‘N Text front court to protect the rim.
After the game, Santos credited Petron Blaze coach Ato Agustin for his performance this season. But he revealed that it wasn’t always smooth sailing for him and his coach.
“Nagkasagutan kami ni coach sa isang game, pero ordinary naman na nangyayari yun sa isang team. Pero nagkaintindihan naman kami, parehas kasi kaming Kapampangan,” said Santos. “Siguro, gusto lang talaga naming parehas na manalo, kagaya niyan champion na kami.”
“Si Arwind kapag nagkakamali siya, binabawi niya sa ibang bagay,” said Agustin.
First time is the sweetest
Apart from Santos, several other Boosters also won their first PBA title. Starting point guard Alex Cabagnot also tasted his first championship after spending several season on moribund teams. Rookies Nonoy Baclao, Rey Guevarra, and Rabeh Al-Hussaini, who missed the finals due to an ACL tear in his knee, also won their first rings.
It was also the first title for import Anthony Grundy in his overseas playing career.
For the reinforcement, the sojourn to the Philippines, which he now calls his second home, was all worth it.
“I’m falling in love with it,” said Grundy of his experience in the country. “I have a great time here and I love it being here. I think I’m thinking of purchasing a place here. The Philippines will always have a place in my heart.”
Grundy was determined to atone from his miserable showing in Game 6. In the seventh and deciding game, he finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and three steals in a solid, all-around performance.
“I think I was focused in this game. As early as last night, I was anxious to go, I feel like I could go from there. I’m eager to come back and I didn’t want to let them down. It’s a great feeling winning a championship here,” said Grundy.
Source: Reynaldo Belen, InterAKTV