When the Philippine Basketball Association tips off its 46th season with a boatload of weekend games starting on Friday, it will welcome back the most glaring absentee of the previous year.
And June Mar Fajardo, the six-time Most Valuable Player benched by a broken leg, is understandably in good spirits as the countdown to his comeback approaches zero hour.
Asked if he would want to win another MVP award, the San Miguel Beer center said in Filipino: “Why not?”
“My count was reset so I’m back to zero, so what I want is to win another six straight. Just kidding,” Fajardo added with a laugh.
In a revealing interview with the Inquirer’s SportsIQ, Fajardo said that although the league did not award an MVP trophy in last season’s bubble, he considers his streak of six consecutive years as the league’s best player snapped because he sat out last year’s lone tournament due to a broken leg. Fajardo talked openly about trudging through depression and how he dealt with his mental health while rehabbing his leg.
“It was really hard for me because I don’t really share my pain and stress, I tend to keep them to myself,” he said.
The freak injury happened at the start of 2020 and was the result of Fajardo refusing to rest despite incurring a hairline fracture in his right tibia in 2018.
“Our physical therapist recommended that I take a break for three to six months,” Fajardo said.
Not only did he ignore the advice, he doubled his basketball hours by suiting up for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the 2019 World Cup and then leading the Beermen to a near Grand Slam in 2019—the season of his last MVP trophy.
“I wanted to play for my country,” he said. “I played for the whole of 2019, including with Gilas. The whole time I was playing, the most I did was take painkillers.”
And as he makes his return, he says there are no regrets.
“I wanted to win; we all wanted to win,” said the 31-year-old Cebuano.
“I don’t regret what happened. I think that my bone got even stronger because of the metal rod in it.”
The Beermen take the court on Sunday at 2 p.m. against Meralco, the team that ended their five-year Philippine Cup reign by booting them out in the quarterfinals last season.
And Fajardo joked that with his iron bone, he wants to be known by a different moniker.
“I’m not the Kraken anymore, I’m the Terminator,” he said. “I’m bionic.”
And this is one hungry Terminator.
“I’m not contented with what I have,” he said. “My main goal is to win more championships but I know it’s easier said than done because other teams are also getting better.”
SEASON FINALLY OPENS
Alaska and Blackwater kick off the season at 12:30 p.m., the first game in Friday’s triple-header at Ynares Arena in Pasig City. Rain or Shine battles NLEX while Meralco takes on NorthPort in the other Friday matches.
NLEX will carry some mystery into opening day with the situation of Kiefer Ravena, who signed with a Japanese ballclub in the offseason despite having a live contract with the Road Warriors.
On Saturday, TNT and returning coach Chot Reyes take on Terrafirma at 2 p.m., followed by the match between Magnolia and Phoenix, which will have new Hotshots star Calvin Abueva taking on his former team after swapping squads in the offseason.
Christian Standhardinger debuts with Barangay Ginebra as the defending champions highlight the last day of the opening weekend with a duel against NLEX at around 4:35 p.m., after which Blackwater takes on Rain or Shine.
The abundance of storylines and subplots won’t be enough to push Fajardo’s comeback in the shadows especially with the Beermen eager to reclaim their Philippine Cup throne.
Fajardo admits that the injury has been harder to deal with mentally than physically.
“I still think about what if I come back then I injure myself again,” he said. “There are so many scenarios running in my head.”
But he is slowly learning to deal with that too.
“I just have to put my trust in God because only God has control on all things,” Fajardo said. “I just have to take on the things that I can control.”
Like winning, perhaps.
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