The Passion of Pingris
The backlash was immediate and predictably unpleasant, vile even.
The hero had turned heel; the patriot, now a traitor.
The criticisms were harsh, and largely uncalled for, really. Yet Marc Pingris took them all in—the spiteful comments that he had sold his basketball soul for money, the unflattering insinuations that he now loves the hand that feeds him more than his country, and the foul accusations that he has turned his back on flag and country—like the upstanding man he has become.
Through all the bashing, Marc Pingris stayed silent.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the pride of Pozorrubio, Pangasinan wasn’t hurt. How can he not be? The man loves his country. He cares deeply for his homeland, perhaps even more than anyone could ever imagine.
By now, thanks to TV5’s Kuwentong Gilas series in 2014, everyone knows the story of Jean Marc Pingris—he was, to make the long story short, the poor, reed-thin boy from Pozorrubio, Pangasinan who made it to the big time.
The back story of the man dubbed as the “Pinoy Sakuragi” is as touching as it is inspiring. Born on 16 October 1981, the young Pingris had an early introduction to the harsh, unforgiving world of poverty. Marc’s French father, Jean Marc Pingris Sr. left the household when Marc was just three years old, leaving Erlinda Prado to take care of the Pinigris family by herself.
Marc and his doting mother struggled to make ends meet, but they never wavered, even as life seemed to be giving them every single reason to give up. Every day in the Pingris household was a battle for survival, and young Marc and his mom just kept on winning—barely, most of the time—despite the overwhelming odds. Together, mother and son just kept finding ways to survive, to make ends meet.
Marc’s mom was a rock, a steadying influence to a young man growing up without a father. She was the one constant in Marc’s life, and even as she could not afford to give her son the finer things in life, she was never remiss in giving Marc the truly essential things in life—love, care, encouragement, and so on. Even more, Ms. Erlinda Prado showed her son how to be strong, how to persevere, how to fight the battles of life with resolve and perseverance.
Turning to Basketball
Young Marc had turned to basketball at an early age, playing barefoot on asphalt courts in his hometown and under the scorching heat of the sun. Eventually, the game gave him an in-road to college education. But even as he took his talents to Manila, the phantoms of poverty followed him, too.
In that well-received TV5 documentary, Marc recalled how he had to make do with his teammates’ leftover food on days when he had absolutely nothing. Yet through it all, the young man remained steadfast, unwavering in his beliefs that things will get better soon enough.
The then student-athlete even vowed, “Balang araw, kakain din ako ng masarap.”
After a solid amateur career, Jean Marc Pingris took his energetic, all-hustle game to the pro ranks as he was selected by the FedEx Express as the third overall pick in 2004 PBA Draft. He had a rather unremarkable rookie year, mostly playing spot minutes behind sophomore power forward John Ferriols, third year forward Homer Se, and fellow rookie Ranidel de Ocampo.
The next year, Pingris was traded to Purefoods, and the rest, as the saying goes, was history. Given extensive minutes, the then 22-year-old power forward proved once and for all that he truly belonged in the big league, displaying a brand of basketball forged on fire—all hard work, all defense, all effort. He did the dirty work, the nitty-gritty, the plays that don’t always show up in the box score.
He was tough-minded and tenacious, passionate and persistent. He played in-your-face defense, not only on opposing power forwards, but on everyone put in front of him. Cat-quick point guards like Mike Cortez and Jimmy Alapag? Not a problem. Dynamic, sweet-shooting two-guards like Dondon Hontiveros and Gary David? Just line them up. Athletic wings? Challenge accepted. Big, hulking centers like Asi Taulava? Make them even bigger.
Pingris’s stellar play did not go unnoticed as he bagged the Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2006. He was also named to the Mythical Team (Second) for the first time in his career. More importantly, he won his first championship—the 2006 Philippine Cup—as he helped Purefoods outlast Red Bull. He won his first Finals MVP in the process.
Jean Marc Pingris had arrived. And yes, he was finally eating good food, and giving his mom the life every mother deserves.
Superstardom and Gilas 2.0
From 2008 to 2010, Pingris was traded thrice, first to Magnolia/San Miguel in 2008, then to Burger King in 2009, and finally back to Purefoods in 2010. Back at home, Pingris’s game blossomed even more, as he slowly but surely added weapons to his arsenal. He has become a legit scoring threat in the paint with his array of floaters and drop-steps. He has also become an adept passer, executing crisp passes in Tim Cone’s infamous Triangle.
By 2013, the pride of Pozorrubio, Pangasinan was widely considered as the best defender in the PBA as well as one of the league’s premier rebounders. Moreover, Marc Pingris had become the acknowledged heart and soul of the most successful team in the pro ranks. Thus, it came as no surprise that he was invited to try out for a spot in the Chot Reyes-coached Gilas 2.0.
Pingris eventually won a spot in the national team, but his selection was widely panned. Critics pointed out that the six-foot-four power forward was too small for international play. They rued his lack of touch from the perimeter. They ridiculed his simplistic post game.
The bull-strong forward took all the criticism in stride. Rather than defend his inclusion to Gilas 2.0, he took the high road and kept silent. Months later, he let his game do the talking. He introduced his in-your-face brand of basketball to the rest of Asia. He defended bigs and wingmen with typical Pingris tenacity. He grabbed rebounds like his anime alter-ego, Sakuragi. He even sprayed in a few undergoal stabs and floaters along the way. More importantly, he became one of the team’s unquestioned leaders, along with Jimmy Alapag.
Pingris would shut his critics up once and for all in the biggest game of all—against rival South Korea with a spot on the FIBA World Cup of Basketball on the line. On a tender hamstring, Pingris played the game of his life, stepping in for an injured Marcus Douthit and pouring his heart and soul on the court. He battled South Korea’s big men, poured in 16 points, and grabbed several rebounds, including an offensive board that helped seal the deal for Team Pilipinas.
Back to Where He Belongs
A virtual shoo-on for Gilas 3.0, Pingris received criticism when he decided to pull out from the team, citing “reasons beyond his control.”
“Mahal ko Gilas, pero may mga bagay na di natin control,” said the two-time PBA Defensive Player of the Year about his decision to beg off from the national team.
But love, as the song goes, will lead you back. And in the case of Marc Pingris, his love for the Philippines brought him back to where he rightfully belongs—the national team. In the end, Pingris’s unswerving love for country won over all those things beyond his control. In other words, Jean Marc Pingris Jr. loves this country so much that he decided to join his Gilas brothers knowing fully well that his decision will have repercussions.
Marc Pingris is now in Changsa-Hunan, China with his Gilas brothers, ready and willing to once again pour his heart and soul for flag and country.
He did it before.
He will do it again.
Martin is a copy editor for the University Press of First Asia. He is an avid sports fan. He used to keep a sports blog at http://pinoysportsnet.blogspot.com/.