*Read at your own risk. This entry contains a number of eye-roll worthy statements. I am unleashing my not-so-inner fan girl to write something very close to my heart, and as such this entry might induce vomiting.
Not a lot of people may know who Rey Evangelista is, and only a handful of those who have the teeniest idea who he is would have experienced the Rey Evangelista Effect (REE). REE is a figment of my imagination, and it may or may not exist in another dimension. In order to explain the REE, I have to tell you a story that may or may not be true.
As a student, I hated playing basketball (PE classes that were not dance classes were a pain in the butt), but for some inexplicable reason I loved watching the sport. Maybe it was the Robert Jaworski magic that drew me in to it, or maybe it was watching ten men fighting over a round orange object like it was the last steak on earth.
I was 14 when Rey Evangelista was drafted as a PBA (Philippines Basketball Association) rookie and donned jersey number 7. It was not love at first sight as most fan girls would feel for the likes of PBA cuties Alvin Patrimonio and Jerry Codiñera, but it was an imaginary relationship that lasted more than my real relationships. I thought that Rey was my media naranja (soulmate) for the simple reason that we are both lefties. When you are 14, any reason to admire someone is a good enough reason. It defies logic.
Rey was an unassuming small forward who played third fiddle (or whatever you call the person after the second fiddle) to Alvin and Jerry, but he was a hardworking guy who once grabbed 21 rebounds in a game (I remember this game vividly). I knew this because I watched 90% of their games VERY intently. Watching basketball VERY intently taught me a lot of things, and one of those is how to cuss like a sailor in four languages (Karay-a, Ilonggo, Tagalog and English). My favorite is Karay-a because every curse word is crisp, like perfectly fried pork skin.
The nerd in me learned the rules of basketball, the meanings of rpg, apg, player efficiency rating and terms like offensive foul, backcourt violation, and I think you get the point. Not one to rest on my laurels, I decided to memorize all the players in the PBA, and their personal statistics so I could compare Rey’s numbers relative to the field. It was easy because there were only eight teams at that point. Later on, I became an avid follower of the sports section of the newspaper (which later on led me to the world headlines and front page of the dailies, so in effect, Rey made me conscious about the goings-on in the country and beyond). I knew who Quinito Henson was, and I came to like his sports trivia. Moreover, I religiously bought the only two monthly sports magazines at that time. One of them featured a two-page poster of a PBA player in his jersey and almost always posing with the ball. It took more than 24 issues before Rey was featured as the centerfold of that magazine. That was two years of dedication – checking on the two vendors who sell sports magazines and getting disappointed over and over. The conversation went like this: Me: “si Rey Evangelista ang nasa poster?” Vendor: “sino?” Me: “Rey, sa Purefoods.” Vendor: “di ko kilala“. When his turn arrived to be the centerfold, I was elated! I grabbed the copy (one of only two left) and kept it close to my heart until I arrived home to peruse the magazine at my pleasure. But as they say in Spanish, valió la pena (it was worth it)! If I recall correctly, this poster still hangs in my room in Iloilo. Yes, deep down, I am still that 14-year old girl.
A year later, I had the opportunity to watch Rey and the rest of the Purefoods TJ Hotdogs live. My high school classmates and I arrived at the venue at the end of the second quarter, with no tickets but with fervent hope in our hearts that we could get in (We travelled for four hours to get to the venue, after we had hiked a mountain. Hiking the mountain was not part of the trip to the arena, it just happened on the same day. And there was no online reservation in the 90’s). To say that the place was crowded would be an understatement, but our naiveté and desperation made us buy a scalper’s remaining tickets. We entered the venue where people were packed like sardines in a crushed tin can. All I saw were heads of tall men that blocked me from my destiny. I felt deflated that it was all for naught! Luckily, an older man saw three height-challenged kids and told the other men to propel us up to the top of the bamboo stands (yes, bamboos!) and guide us to the side of the court. It sounded scary, and it was scary as we were airborne for a couple of minutes while the men held us like offering to Zeus, or some pagan gods. But moments later, we found ourselves land on the floor of the court, feet first with complete limbs. More importantly, I was in spitting distance of my media naranja!
While sitting on the floor of the court, with my toes touching the sidelines, I cheered like there was no tomorrow. I shouted every time someone touched the ball. I pumped my fist when the Hotdogs made a basket, and clapped when the Sunkist players made turnovers. When I looked around, I saw thousands of fans, mostly grown ups, doing the same thing. I felt like a member of a huge and rowdy family. It was pure and unadulterated love for basketball that bonded us together, and I realized that I belonged there—in that stuffy and dim place they called an arena. It was the best 24 minutes of my life as a fan.
The game ended, but now I cannot remember who won. Haha. I had the chance to talk to and have photos with the referees, the mascot and the ballboys, but alas, no Rey! The players went to the dugout and then proceeded to the bus. I took a photo of him without his shirt, but I am not posting it here because my young self might look like a stalker.
Not one to give up on anything easily, I persuaded my friends to go to the airport the next day and wait for the players to board their flight. Maybe I was on the verge of crying so they gave in to my incessant pleading. There was no internet at the time so we could not check some vital information involved in stalking a player.
We went to the airport at the crack of dawn, and due to guts and unstoppable inertia found ourselves inside a restaurant across the airport. The gamble paid off because players of both teams arrived at the restaurant where we were. Since there were only a handful of fanatics that decided to harass their favorite players at 6am, we were able to get the autographs of the players and had pictures with them. Finally, I worked my way to Rey while I was thinking what I would say to him. I am sure I said something embarrassing but thankfully, I did not faint at the sight of him, neither did I fumble my words when I talked to him. That brief encounter made me realize that Rey was a kind person. He was a shy guy, but he was nice enough to engage in a short conversation with a couple of teenagers. The brief encounter with Rey ended, but I did not ask him to marry me because I had nothing to offer him.
For years, I followed Rey’s career, and was elated as he won several Sportsmanship Awards (PBA’s version of Miss Congeniality or Miss Friendship?) and was included in All-Defensive Team thrice.
The day before I took my college entrance exam, I forced my way to a McDonald’s branch to take this photo.
Right after the exam, I watched his team, now called The Cowboys to promote Purefoods’ corned beef, play in another crowded and raucous auditorium. There was some unsuccessful stalking involved which resulted to me having a photo with a toddler named Kiefer Ravena. But that is for another entry. Or not.
Fast forward to college (the same college whose exam I took just so I had an excuse to watch a basketball game), I learned that Alvin and Rey would visit my university to entertain less fortunate children for Blue Christmas. Quick as lightning, I signed up to be a volunteer. On the day of the event, Alvin and Rey were gracious enough to host, participate in games and sign anything the kids would give them. There was a kilometric line that led to Alvin but only a handful of kids who lined up for Rey. I grabbed my pen and my nametag and tried to camouflage myself among the 8-year old kids (not my proudest moment). He was surprised to see a college student wanting his autograph, but he gamely signed my nametag. I kept it after all these years.
Throughout college, I would sneak out of class (especially those four-hour-long Organic Chemistry laboratory) or skip the class altogether (Philosophy 101 and 102) to watch PBA games in Ultra and in Araneta Coliseum. I would go back to the dormitory with no voice and tired limbs (from all the clapping and standing up) but my heart was filled with joy.
So after reading this long post, you might wonder what in the world is REE? It is not being a bad student because memorizing statistics actually helped me memorize the seemingly endless scientific names of flora and fauna that Mam Paz gave us in sophomore year. Watching basketball intently gave me the patience to stare at the distillation set-up of our high school experiment until the wee hours (Antibacterial effect of furfural from the extracted pentosan of rice hull on B. subtilis and S. aureus). I cannot find an excuse for sneaking out of class, but it added another brick to my already solid foundation of being a sports fan. If you are still reading this at this point, congratulations! I just wasted ten minutes of your life. 🙂 I will put you out of your agony and boredom: the REE is the reason why 7 is my favorite number. Now, you can roll your eyes.
I wrote this post because on Sunday, November 9, 2014, Purefoods retired the No. 7 jersey of Mr. Rey Evangelista. Based on my brief encounters with him, I think that Mr. Rey Evangelista is a class act. Congratulations, Rey! 🙂