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Submitted by: Imman Canicosa
“Oh! He’s strangling Arwind Santos! Unbelievable!”
“This is probably the first time ever na nakakita ako sa PBA na magkakampi…”
This is what commentators Mico Halili and Jason Webb said on the TV broadcast after seeing Petron Blaze Boosters import Renaldo Balkman choking his teammate Arwind Santos during a game against the Alaska Aces on March 8, 2013. And they were right. It was unbelievable, and it was probably the first time in the league’s history that a player had gone after and choked his own teammate.
Balkman had been struggling all game long, and Petron was on its way to its second loss of the conference. In the game’s final minute, with the outcome decided, Balkman thought he was fouled on a foray to the basket against Alaska’s import Rob Dozier. The referees thought otherwise, and Balkman approached all three referees, one at a time, to give them a piece of his mind. Not even assistant coaches or teammates, including Santos, could pacify him.
The result was a P250,000 fine and a lifetime ban which was handed by then-PBA Commissioner Chito Salud. It was a disappointing end to what had begun as a promising stint for the then 28-year old Balkman’s stint for the Blaze Boosters. In seven games, he averaged 25.0 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.7 blocks. They were stellar numbers, but the image burned on the minds of everyone wasn’t him scoring buckets or protecting the rim. It was of him in the Blaze Boosters’ immaculate white and blue jerseys, both his hands wrapped around his teammate’s neck as teammates and people around them wore expressions of shock and disbelief.
Balkman apologized profusely for his actions through Twitter, and even appeared on TV to issue a public apology. But the ban stayed, and Balkman was sent packing. Everyone thought that was going to be the first and only chapter of his basketball career in the Philippines. And on the court, his team’s play seemed to mirror his act on Santos on that fateful night.
The Blaze Boosters, which had been playing well until that game against the Aces in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup, struggled to find a replacement for Balkman. They went with Rodney White for two games and later Henry Sims, but the two imports managed a combined record of just 2-4. Their strong start to the conference was enough to carry them to the playoffs, but they were blanked by the Talk N’ Text Tropang Texters (now the TNT KaTropa) in the Quarterfinals.
But five years later and another chapter was added to Renaldo’s basketball story in the country. And as in any story, the passage of time has changed a lot of things. Balkman will no longer join a team that races out to the top of the standings in the elimination round, only to capitulate during the postseason when it matters most. Instead, he’ll be joining a team that has won six championships under head coach Leo Austria, including four straight in the Philippine Cup. Even the team’s name has changed, as he joined the San Miguel Beermen instead of Petron.
Balkman himself has changed. He’s won championships overseas after his stint with the Blaze Boosters. And when he returned to our shores, he brought a championship to a San Miguel-backed team in Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League earlier this month. The situation with Alab was the opposite of his previous stint with Petron. If he got out to a hot start with the Blaze Boosters, the Alab team he joined together with Ginebra import Justin Brownlee was mired in a three-game losing streak. But together with Brownlee, he helped Alab win its first title on home soil.
That would have already made for a good second chapter in the story of his basketball career in the Philippines, but fate would have other plans. The San Miguel Beermen were set to defend their Commissioner’s Cup title, but the import who led them to the crown, Charles Rhodes, was unavailable due to a commitment to the Korean Basketball League (KBL). As it happened, Balkman was available. And after current PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial lifted the ban on him playing in the league, the stage was set for his return.
Balkman officially made his return for the Beermen on Saturday, May 19, in an out of town game in Dumaguete City, playing almost 40 minutes in their 103-105 loss to the Alaska Aces, the same team he played against five years ago. He scored 32 points on 13-of-23 shooting and adding 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. It might not have been his desired outcome, but fortunately, he’s been in this very situation before with Alab. He joins a team that has lost three straight with another relatively new addition in Christian Standhardinger. And if there’s any team that can figure things out after a slow start, it’s the Beermen.
A year ago, this chapter in his basketball career seemed closed, the image of his hands around Santos’ neck indelible in the minds of Filipino basketball fans. But now, he has a chance to create a new image and write a new ending. It could end with another championship, or another disappointing end. With a team as storied as the Beermen, those are the only options. But the pen is in Balkman’s hand, and what he will write next is up to him.
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