Case for PBA’s 50 Greatest: In the defense of Gabe Norwood

Then and now, there’s still two sides to a basketball game: offense and defense.

We often laud those who can dominate the game by scoring at will. These are the players who are regularly considered for MVP awards or Mythical Team selections. But while we revere those who can whip up buckets from the perimeter or from the paint, we don’t share the same adulation for those who can shut down their opponents.

These men impenetrable walls regardless of who they guard. These gems can cover passing lanes and disrupt shot attempts with their nose for the ball. While they will not score 20 a game, the ones assigned to them often have a bad night. Coaches and franchises are fortunate with these game-changers on their roster. That is why Ginebra enjoyed much success during the heyday of Chito Loyzaga while Purefoods can say the same with Marc Pingris.

If that’s the case, Gabe Norwood of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters should be seriously considered for the PBA 50 Greatest Players list. If the aforementioned players made the 40 Greatest, the more his name should be added to the next ten. Loyzaga can cover wing players with ease but you will not put him against big men. In contrast, Pingris can make life harder for forwards and centers but he is a step slow to handle guards.

Such is not the struggle for the former George Mason University standout. He has the athleticism and quickness to match against backcourt players as well as the length and ferocity to battle against the frontcourt ballers. Norwood will always put up a fight to ensure that teams will not get easy baskets by utilizing his seven-foot wing span. Try shooting against him and players either get blocked, bricked, or air balled. He sacrifices his body for loose balls to collar possessions and to set screens to free up his teammates. He also uses his slender frame to sneak past bulkier men and sky for rebounds via his enviable vertical leap.

His excellence on this facet of the game has earned him six PBA All-Defensive Team selections including five straight from 2013 to 2017. The 6’ 6” stalwart from North Carolina was also named PBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. A year before, Norwood claimed Rookie of the Year honors and was included to the Mythical Second Team in the same season. The 2008 PBA Draft top over-all selection is also a vital cog that has guided Rain or Shine to titles in the 2012 Governor’s Cup and the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup. His exploits also earned him a nod to eight All-Star teams, winning MVP honors in the 2010 edition.

While defense is his calling card, Norwood is not a push-over on offense. He has a dependable medium range jumper to go with his momentum-changing dunks. Aside from defensive stats of close to six rebounds and two steals per game in ten seasons played, he can also chip in around nine points per contest.

But perhaps the greatest proof of his greatness and unselfishness on the hard court is being part of the Philippine national basketball team for over a decade. Though there are better scorers than him, coaches still call upon him because his defense and intangibles are integral to success. Norwood has donned the country’s colors since 2007 and earned a ticket to the FIBA World Cup by bagging silver in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships.

His teammates can put a premium on offense while he holds the fort on defense by marking the opponent’s best player. Just imagine how different the Gilas’ defensive scheme would be without him. It’s also amazing that even though he was the oldest player in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup roster, he is first in minutes with 26.9 per contest. When he was on the floor, he gives a +15-point differential which is tops in that squad too.

He is now 33 years old and probably in the back nine of his career. But then and now, Gabe Norwood has not lost a step. He is one of the few PBA players at present who can dominate the game not by points and three-pointers but by gritty defense. That is the greatness that he brings to the floor every night. Thus, the best way to honor his legacy is to book him a spot in the 50 Greatest Players list. He may be the epitome of a player who does the dirty work. But there should be no stain in his case of being included in that legendary company.