“EITHER you stay out of it or you join in.”
That’s how cage legend Jojo Lastimosa described his experiences of being part of teams that got engaged in free-for-all incidents when he was still playing in different eras.
Lastimosa’s comments came on the heels of Gilas Pilipinas’ riotous encounter against a visiting Australian team in their FIBA Asia qualifying match to the 2019 World Cup held at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
A free-for-all broke loose in the third quarter of the encounter between the Filipinos and the Aussies as players, coaches and team staff joined in the fray. It took awhile before the situation was pacified.
Lastimosa, now the head coach of the Bataan Risers in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, recalled the similar incidents which he became part of and how unfortunate things like this could happen in any game.
“I’ve been in situations like this four times,” Lastimosa, one of the PBA’s 25 Greatest Players, told FOX Sports Philippines. “It’s something that could happen to any game. You only have two choices — stay out or join in. Once you join in, there’s no turning back. You are already part of the action.”
The first thing Lastimosa recalled being part of a free-for-all happened in 1985 when he was still playing alongside Samboy Lim with the fabled Lhuillier Jewelers team in the old PABL.
“We were playing against ESQ Marketing when Samboy (Lim) got hit. Knowing Samboy, he’s not the kind of guy who would fight somebody, so somebody has to stand up for him. Ako yung gumanti for him and all hell broke loose,” recalled Lastimosa.
That same year, Lhuillier also played in an invitational tournament in Indonesia and Jolas and co. found themselves in trouble again.
“Grabe yung fight na yun, ilang minutes rin itinagal before it was pacified,” he added.
Then playing as a starting off guard for the Philippine squad in 1987, Lastimosa’s team also got involved in a free-for-all incident against the visiting USA-Swift squad.
“They were bullying us, similar to what happened with Gilas against Australia. I was told they (Filipinos) were called like ‘monkeys’, but hindi ko rin alam kung ano yung nangyayari sa loob because I wasn’t there, but yun ang sabi sa akin,” said Lastimosa.
“With the USA-Swift before, they were bullying us. They were bigger, stronger and more athletic, but we didn’t back down, which escalated in a free-for-all. Hindi mo na rin maawat dahil you’re already part of that and magulo na lalo pa sumama pati yung mga taong nanonood. If you went out there para umawat, siguro ang dapat mong awatin yung kalaban and not your teammate kasi hindi mo alam biglang may susuntok sa iyo.”
Fast forward 1998, Lastimosa was co-captain of the Philippine Centennial team. The team embarked in a US training, which the Filipinos used as part of the build up for the 1998 Asian Games.
“It was a long, tiring experience. At first, magi-enjoy ka because you’re going to different places in the US. But later on, mayayamot ka na rin sa constant travelling by bus, go to the hotel, train in the morning, play at night. Hindi rin siya naging healthy for us in the long run,” said Kenneth Duremdes, then the star player of the Centennial, who is now serving as commissioner of the MPBL.
Lastimosa added that the team’s eagerness to go back home was one of the reasons why they got involved in a free-for-all during an exhibition game with the Minnesota Gophers.
“It started with Andy Seigle getting involved in a physical play against one player of Minnesota, but more than that, medyo nayayamot na rin kami dahil gustung-gusto na namin umuwi and may frustrations rin during the said game against the college players,” added Lastimosa.
“But in a free-for-all, the idea there is always stand up for your teammates, no matter what. That’s what a team is for. You fight together. If I were with Gilas, malamang ganun din gagawin ko, I would stand up for my team as I don’t want my teammates get hurt.”