If there’s a competition for who could be the best Sixth Man in PBA history, PJ Simon has to be up there in the list.
He’s arguably one of the most decorated super subs in league annals. A seven-time champion with as many All-Star citations, the hotshot from Cotabato won the Mr. Quality Minutes award twice (2008 and 2014) in recognition of his excellence off the bench.
From his humble roots down south, Simon slowly made his way up to the pro ranks. He initially played for the Davao Eagles in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association, then starred for Dazz/Happee/Fash in the Philippine Basketball League. He was behind James Yap in the depth charts when he signed with Purefoods, but he showed just enough grit and skill to merit playing time.
The rest is history. The 37-year-old lit up opposing defenses with his hot shooting and more often than not picked up where the starters left off. Teams had a hard time wresting momentum from his team even with the main guys on the bench because they also had to contend against a star in front of them.
Purefoods owes a chunk of their success to Simon, who was an integral part of the team’s title run. It’s also pretty safe to say that they wouldn’t win that Grand Slam in 2014 without him; San Mig Coffee didn’t place higher than the fourth seed in any of the elimination rounds that year and often looked dead in the water, but he served as the spark that the offense badly needed during those times. He averaged 13.5 points on 48 percent shooting from the field and 35.8 percent from downtown that year.
But for all the success that his unselfishness brought him, it might also be the one factor that could keep him off an expanded list of the greatest players in league history. Aside from his titles and sixth man awards, Simon’s only individual claim to greatness was a PBA All-Star Game MVP plum in 2008. He also never made any All-Rookie teams and was only given a Mythical selection once in 2014, where he was named to the All-Second Team.
There’s a larger chance that he’ll be leapfrogged by better, more prominent stars in that list. But knowing Simon, it probably wouldn’t matter to him. He’s made his mark, won his titles and tasted glory. For a guy who’s been a relative unknown in Philippine basketball, getting to where he is today is in itself a success story already.