The Kelly Nabong I knew

Re-read the following sentence again and again to find any typographical error: Kelly Nabong, the mild-mannered big man out of Sacramento, has been a solid contributor off the bench for the San Miguel Beermen.

Nabong was traded last June 21 to the Beermen by his previous team GlobalPort for Gabby Espinas and a 2020 second round draft pick.

He has been thriving with the San Miguel second unit, sharing relief duties for the four-spot with Billy Mamaril and David Semerad.

Nabong is listed at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds.

No misprint whatsoever? A few months back, Nabong was nowhere near “mild-mannered.”

Since his PBA debut in 2012, I have always known Nabong as a “tough-as-nails” enforcer throughout his alternating stints with the Meralco Bolts and the Batang Pier. He was the guy I would first look for whenever there was an on-court skirmish. Either he is involved in a commotion, or – well, most of the time Nabong was part of the commotion.

Nabong was always viewed as a technical foul waiting to happen. With all the scuffles he has been involved in, I guess Nabong is probably one of the most frequent visitors of the Commissioner’s Office.

I still remember how Nabong tried to deliver muay thai knees to Marc Pingris in the clinch in a 2013 game against the San Mig Coffee Mixers. Nabong was in defense of then-GlobalPort teammate Marvin Hayes against a mob of Mixers, led by Joe Devance and Marqus Blakely. I recall then-San Mig Coach Tim Cone trying desperately to wrestle a fuming Nabong, all 220 pounds of him, to the floor. This, after Nabong bulldozed through Devance and Blakely and after his MMA exhibition with Pingris.

Nabong has had a history with San Miguel, albeit a confrontational one. While playing for Meralco in the 2015 Philippine Cup, Nabong had a flare-up with San Miguel’s Arwind Santos on their way to the dugout for the halftime break. Nabong appeared to throw the ball to Santos’ direction, hitting the lanky forward’s midsection. Santos returned the favour and a war of words ensued.

Then there are those past run-ins with coaches.

Nabong had a reported verbal dispute with then-Meralco Assistant Coach Jimmy Alapag during the Governors’ Cup 2017 semifinals. Nabong was then waived by the Bolts after the incident. Upon his return to GlobalPort via free agency, Nabong was once again involved in a verbal spat with a coach. This time, it was against Phoenix’s Louie Alas in the 2018 Philippine Cup. The fiery slotman earned a second technical foul for the “use of profane language” in the dust-up with Alas, earning him an ejection.

Despite being a “ticking timebomb” of sorts, the San Miguel Management – in search for a temporary replacement for prized rookie Christian Standhardinger who was recovering from a knee injury – gambled on Nabong’s acquisition. Yes, he has the skills that fit with the San Miguel system, but Nabong’s past history of volatile behaviour definitely raised some eyebrows.

Will Nabong cause the same headache for Coach Leo Austria, as he had caused for his past coaches?

Should the Beermen be on “alert status”, ready to break up a fight, once Nabong enters the floor?

Well not quite.

For the past six games in a San Miguel jersey, Nabong was nothing more than a concern for his team. For the past six games in a San Miguel jersey, Nabong has been contributing quality minutes off the loaded bench of the defending Commissioner’s Cup champions.

Hostility still came his way, but Nabong has so far chosen to take the high road. In their quarterfinal clash against TNT KaTropa, Roger Pogoy tried all the tricks to tick off Nabong to no avail. In Game 1 of the semifinals against the Alaska Aces, Nabong stuck to the game plan of limiting the point production of Vic Manuel, one of the contenders for the Best Player of the Conference award.

His shooting percentage increased significantly upon his transfer to San Miguel. Through five games, Nabong has been shooting 65.4% from the field, compared to 39.6% while he was with GlobalPort. From 27.3%, Nabong’s three-point field goal shooting rose to 41.7%.

The Kelly Nabong I knew attracted on-court trouble. But the Kelly Nabong I see now? Beyond those two gorgeous turnaround jumpers in Game 1 of the semifinals, I see a guy trying to find his worthy place within a champion team like San Miguel.

Now I see a guy trying to turn things around not just for himself, but for his new home.

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