I KNOW it is because of age that I enjoy meeting former PBA players whom I used to write about or watch during our younger days.
And that is why when I learned that former Toyota player and Shell and Barangay Ginebra coach Rino Salazar was in town, I made sure that I would be at the small get together hosted by Rino’s coach and my good friend Mike Advani at the Uptown Mall in BGC recently.
And when I arrived at the venue, Rino and wife Rose were already there together with our host Mike, another ex-Toyota and Ginebra player Chito Loyzaga, and Leo Isaac and wife Pia. Later on, avid Ginebra fans Phil Adamson and William Tan joined us and the night was spent reminiscing about the past.
And believe me, in this kind of reunions, one hears a lot of off-the-record and on-the-record stories from the players that have never surfaced in the past, surprising even some of the players themselves.
For one, I learned that at one time Larry Villanil, then a newcomer in the Ginebra, had an altercation with resident tough guy Rudy Distrito in a practice game. Issue was respect for old timers and coach Sonny Jaworski allowed the two to have it out in a fist fight, and make a guess as to who won. Ask Leo, he witnessed the fight.
Or the time JV Gayoso and Bong Tan ended up playing in a friendly game.
This was way after JV’s playing career, turned out he and Bong were not friends at all, and JV had to exit early the game to avoid a possible confrontation. Enough said.
But then this piece is more on Rino, a member of the NCAA team that won the 1970 championship.
After his stints with the national team, he ended up with Toyota in 1977 until the time the team disbanded. Rino then coached Shell where he won the first title for the franchise in 1992, and also coached Ginebra afterwards.
But decided to leave for Juneau, Alaska to join his family that had relocated there already. It was Allan Caidic who replaced him as head coach, this was in the early 90s.
That by itself is a story but I promised I will follow off the record agreements.
Anyway, when Rino went to Alaska at the turn of the century, and started working with Alaska Airlines, with which he is still connected with now but will be retiring soon, and has in fact relocated to Las Vegas already , he was the first to organize the small Filipino community there into an organized basketball league.
Up to now, he is still consulted from time to time by the people he left in charge. He even became a basketball referee for some time as he could see himself out of basketball at the start.
But what touched me was when he started recounting his involvement in the trial of his former player Rudy Distrito in the latter’s case in the United States as Rudy was imprisoned and underwent trial for a stabbing incident.
According to Rino, he was the very first to visit Rudy, flying over from Alaska, and when tough guy Rudy saw him on the TV monitor used by visitors, the guy started crying and did not stop for the whole 30 minutes that Rino was allowed.
And together with Abe King, they spearheaded a fund drive for Rudy, with a lot of ex-PBA players in the United States responding,
Rino also attended regularly the hearings and at one time, brought Rudy’s family to the trial In the end, the group of supporters decided it was better to use the money to settle with the victim’s family and let a public attorney represent Rudy.
I updated Rino on the interview I did with Rudy when he arrived here, I was in Bacolod then for the UniGames and together with Ginebra’s fitness trainer Nino Sinco, we were able to sit down with Rudy, The fact is, he is doing well there now and has settled into a normal life.
Rino also shared his plans to return to the Philippines and get involved anew in basketball and was working out something with Chito Loyzaga when I arrived at the venue, it has something to do with doing basketball clinics.
But beyond that, nothing was definite although Rino said it will happen sooner than later as he retires later this year when he reaches 65 years old.
He has been able to retain his body weight though and only his hair has left him, something that Phil Adamson kept teasing him all night.
Rino, with a smile remembers the time that Ginebra, without coach Sonny, won an invitational tournament with three other PBA teams and two foreign teams. Unfortunately, the bonus he thought would come his way did not materialize, ask him why.
As it turned out, that get together was the smallest for Rino as the following night, he was at Chvs, the resto bar co-owned by teammate Noli Locsin.
I understand there were a lot more players there, like Allan Caidic, Vince Hizon, among others and there was another one that Jaworski graced, I saw a photo on Facebook.
I also saw EJ Feihl, Bal David, Dodot Jaworski, Benny Cheng, Pido Jarencio, JV Gayoso, non-Ginebra friend Alvin Teng, Philip Cesar, and Wilmer Ong.
Just shows how well-loved Rino remains and who knows, as he said, sooner than later, he will be back here for basketball again.