After winning his fifth Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy, coaches are divided over the claim that June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer should be treated as the greatest player ever to compete in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
Meralco mentor Norman Black said Fajardo is simply the best – even better than other players he coached in his storied PBA career.
“Considering what he had accomplished so far in his young career, he has the right to be up there at the top either alone or with a very select few,” said Black, who had seen the country’s best players in action after winning the grand slam for the Beermen in 1989.
In that squad, four-time MVP awardee Ramon Fernandez was at his peak while Alvin Patrimonio, who would also win four MVPs later on in his career, was just building a very promising career.
Of course, Hector Calma, Paul Alvarez, Jerry Codiñera, Ronnie Magsanoc and Alvin Teng were at their peak as well as Benjie Paras, who emerged as the Rookie of the Year and MVP that year.
Magnolia coach Chito Victolero agrees.
“June Mar dominates the game, especially in the last five years. Aside from MVPs, championships also speak volumes of him,” he said.
“I think when he retires, he will be in that conversation as the PBA’s greatest player ever.”
But Black’s chief rival back in the day – Tim Cone – offers a different take.
Cone, the most successful mentor with 21 titles under his belt including a grand slam for Alaska in 1996 and for San Mig Coffee in 2014, said crowning Fajardo as the greatest ever is quite tricky because he exists in a different era.
“I think it’s very difficult to compare eras. Mon Fernandez was incredible, Alvin Patrimonio was incredible as well,” said Cone, who is known for being a team-oriented mentor for instilling the Triangle Offense to the Filipino brand of play.
“My favorite player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had six MVPs, but they don’t consider him the best of all time because it’s a different era. Michael Jordan came later, Lebron James came later, Bill Russell came before them. So it’s really difficult to compare eras,” explained Cone.
Cone said like religion and politics, the debate whether Fajardo is the greatest ever is very subjective.
“I think it depends on whom you talk to,” he said. “You talk to a 70-year-old man who watched Mon Fernandez play and he’ll tell you that he’s the best ever.”
“June Mar is the greatest of this era, maybe the best all time, but I’m not going to say anything definitive on who’s the best. I don’t have one,” said Cone.
Most important player
Cone added that the definition of being the best also depends on what category.
If that’s the case, then, Robert Jaworski should always be mentioned in the conversation for revolutionizing the game, sparking what is now dubbed as the “never-say-die” mentality of Ginebra.
“He may not be the best player, but he sure had a the biggest personality – maybe the most important player of all time,” said Cone, who had a lot of memorable battles with Jaworski when he was still on his way to clinching the grand slam for the Aces.
“He won only one MVP, but in terms of being the most important person in our league? That’s Jaworski,” according to Cone.
Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia backs Cone’s claim.
“He’s probably the most dominant big man, but I think it’s hard to label him as the greatest ever because of different eras,” said Garcia, one of the league’s youngest mentors.
“However, he will always be on top with other greats.”