Inasmuch the same way that everyone in our household would side with any squad that my favorite ballclub Ginebra San Miguel battled just to tease me, I rooted for every opponent that the Milkmen played against.
Back then, it was any team for me but Alaska.
I only outgrew my dislike for the Uytengsu-owned ballclub when, as a neophyte sports scribe covering the PBA in the early 1990s, I was regularly tasked to interview and do feature stories about certain players from different teams, including Alaska.
The most difficult part of the job was not having to mingle with the members of the ballclub I used to hate, but keeping track of the schedule of practices of the squads, which were held in various venues like the old Ultra in Pasig, Reyes Gym in Mandaluyong, and the Acropolis Gym in Libis, Quezon City.
It was during a visit to one of Alaska’s practice sessions that I met Paul “Bong”Alvarez, then a flamboyant rookie whose jaw-dropping aerial exploits and above-the-rim plays earned him the moniker “Mr. Excitement” early in his PBA career.
He would later take his act to San Miguel Beer to team up with another high-flyer, “The Skywalker” Samboy Lim, and remained as electrifying as ever during his time with the Norman Black-mentored team.
More than his on-court savvy and exciting brand of play, what endeared Bong to cage fans and to those who know him was his down-to-earth personality. After all, he grew up in a poor neighborhood in Quiapo, Manila, where I remember having visited his family to do an interview for a weekly sports magazine I was writing for.
At the height of his popularity, Bong even dabbled into show business with other league superstars like Alvin Patrimonio and Jerry Codiñera of Purefoods.
Toward the end of his PBA career, Bong had brief stints with Sta. Lucia Realty and Ginebra. He and another former Ginebra stalwart, Vince Hizon, also got invited to play for the Pennsylvania Valley Dawgs in the United States Basketball League (USBL).
His USBL stint turned out to be Bong’s last hurrah in basketball as it was all downhill for “Mr. Excitement” since. Nothing good was heard of him following a decorated cage career as it was all bad publicity whenever he was mentioned in newspapers.
Bong made the headlines for getting involved in bar brawls; hurting a cab driver; getting caught in bed with the wife of a businessman; and physically abusing his wife, actress Almira Muhlach, among others.
Most recently, he was nabbed with two other men at a barber shop in Quezon City while using illegal drugs.
Witnessing Bong’s rise to hoop stardom, we could only shake our heads in disbelief over the fate that befell one of the most exciting and talented players ever to grace the PBA.
We may have heard similar stories of downfall of popular athletes in the past, but Bong’s is something worth telling and retelling if only to remind current PBA stars not to mix fame with notoriety all throughout their professional cage careers and beyond.