By: Bong Paredes / @hoopslocale
Tough. Brash. Rough. Dirty. Aggressive. Out of control. Words and adjectives that were always found near the name Calvin Abueva, and for good reason. Since entering the consciousness of casual Filipino basketball fans as a collegiate player for the San Sebastian Stags in 2009, you immediately knew where you stood with him.
Calvin was, and still is, a character. Someone you feel strongly about either way. If you cheer for the team he was playing for or you are a teammate, you fall in love with him in an instant. He is just a bundle of energy and just never gets tired or fazed by anything and anyone. He will energize his entire team and his crowd into a frenzy.
If you support the opposing team or you are playing against him, you just want to punch him in the face. He just comes at you and plays smash mouth defense. Grabs a rebound you think you already got, beats you to the loose ball that’s within your grasp and makes a basket, then runs by the sideline as he sticks his tongue out of his mouth to taunt all of your fans.
Alongside future PBA players Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual, Calvin Abueva won a collegiate title, an MVP, and dominated the NCAA when he was there, averaging a monstrous 20 ppg, 16.4 rpg, and 6.5 apg with 1.2 spg and 1.6 bpg. Granted that he shot only 36% percent from the field, he got the job done. Calvin’s game wasn’t exactly what you would call, refined. He was the perfect antithesis to MVP of the other major collegiate league at the time in UAAP’s Bobby Ray Parks.
Calvin’s detractors would point out that the only reason he got monstrous numbers was because of his overwhelming physical gifts. He was stronger, faster, and more athletic than everyone else in the NCAA. He wasn’t really skilled. There is no way he can do that on the next level. What did he do? He dominated the PBA D-League with NLEX. Naysayers said he was playing against college players still, and he was on a stacked team with the likes of Cliff Hodge and Chris Ellis. They were right, but fact remains that Calvin still dominated. No way he can replicate that in the PBA, they say.
What did Calvin do? Declare for the 2012 PBA Draft, where he was drafted 2nd overall just behind some guy from Cebu named Junemar Fajardo. It really wasn’t surprising that he went that high. What’s surprising was the team that drafted him, The Alaska Aces. A team known for structure, discipline, control. All things Calvin was never thought of having. How can someone that became successful his entire collegiate career playing freestyle basketball, be successful with a team like Alaska? A team known for having defined roles and an equal opportunity offense like the triangle with one of the best Tim Cone assistants in Luigi Trillo as your head coach.
It was a disaster, right? Let’s just say that he was in contention for the best player of the conference twice in his rookie year and beat out that big guy from Cebu for Rookie of the Year honors. Not bad, right? To think Alaska was seriously considering picking Cliff Hodge over Calvin leading up to the draft tells you how people still doubted Abueva’s potential at the pro level despite his credentials.
Calvin played with the Aces until 2018. Though he never won a title with Alaska, he brought the team to a couple of runner-up finish and won a Best Player of the Conference in 2016. He was successful and outlasted his coach Luigi Trillo as a member of the Aces, even. He also played for the Gilas National team a few times.
The problem for Calvin was that the thing that made him successful was the same thing that prevented him from fulfilling his potential. He was the best enforcer/agitator the PBA has ever seen. He gets in his rival’s head and throws them off when he defends or taunts them. He was a nightmare to prepare for because even he does not know what he would do. He’s our closest version to a Dennis Rodman that we can get. For all the good reasons, and bad. Understandably, he was called into the commissioner’s office a few times. Annoyed players, fans, and coaches alike in the PBA and abroad with Gilas, had a few skirmishes here and there. But it was all good, it was just Calvin being Calvin, as they say.
His behavior was erratic, but Calvin had no reason to change because he was still successful. He had a lot of fans, and people had grown accustomed to his antics. He embraced the role of the villain and in a twisted way, all these enabled him to continue his ways.
Calvin takes his craft and role seriously and if the stakes are higher, he will push the envelope even more and that’s what he did when he went too far with a series of events both on and off the court almost 2 years ago that culminated in the infamous clothesline of former NBA player and TNT import Terrence Jones. Yes, we have seen Renaldo Balkman choke Arwind Santos and have a shoving match with his entire team and coaching staff, but this was still very surprising to many people, even NBA players like Isaiah Thomas tweeted about it.
Then the league and the PBA Commissioner just felt that enough was enough. Calvin was suspended indefinitely. All of us including Calvin did not think this suspension would last as long as it did. But it did. The league asked him to go through multiple hoops just to be reinstated. It took 16 painstakingly long months to have him reinstated and all basketball loving fans in the Philippines were excited to hear the good news when it finally came.
As of this writing, Calvin has played 5 games for Phoenix so far and he looks like a totally different player. The opposing teams are testing him for sure. Everyone is playing him just as physical as before, but he has yet to react in an even mildly aggressive manner.
Defensively, he isn’t as sharp and quick on his feet, but he was near elite level in the PBA in reaction time and positional defense, so hardly anyone notices. Offensively though, he looks like someone else. I haven’t seen him grab a rebound and take it to the other side all by his lonesome as he sprints by defenders like they were slow cars in an old arcade game Road Fighter. I have yet to see him yank a ball out of someone’s hands like Zion did to Giannis earlier this year. But who can argue with the results?
Phoenix has won 4 out of 5 games he has played in. Calvin has been averaging 14.5 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 1.5 steals on top of posting his first triple double of his comeback. He has the best plus/minus on the team with +6 and with Matthew Wright looking like he is entering his prime, Jason Perkins getting ready to burst into stardom, and guys like RJ Jazul and Justin Chua playing as good as they have been, this Calvin Abueva might just be what they need to contend with the likes of TNT, SMB, and Ginebra, this conference.
Will Calvin get his redemption story, similar to how Dwight Howard got his with the Lakers? It’s too early to tell. The Beast as we knew him is either dead or dormant. Only time will tell if he will ever resurface. One thing is for sure though, Calvin Abueva is here and we are all happy about it.