The Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League may seem like a glamorous venue for talented hoop idols to showcase their wares in front of hordes of adoring fans.
But behind the scenes are tales of hardship, sacrifice, and, well, amazing time management. Nowhere is this evident more than with the Pasay Voyagers.
Several of the Voyagers have intriguing backstories that shed insights into the surprising life of an MPBL player.
One such player is Arvin Jay Vitug.
The 5'10” guard doesn't just come from San Fernando Pampanga, he still lives there, and makes the commute to and from training four to six days a week. He is a Voyager in the true sense of the word.
Vitug starts his day from his house in Barangay Calulut, San Fernando. He takes a tricycle and then a jeep to the main terminal in San Fernando and from there hops on a bus to Metro Manila that makes the 60 kilometer trek to the metropolis. Vitug alights in Camachile street near Balintawak. From there, another jeep to the LRT station in Balintawak. Then Vitug gets out at the Libertad station along Pasay road. Finally he takes the last leg, a jeep to the Cuneta Astrodome.
After home games or training, Vitug does the entire trip backwards. He has thought of renting a dorm nearby but doesn't fancy the extra expense, especially since he is paying a mortgage for his home in Pampanga. Naturally Vitug is adept at sleeping on bus rides. Amazingly, Vitug finds the time and energy to engage in a sideline business selling hoops gear like socks, shorts and jerseys on a Facebook page.
Another player moonlighting with another gig is Dhon Reverente. The former Philippine Merchant Marine School standout, when he is not hauling down 8 rebounds a game, is an enlisted personnel in the Philippine Navy.
Fortunately, the Navy and the club have worked things out so he can play and practice. Reverente is a former fitness trainer in the Rockwell Club but chose a Navy career because of its great benefits.
According to Marc Camasura, the Voyagers manager, Reverente also plays in the Navy hoops team, that is planning a series of games in China later this year. "Reverente is ultra-competitive," says Camasura, who has noted this trait in both practices and games.
Jesse Bustos is another Voyager with an interesting life off the court.
The former Bataan Riser is a photojournalist with the Philippine Star when not crashing the boards for Pasay. The power forward was apparently roped into the newspaper to boost their corporate basketball team. He was assigned to the photo desk, and ended up learning how to use the company's Canon DSLRs.
Bustos is often sent out for lifestyle shoots but also has experience covering rallies and other events. He says his 6'3" height comes in handy for occasions like the Black Nazarene. He is able to hold his camera aloft and snap shots that smaller photographers can't.
There's also a Voyager with a passion for civil service.
JB De la cruz is one of Pasay's homegrown players, a barangay court-monster from Malibay, a Pasay barangay on its southeastern side. A deadly shooter when he is in rhythm, De la Cruz is the Chairman of the Sanggunian Kabataang in his area.
The former University of Pasay gunner also played a year for the University of Cebu Webmasters, where he helped them reach the finals. De la cruz hopes that once his office is funded, he can organize a basketball clinic for the youngsters of Malibay.
These fascinating tales may inspire, but a sports team's primary goal is to win, and that is where the team fell short in July, losing four in a row, mostly close games in heart-breaking fashion.
Pasay's cause was not helped by an injury to Ron Lastimosa, who fractured the radial bone in his arm during a game at Caloocan. He will be out several months but hopefully he can return before the season ends next year.
"Communication ang kailangan, sa loob at labas ng court," says skiper Jaypee Belencion. The PBA vet, according to Camasura has an incredible work ethic that is rubbing off on the rest of the team.
The manager says he often arrives to practice even earlier than the ballboys. "Ang maganda sa team na ito, hindi mahirap kausap. Cooperative sila. Kailangan lang magiging mas consistent," adds the captain, who can play either wing position.
Like many other players, Belencion is also balancing time with the club along with other pursuits. He is pitching in as a skills coach with the Arellano University Chiefs.
"We have to stay composed and not get frustrated," says coach Marlon Martin, who is a head coach for the first time after serving as assistant in three other MPBL teams, namely Laguna, Pasig, and Pampanga.
It is Martin's philosophy that a team should have a family environment, and that is why he often asks the support staff to lead team prayers after training.
Pasay's four game losing streak ended in style on August 1, with a gutsy 83-78 triumph over Bacoor at the friendly confines of the Cuneta Astrodome. RJ Ilagan and Jan Jamon provided much of the firepower but putting the finishing touches on the win was Reverente.
The Navy man did a David Robinson in the end-game, making a crucial split from the line and then stealing the ball from the Strikers late. Vitug also provided a few quality minutes early on. At the final buzzer an avalanche of Pasay fans flooded on to the court to celebrate the win.
The Voyagers then went on to subdue the Batangas City Athletics - Tanduay 72-61 on Monday, August 5 to improve to 5-5.
Reverente grabbed best player of the game honors with a dazzling 26-point outing in San Juan.
Bustos doesn't get much playing time nor chances to shoot. But when he laid the ball in as the third quarter ended, he was mobbed by his team mates when he went to the bench.
Pasay are on a voyage this MPBL season, and their faithful fans hope for a deep run into the playoffs or maybe even a title, is their Promised Land. The players may have other occupations, but the Voyagers know that as a team, winning is job number one.