Swimming upstream: Paulo Hubalde sets his own standards for success
Ceej Tantengco on Jan 29, 2017 10:41 PM
After years burdened with others’ expectations, Paulo Hubalde is playing for himself.
At 36 years old, Paolo Hubalde is the old man on the Alab Pilipinas roster. When he was drafted eighth overall by the San Miguel Beermen in 2005, Bobby Ray Parks had just hit puberty. But the guard who spent a decade in the PBA doesn’t feel threatened or overshadowed by any of the young guns on the roster. For him, every game in the ABL is an exercise in persistence.
Basketball came naturally to Hubalde. Growing up, he didn’t know that his father Freddie was one of the best shooters in the history of the PBA—he was just a kid like countless others who took a liking to the country’s favorite sport. But eventually he became aware of his father’s legacy, and with it, came his first struggle.
A name for himself
“Those were very big shoes to fill. Hindi lang sa akin, pati sa brothers ko na naglalaro din. Pressured kami kasi every time we played, kino-compare kami sa kanya,” says Hubalde. “Tapos kaming mga magkapatid na parehong naglalaro, kino-compare din kami to each other.”
He grappled with it until he reached high school, when he set his sights on a career as an athlete. He was studying in Mapua Institute of Technology, the same school his father played for in college. “Naging dream ko talaga to follow his footsteps. Not in the sense na masundan ‘yung mga nakuha niya, but to have my own career,” he recalls.
“When I realized that he has his own legacy, while I have my own and my brothers [have theirs] too, I started to accept the fact that we’re not going to be like him, so might as well play my own game and be myself,” he adds. Hubalde secured a spot on the UE Red Warriors roster, and played in the UAAP alongside James Yap, KG Canaleta, and Ronald Tubid.
In 2005, Hubalde was selected eighth overall by the Beermen. But while it seemed like the guard was all set for the future, it was more like a set of hurdles had been laid in his path.
“When I got drafted they told me that I had to be an understudy right away for Olsen Racela. So they were trying to groom me to be like him without knowing what I can do,” Hubalde remembers. “Right then and there, it started na ‘you have to learn first before you can get this or that.’”
To complicate things, he heard whispers that maybe the Beermen had reached for him in the draft, that he wasn’t cut out for the league. After the Beermen acquired Brandon Cablay to back up Racela, Hubalde spent more time on the pine than on the hardwood.
“Kinain ako,” he admits. This weighed on him even after he was shipped to PBA fan favorite Ginebra the next season, where his father had spent his last playing year. “I was really impatient too because I knew what I could do for the team, kaya back then hindi ko masyadong ma-accept. So I really struggled through that for three years.”
Hubalde thanks Coach Yeng Guiao, whom he played for after he was traded to Red Bull Barako. “He gave me a real chance to play my craft, and from then and there I started to gain my confidence,” he says of the 2008-09 season, where his athleticism was finally put on display.
“And yet nawala si Coach Yeng,” Hubalde says. “And syempre bawat coach may ibang system. So may times na hindi ako nagagamit. It was really a roller coaster ride.”
He was eventually traded back to San Miguel, and later to Petron, where he was part of the 2011 PBA Governor’s Cup championship team. In 2013, he was joined the San Miguel Beermen team that charted a 16-game winning streak in the ASEAN Basketball League and took home the crown in Indonesia.
These days, Hubalde relates to other players who strain to find their place in their pro teams. One, he says, is a guy he disliked in college but came to be friends with after going through the same experience.
“Nahirapan din siya. Things aren’t going great for him, but he’s still working at it. Respect,” Hubalde says.
A second chance
These days, the ex-pro is back in the ASEAN Basketball League. Many of his teammates in Alab Pilipinas fought the same battle, like Jens Knuttel, who was drafted by Ginebra but had to work his way up from being a practice player.
For them, playing with Alab Pilipinas is not just a second lease of life for their playing careers.
Happy Happy Birthday coach Charlie!!! Wishing you more healthy birthdays 🎉 to come!! You are One of the reason who made my Dreams come true!! I am forever grateful for everything you have done for me and not just that for guiding me all these years, that why im still here.. You are not just an agent to me..you're family!! We love you coach!! God bless!! #AlabChampionship @sportsagentcd
“It’s to inspire young kids, as well as college and high school players who are striving for a dream. Hindi ka man nakapasok sa PBA or sa ibang competitive leagues, here at Alab you have a chance to play,” Hubalde says. “‘Yan ‘yung number one na sinasabi nina Coach Charlie [Dy, team manager]. Here we give opportunities to kids and players na hindi nabigyan ng pagkakataon.”
On his own time, Hubalde works with kids who want to play ball. “I have two young kids that I’m training right now and maybe soon I’ll be a training coach. I love giving back to kids who really want to learn…so if you really want to train, hit me up,” he says with a laugh.
Hubalde feels less of a need to prove himself to those who compare him to his father, to those who expect him to play like other ballers. He’s made peace with the struggles after setting his own standards for success. Now, he says, it’s about proving something to himself.
“[I want] to play until I can. I know I’ve aged, so for me to play 2-3 years…” he trails off. Since he hit his thirties, Hubalde has put himself on a diet and spent extra time lifting weights, doing plyometric exercises, biking uphill, and swimming.
“Lahat ng pwede kong gawin to get my body stronger and fitter for basketball, ginagawa ko,” he explains. “Para walang masabi, para alam kong ginawa ko lahat ng kaya ko. Para lagi akong handa.”
He adds, “I have to prove to myself that hanggang kaya, sige,”
Beating the odds
We often celebrate the athletes who dominate their field, or those who are enjoying a steady rise to the top: the Lebrons, the Big Ben Mbalas, the Alyssas. But any athlete knows they’re outliers. More are like Hubalde, fighting for every minute they get. Their stories are harder to summarize into a clickbait headline, too complicated to fit into an elevator pitch. Certainly there are less nicknames thrown around for them.
But if there would be a nickname for Hubalde, you could look to his extensive collection of tattoos for inspiration.
The koi on his forearm will catch your eye first. In Japanese literature, the fish that battles the rapids is a symbol of courage and determination; in China, legend says that if it’s able to swim the entire Yellow River, it will transform into a dragon.
Then again, “koi swimming upstream” doesn’t really work for a nickname. He has another tattoo, though—one that symbolizes the same grit and desire to beat the odds.
The dark horse.