The rise and fall (and rise) of Captain Hook

Mark Escarlote on Jul 20, 2017 07:31 PM
The rise and fall (and rise) of Captain Hook
God gave me a second life para ayusin ko sarili ko, para makabawi sa mga pagkakamali ko -- Macmac Cardona

A player-agent relationship goes beyond just landing a lucrative contract or the drying of ink on a piece of paper scribbled with a signature.

It should go deeper than that for it to last.

If a player goes astray, it’s the agent’s unwritten responsibility like a shepherd to his flock to help him get back on the right track.

Three decades in the business, top basketball agent Danny Espiritu has seen it all.

From rising stars earning the spotlight, veterans writing their legacies as they near the twilight of their playing days to legends leaving an indelible mark in the sport.

Including that of standouts falling from grace.

When Macmac Cardona tried to end his misery by stuffing his gut with pills and letting the world know about it by posting it on social media, a lot thought his career was already over.

A pitiful but not very unusual story of a Pinoy cager losing in the game called life.

He survived the ordeal, but to many, his basketball career was already considered dead.

His exploits forgotten.

The dazzling display of his talents as a brash and sometimes cocky guard, who bagged the UAAP Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 and led the then Franz Pumaren-mentored De La Salle University Green Archers to two UAAP titles (including the forfeited Season 67 crown in 2004) are now only remembered by clicking his YouTube clips.

His colorful professional career now just confined to some episodes of PBA reruns shown on a cable channel.  

Most people now know him as the player who posted a frosted glass half-filled with prescription pills in his Instagram account.

The public, the PBA, some of his friends and even some of those he loved and hurt turned their backs on the once celebrated player, known for his tenacious scoring and unusual, but very effective teardrop shots.

Espiritu did not.

“Player ko siya since time immemorial. Paanong ‘di ko siya tutulungan,” Espiritu told ABS-CBN Sports in a phone interview on a rainy and slow Wednesday afternoon just a few hours before the PBA opened its 2017 Governors’ Cup.

“Di ako bumibitaw sa players ko.”          


The Rise of Captain Hook

His full name, Mark Reynan Mikesell Cardona, is a mouthful.

So when former UAAP commentator Jude Turcuato coined Cardona’s moniker, ‘Captain Hook’ - because of his patented teardrop, running hook shot - the name stuck.

Cardona started his meteoric basketball career as a walk-on aspirant for the Green Archers in 2001 after returning to the country from the United States, where he spent his secondary education in Carson High School.

Pumaren saw in Cardona a triple-threat player who could create plays, score at will and defend.

With DLSU looking to complete a four-peat, Cardona was a gem in the Finals as he connived with backcourt partner Mike Cortez and helped the Taft-based squad defeat archrival Ateneo de Manila Univeristy, which was then led by Enrico Villanueva and LA Tenorio, in three games.

He was named Rookie of the Year that season despite controversies regarding his residency and eligibility.

The following year became another classic series for Ateneo and DLSU.

Game 1 was an epic battle, with the decision left in the hands of Cardona.

With just 9.2 seconds remaining and the Blue Eagles up, 72-70, Cardona had a chance to tie it but his jumper was blocked by Larry Fonacier. He recovered the ball but was again denied by Fonacier as Ateneo escaped with the win.

DLSU tied it in Game 2 but the Katipunan-based squad denied DLSU of a five-peat in one of the most memorable battles between the two proud schools.

Cardona wouldn't see action in the Finals again until Season 67, where he won the Finals Most Valuable Player award. DLSU defeated the Arwind Santos-led Far Eastern University in three games but the Green Archers returned the title the following year after DLSU was found to have fielded ineligible players during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

DLSU was suspended the following campaign.

In between his UAAP stint, Cardona played in the PBL where he won various recognitions such as Rookie of the Year (2002) while playing for ICTSI, three Mythical Team selections, the league’s scoring sensation award (2005) and the 2005 Unity Cup Conference MVP suting up for Harbour Centre.

With an impressive resume, Cardona built his stock for the 2005 PBA Draft.

Air21 drafted him fifth overall behind Anthony Washington (Air21), Alex Cabagnot (Sta, Lucia), Denok Miranda (Coca-Cola) and Jondan Salvador (Purefoods).

The Bert Lina-owned franchise then traded Cardona to TNT along with Washington for Yancy De Ocampo and veteran Patrick Fran before the start of the season.

Cardona saw paltry minutes in his rookie year, but gradually morphed into an explosive scorer in his sophomore year.

He was a scoring machine that season, punching in 30-plus points several times and his feat earned him the PBA Best Player of the Conference in the 2007 Fiesta Conference.

Cardona set a career-high 42 points in a win against Red Bull on November 2008 in the Philippine Cup. He eventually led TNT to the throne in a thrilling best-of-seven championship series decider against Alaska. Cardona scored 23 points in Game 7 to clinch his first and last PBA title and was named Finals MVP. 


Sinking ship

After five seasons with TNT, Cardona saw himself in the next six years on a career decline as he was traded to Meralco for a first round pick on August 20, 2010 and then again to Air21/NLEX after three seasons.

In his three years with the Bolts, Cardona’s scoring average dropped and in his last year with Meralco he normed 12.1 points per game. 

Cardona was sent to Air21, which was eventually bought by NLEX, on October 14, 2013.

His career was already on a downward path due to financial and personal issues and was cut from the team on November 2016 before the start of the PBA’s 42nd season. He averaged a career-low 4.1 points per game the previous season.

Just four months before NLEX parted ways with the cager, Cardona made headlines as he overdosed on prescription pills in an apparent suicide attempt days after his partner, Bianca Jackes, filed a complaint to authorities for alleged domestic violence.    

Cardona admitted that his mind checked out of basketball during that dark episode of his life. 

The passion for hoops slowly faded away from the dangerous scorer, whose uncanny off-timing skill of shooting the ball above his head using one hand in an unorthodox manner that mixes a semi-hook with a push shot made him one of the best offensive players to ever set foot on the local hardcourts.

“Nawala ‘yung love for the game ko before, nawalan ako ng gana,” said the 35-year-old cager. “Nawala ang passion ko."

For the next eight months, Cardona tried to pick up the pieces and get his life back. 

“After NLEX ‘di na ako masyado nakakalaro,” he said. “Sa likod ng bahay namin may court, nagsu-shooting lang dun, takbo takbo lang dun. Walang competitive basketball June pa yata last game ko sa NLEX.”

Espiritu is now trying to help revive Cardona’s career.

“Hindi kami nawawalan ng communication niyan. Sinasabi niya na gusto niyang makabalik sa PBA,” the agent said. “Tinutulungan ko siya na makabalik sa PBA pero ang mga PBA teams medyo reluctant pa sa case niya. Sinasabi ko na sana sa PBA mabigyan siya ng chance kahit as practice player lang pero ayaw ng ibang teams. Siguro iniisip pa nila na baka wala na ang mindset ng n’yan sa basketball.” 

“Sinabi ko kanya na basta mabigyan ka ng break kunin mo na. Kahit pamasahe lang (ang bayad) para maipakita na naglalaro ka pa,” Espiritu added. “Baka sakaling mabigyan ka ng tsansa na mag-tryout sa PBA ulit.”


Gusto ko ayusin sarili ko

Cardona found his first step to breathe new life to his basketball career when PBA D-League team Zark’s Burger, which is a burger joint that started in operating in a building facing DLSU in Taft Avenue, tapped him as a late addition.

He was waiting for this break. Never mind if it came from a team buried in the cellar.

“Kinontak nila ako kung available ako last two games,” he said. “Sabi ko sige why not. ‘Yun ‘yung first team na tumawag sakin.”

“Saka kay boss Danny napapatulong din ako, na gusto ko maglaro ng D-League,” Cardona added.

His decision to play in the league organized as a jump-off point for aspiring PBA players and ex-pros came a little shocking to others especially for a cager of his caliber. 

“Siguro akala nila ‘di ako seryoso. Sabi ko mas gusto ko nga muna sa D-League para makuha ko ‘yung timing ko e,” he said. “Sabi nila maliit sweldo, sabi ko kahit libre OK lang. Basta makuha ko lang timing ko uli.”

In his first game last Tuesday, Cardona finished with 11 points, three rebounds, and two assists in his 23 minutes of play in Jawbreakers’ blowout 74-119 loss to Marinerong Pilipino.

“Tingin ko kaya ko pa siguro, feel ko pa. Kailangan ko pa magpakundisyon pa,” Cardona said. “Kasi alam ko madaming mga players ngayon sa PBA. Stepping stone ko to para makabalik ako uli sa PBA.”

He knew he made awful decision in his life. Cardona already paid for it. He regretted all of it.

“Nagkamali ako sa buhay. I made a lot of mistakes. Pero di pa naman too late,” a very positive Cardona stated. “God gave me a second life para ayusin ko sarili ko, para makabawi sa mga pagkakamali ko.”

Cardona, just like us, is only human. He makes mistakes.

But like all of us, he deserves a second chance.

It’s just up to us to give him or deny him that.




Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles


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