For the past four years, the one constant in the PBA has been San Miguel Beermen's June Mar Fajardo winning the league MVP trophy. It's no surprise, considering the dynasty of the Beermen has lied heavily on his shoulders.
But that could all change in a few weeks. Fajardo, the four-time MVP is in jeopardy of failing to repeat for the fifth time because of a lingering injury that has kept him out of the entire Governors' Cup so far. Though he says he's nearing a return sometime this October, Fajardo is in danger of missing out on the top individual award of the season despite winning Best Player of the Conference in the Philippine and Commissioner's Cups.
It's all because of a PBA rule that requires MVP candidates to have played in at least 70% of the team's games this season. And that rule puts his run in jeopardy.
According to PBA head statistician Fidel Mangonon, Fajardo has played in 44 of San Miguel's 45 games in the first two conferences. Now, assuming Fajardo is unable to play an entire game this Governors' Cup, it will boil down to how deep San Miguel will be able to advance.
Let's look at the possible scenarios here, assuming Fajardo doesn't suit up this season anymore.
SCENARIO 1: San Miguel reaches the semis and plays the maximum allowable games
If the Beermen play 18 games this conference, then Fajardo becomes ineligible.
There are 11 elimination round games, leaving 7 more to account for. That means if San Miguel finishes in the bottom four, plays and wins the max two quarterfinals games (via twice to beat disadvantage), and then stretches their semis to a best-of-five affair, that will amount to 18 games -- making him ineligible.
That will leave SMB's total games played at 63, leaving Fajardo's 44 game total at 69.8% -- just shy of the required 70%.
SCENARIO 2: San Miguel reaches the finals
Whatever the case may be, Fajardo won't be eligible to win the MVP if San Miguel makes it to the Governors' Cup finals by virtue of guaranteed games in each round.
Assuming the Beermen find a way to gain a twice-to-beat advantage and advance in one game, as well as sweep the semis in three games, that makes a total of 15 games played entering the finals. And in the best-of-7 final round, that will guarantee that San Miguel plays in at least 19 games. That makes Fajardo's games played at 68.8%, which means he won't be hoisting the award.
With that out of the way, let's shift our attention to how Fajardo can still be eligible and (most likely) win the MVP trophy for the fifth straight year.
SCENARIO 3: San Miguel is eliminated in the quarterfinals
With San Miguel's big win against Phoenix on Friday night, the Beermen have righted the ship and climbed back into the playoff hunt as the 8th seed with a 3-4 record. If the elims were to end today, they would have to face the gargantuan task of defeating the top-seeded Barangay Ginebra, with the additional handicap of a twice-to-beat disadvantage.
Now if Ginebra eliminates San Miguel for the third straight year in the Governors' Cup, that leaves the Beermen's game total for the season at either 57 or 58. Either way, that means Fajardo is eligible for the award with 75.8% (58 games) or 77.1% (57 games). And with his runaway performances in the first two conferences, he's a shoo-in for the trophy.
SCENARIO 4: San Miguel fails to advance to quarterfinals
The nuclear option, and the absolute worst case scenario for the Beermen is that they fail to fix their defense, and bomb out of the playoffs entirely. It's a possibility with a 3-4, as they're only 1.5 games ahead of the NorthPort Batang Pier who are 2-6.
There will be doom, gloom and several hot takes from everyone if San Miguel doesn't advance but the silver lining will be that Fajardo can still end the season as the MVP. With only 11 games added to San Miguel's previous 45, Fajardo will qualify at 78.5% of total games played. It's not going to rectify an absolutely disastrous finish to the conference, but at least San Miguel will still be able to celebrate one championship and a fifth straight MVP for Fajardo this season.
The clock is ticking not only for San Miguel to make a strong playoff push but for Fajardo to get healthy. Obviously the team is not going to rush their franchise player if they deem him unfit to play. Forcing him to play just to be eligible for the MVP trophy could look foolish if he suffers another injury.
If anything, this situation is a testament to how much Fajardo has sacrificed his body and physical health this year not just for San Miguel but the entire country as well. Remember that sandwiched in between two Finals runs with San Miguel were three FIBA World Cup Qualifying windows, where he traveled to Japan, Australia and Taipei as a member of Gilas Pilipinas. He has made it known that he's willing to do everything possible not to let anyone down, whether it's his mother club in the PBA or the Philippines.
That passion and dedication has its cost, and Fajardo is paying the price this conference. But whether or not he's crowned MVP at the end of the season, odds are he wouldn't have it any other way.