CALASIAO - One by one, the visiting PBA stars were introduced to a thrilled crowd at the Robinsons Place Pangasinan here on Thursday. From San Miguel Beer's sweet-shooting guard Marcio Lassiter to the rising stars like Jeron Teng and CJ Perez, everybody got his fair share of applause.
But none was as loud as James Yap's.
When Yap's name was called, fans of all ages erupted in cheers. While his game has waned little by little, his fans' support only grows bigger knowing he will be hanging his jersey sooner than later.
The rock star treatment has actually been there since he first made an All-Star appearance during his rookie year in 2004. He has been a starter in each of those 16 stints.
And yet, the two-time PBA MVP is still surprised with the warm welcome he received on Thursday afternoon.
"I'm thankful to those who continue to trust me and vote for me each year. I'm really blessed with their undying support," Yap said in Filipino. "I didn't expect that. I want to thank all who showed up. I want to thank them for their support."
That warm reception during the mall tour and the All-Star nods spoke volumes about the Rain or Shine gunner's popularity. Maintaining that status for 16 years was something only a James Yap can do.
Former teammate PJ Simon, with whom Yap won multiple championships including a Grand Slam in 2014, was the least surprised.
"He is James Yap. He has become a PBA icon. Even millennials still know him now," said Simon in Filipino.
But Yap's prominence cannot only be attributed to the million moves and countless game-winners that sent his fans in a frenzy and struck a dagger into the hearts of opposing teams. Simon said the former Purefoods star, at 37, has always put in the work, leaving a trail to greatness the players who came after him have followed.
At Rain or Shine's practice, Yap has remained competitive. Javee Mocon, the Elasto Painters rookie who is a self-proclaimed James Yap fan, said he is still having a hard time guarding the superstar dubbed "the man with a million moves."
"I make sure he won't get his hands on the ball every possession. But still, he is able to come through. At his age, he still has 100,000 moves," Mocon said in Filipino with a laugh.
"Every scrimmage I will go hard at him. I will always try to keep him scoreless. But he will score anyway. That's how hard guarding James Yap is."
The discipline and work ethic have always worked wonders for Yap, who remains deadly in crunch time to this day while averaging 14.73 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.82 assists 25.21 minutes in the ongoing 2019 PBA Philippine Cup.
"That's hard to do. But it's amazing that he was able to maintain that status. He's still got game as well. No wonder he was voted a starter in the All-Star," Simon said in Filipino.
That's exactly the legacy Yap wants to leave his successors: always put in the work in practice and during games.
"Even at this age, I'm still fighting. I don't want to go down without a fight. That's the legacy I will leave to the younger players," Yap said.
"Of course I have to show them that even though I've been in this league for too long now, I still don't relax. I still take care of myself, my body. I work hard, I do some extra shooting. So I think that's the legacy I will leave them after I call it quits."