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Lefties are all right: Notable left-handed players in PBA history

"To the left, to the left," Beyonce once sang.

In basketball, coaches are always preaching to players, a majority of whom are right-handed, to learn how to shoot and dribble with their left hands, their off hand, the less-dominant one. Most of the best players that ever played the game could shoot and handle the ball well with either hand.

There are some former PBA players who write or do most things with their left hands, but shoot a basketball with their right hands. Legend Atoy "The Fortune Cookie" Co, Jr and former Shell reserve Joey Guanio come to mind. This situation is similar to that of NBA great Larry Bird and his former teammate, Danny Ainge, who both shoot with their right, but write with their left. This writer is like that, too. Manny Pacquiao, who had a cameo stint in the league, on the other hand, shoots left but writes right.

To this day, whenever we call the games on ESPN5, we make special mention of when a player makes a basket, "using his left", because it shows his above-average skill. You may have heard it said once or twice that left-handed players are more difficult to guard and are potentially better defenders. While we are used to seeing most players shoot with their right hands, there have been several PBA standouts that are natural lefty-shooters.

So, in honor of International Left-handers' Day (yes, there is apparently such an occasion), which is commemorated on August 13th of every year, let's talk lefties.

Lefty MVPs

The foremost PBA player that comes to mind and who is, without a doubt, the best left-handed shooter (or whichever-handed shooter for that matter) that ever played in the PBA, is Allan Caidic. "The Triggerman" is one of the best shooters in Asian basketball history, and can probably make a case as one of the best-ever in the world (no exaggeration; ask Glen Rice). He was the MVP in 1990 as a Presto Tivoli and continues to dominate 3-point shooting contests and regularly makes multiple 3-pointers in exhibition matches. That left handed quick release from any angle still stirs up some of the sweetest basketball memories for fans who followed him from his days at the University of the East to his amateur standout stints and then into the pros. He excelled at every level of hoops and will always be the gold standard as far as Filipino outside shooters are concerned.

Curiously, there is only one other left-handed shooter who was named PBA league MVP - Willie "The Thriller" Miller. The hefty guard with deceptive quickness and surprising athleticism in fact took home two MVP trophies (2002 with Red Bull and 2007 with Alaska, albeit in seasons when most of the other top players were on national team duty). His pull-up jumper from the elbow was automatic, and his daring drives to the hoop with lefty finishes after hanging in the air to create were spectacular. Miller played for several teams and made his mark with each one of them.

Lefties' history in the PBA

In the early days of the PBA, there really weren't too may left-handed standouts. Some names that come to mind in the league's first decade are big man Rudy Lalota, guard Leo Paguntalan, and swingman Alejo "Pongkie" Alolor.

While the influx of left-hand shooting players was sporadic during the league's first half of existence, the past 20 years have shown a proliferation of left-handed PBA players, with some definitely making more of an impact than others.

After the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) folded, four of its top players, all lefties, joined the ranks of the PBA: former MBA MVPs Eddie Laure and John Ferriols, and big men Reynel Hugnatan and Dorian Peña. They had varying degrees of success, and only Hugnatan remains an active player, still plying his trade for the Meralco Bolts. Incidentally, Hugnatan is a left-handed player who uses his off-hand, his right, almost to perfection.

There were several left-handed collegiate or university stars who were in the PBA for a few years as role players, including former UAAP MVP Estong Ballesteros, Ateneo hotshot Richie Ticzon, San Sebastian standout Leo Najorda, and Jose Rizal University's feisty Marvin Hayes. As far as role players go, left-hander Rey Evangelista of UST might have been the most impactful. The former second overall pick played all his fourteen years with the Purefoods franchise, and he won multiple championships, made the all-defensive team several times, and even managed to win a Best Player of the Conference award in the 2002 Governors' Cup.

The PBA has had its share of southpaw big men in its history. One of the first was rugged Sonny Cabatu, who was the top pick in the 1985 Rookie Draft and went on to play for several teams. Images of "The Man Mountain" Ali Peek shooting left-handed hooks and jumpers in the paint also come to mind. He ended his PBA career in 2014 as one of the most accurate scorers from the field and is now a respected analyst on the cable TV coverage of the PBA games. Veterans Yancy de Ocampo, a former first overall pick in the PBA Draft, and Gabby Espinas (a collegiate Rookie of the Year-MVP at Philippine Christian University), have carved out long careers as reliable back-up front-liners to this day.

Caidic did not have a monopoly as a lefty three-point expert. When Jeff "The Negros Sniper" Chan entered the PBA and then joined the national team some years ago, and started sniping from beyond the arc, some said his shot was reminiscent of The Triggerman's, although his is more of a jump shot. And if you prefer a big man left-hander whose expertise was the three-point shot, then Mick Pennisi is your guy. He ended his seventeen-year PBA career two years ago as seventh-all time in three-pointers made - the only center in the top twenty.

Currently, one of the most versatile players in the league is Ginebra lefty Joe Devance. He has followed Coach Tim Cone from team to team and together, they've won championship after championship, with Devance playing multiple roles and basically doing whatever it takes to help his teams win. Fellow left-hander Arthur dela Cruz joins Joe in the Gin Kings' lineup, along with his erstwhile nemesis Jared Dillinger. For Magnolia, Ian Sangalang's up-and-unders and now-lethal perimeter set shots, taken with his left, are familiar sights. Then there's Jason Perkins of Phoenix, last year's Rookie of the year, known by the nickname "Hefty Lefty.

As for back-court left-handers, here are four players with vastly different playing styles. Alex "Crunch Man" Cabagnot of the powerhouse San Miguel squad is a winner who can hit the outside shot, drive to the hoop, and set the table on offense. Christopher "Ping" Exciminiano of Alaska is a pit bull on defense but has also shown the ability to score when needed. Youthful Jonathan Grey of NorthPort and veteran Alex Mallari of Phoenix both love the open court and thrive in transition with daring drives and acrobatics.

Lefty imports

The roster of left-hand shooters in the PBA would not be complete without a listing of some outstanding lefty imports. Back when the league began in 1975, Byron "Snake" Jones of Toyota was head and shoulders above most of his import rivals; however, there was no Best Import award yet at the time, so the former University of San Francisco Don, who returned a few times, the last in 1981, never won it. In 1986, Manila Beer brought in NBA first-round draft choice Michael Young, and he turned out to be one of the best-ever, leading his team to the Finals but eventually losing out to a right-handed Billy Ray Bates-led Ginebra squad. Just one conference later, in 1987, he played for Great Taste and again brought his team to the Finals; alas, he faced fellow NBA first-round pick David Thirdkill of Tanduay (not a lefty) and his team fell short again.

In the 1990s, two left-handed imports first-named Ronnie, stood out and won Best Import awards. First, in 1993, was Ronnie Thompkins of Swift, who became known as the target of enforcer Ricky Relosa's sucker-punch that started an all-out brawl. Overshadowed by that incident was his steady play and dominance in the post. He passed away in 2003 at just thirty-six. A year later, Ronnie Coleman of Pepsi won the top import honor despite his team only salvaging third place.

Rosell Ellis first played in the PBA in 2002 with Pop Cola. His versatility and all-out style of play earned him several call-backs in the years to come, including for Coca-Cola, Ginebra, and then Alaska, with whom he earned a Best Import award in 2007. Alaska seems to have a fondness for lefties as the team brought in reliable Romeo Travis, who went on to garner a Best Import award, in 2015, and high-scorer LaDontae Henton in 2016 and 2017. Recently, Travis was back to lead Magnolia to the Governors' Cup championship in 2018 and is set to make a return for the team later this year. In the current PBA Commissioner's Cup Finals, NBA veteran Terrence Jones is showcasing his left-handed abilities which have already earned him a Best Import plaque.

So, while right-handers are clearly the standard fare in the PBA, it's clear that left-handers have also made quite an impact through the years. Images of left-handed hooks and jump shots, which seem so pretty, grace the pages of the PBA annals and have provided us with countless memories. So, let's not forget the lefties. If you think they rock, you're right.