If Michael Jordan had a "flu game", Jojo Lastimosa had an "angry game".
The year was 1998, the centenary of Philippine independence from Spain, which coincided with another staging of the quadrennial Asian Games. Alaska mentor Tim Cone was tasked to form and steer the Philippine Centennial Team, made up of the country's best ballers, towards a podium finish in the Asiad.
That season, the PBA had put in a special fourth conference, dubbed the Centennial Cup, in order to help the newly-formed squad jell in terms of chemistry and master the complicated triangle offense.
The Centennial team was comprised of Alvin Patrimonio, Andy Seigle, Dennis Espino, Allan Caidic, Jun Limpot, Vergel Meneses, EJ Feihl, Olsen Racela, and Marlou Aquino.
Cone also included his Alaska stars Lastimosa, Johnny Abarrientos and Kenneth Duremdes. But Jolas initially expressed his apprehension about joining the national team.
"I said, 'Tim, we have a chance to win the Grand Slam. So just let me, leave me so that Alaska can have a chance to get the Grand Slam.' [Cone] said 'No, no Jojo, I need you here. I need you to be in this [Centennial Team] lineup,' 'So what can you do?' I said, fine, okay," the guard recalled during the latest episode of An Eternity of Basketball.
With Lastimosa now on board, the national team started its months-long preparation for one of the biggest basketball tournaments of the continent.
These included an exhibition game against a PBA All-Star selection, a victory in the 1998 William Jones Cup in Taiwan, a stint in the Centennial Cup, and a U.S. trip that included a bench-clearing brawl.
By the time the Asian Games started in December, the team was already ready to make a deep run for the gold. Following a 53-52 decision over Kazakhstan in the eliminations, they rolled over Kyrgyzstan, 91-50.
The Filipinos, though, lost to Korea in a 20-point shellacking in the quarterfinals which set them on a collision course with powerhouse China in the semifinals.
Through it all, Cone was not able to make good use of Jolas, and this did not sit well with the star guard.
"So when we get there, halos hindi ako ginagamit (he hardly used me). I've been playing for like five minutes, seven minutes. Ang sabi ko (I said), 'What's this? I thought you said you needed me here?' recalled Lastimosa.
"I said, 'Of all coaches here, you should be the one here who knows me and what I can do.' So for me, all of a sudden, now na nasa international tayo, all of a sudden, nagbago paningin mo sa akin (your view of me suddenly changed)?'
Lastimosa's frustrations grew bigger as the days went by, and these were already being noticed by the coaching staff and the other players.
Jolas added that he was already not speaking to his coach at this point, and since he was not being fielded in, he just decided to cheer from the bench.
"That's okay. I accepted that he wasn't going to use me. Even in practice, he wasn't using me. So can you imagine in practice, I was on the sidelines. In 5-on-5 sets, I wasn't being used."
"And then Johnny [Abarrientos] would come up to me. 'Bro! Anong nangyari sa 'yo? Bat ka andyan? (What happened to you? Why are you on the sidelines?)' 'Tim, ayaw akong gamitin. Laro lang kayo. (Tim won't use me. Just go ahead and play)'. I surrendered. I just want to cheer for my teammates."
As expected, the Centennial Team bowed to China, 82-73, in the semifinals, relegating them to the bronze medal match.
Lastimosa did not even get a lick of playing time against China, and just wanted the tournament to end quickly. However, there was still one game to go, a bronze medal match against their first assignments of the Asiad, Kazakhstan.
"I just wanted the Asian Games to be over with. I just wanted to go home because for me, it was very toxic and my relationship with Tim was already broken."
At the start of the game, it seemed that Lastimosa would have to deal with another benching. But out of nowhere, Cone fielded Lastimosa in.
With all of his anger bottled up, Lastimosa entered the court around the latter part of the first half.
"When I was substituted in, I didn't care. Magwawala ako. Ititira ko lahat (I wanted to go crazy and take every shot). I just want to be aggressive. I don't care. Kung magalit kayo sa akin, galit rin ako sayo, eh (If you get mad at me, well I'm also mad at you). I just didn't care. I just wanted to play hard. And I wasn't there to prove me wrong. I just played angry," remembered Lastimosa.
Down the stretch, Lastimosa made a strong case for himself by becoming what he always was, a clutch player.
Jolas caught fire at the right time, scoring seven points in the last minute, including an absurd jumper from the baseline that virtually clinched the country's first Asiad medal since 1990 as the Philippines held on for a 73-68 win.
"That was my angry game," he said with a smile.
While Lastimosa was being celebrated by his teammates and journalists covering the game alike, in the back of his mind was pure vitriol towards his coach of many years.
"I didn't speak to him. The media people were with me, trying to celebrate for what I did, for playing well. And they were saying that Tim was so stupid for not playing me and the game before that. It was hard for [Cone] to explain it to the media."
Lastimosa's heroics at the biggest game of the tournament also proved as vindication for himself.
"'I told you, you should have used me. Of all people, you should know how should I play. When you need me, I am going to produce'. I think he felt so bad. He felt so bad. I think he admitted to me and he cried after that game," recollected Lastimosa.
Even though the Philippines went home victorious, the Alaska squad was not as fortunate. Without the services of its three biggest local stars, the Milkmen finished at the bottom of the Governors' Cup, denying them another grand slam.
Lastimosa's anger with Cone did not subside over the months, and spilled over to 1999. It had gotten so bad that team owner Wilfred S. Uytengsu tried to intervene. I did not speak to him for several months. And then when we came back to practice, I never spoke to him."