Isabelo "Jojo" Lastimosa, Jr., called "Jolas" by his adoring fans, was already one of the most popular players in the nation even before his entry into the PBA in 1988. Already a growing legend in Cebu, he took his wares to Manila as a high-leaping whirling dervish, who made what should have been difficult look fairly easy on the court. He double-clutched and jack-knifed. He strutted up and down the floor, bangs bouncing, as fans (majority, female) shrieked in the stands whenever he would do his thing.
He entered the league with a heralded bunch of players, some of the premiere up-and-coming talents the country had to offer, for a Purefoods team that quickly became the crowd darlings due to its eclectic mix of skilled and savvy veterans (inherited from the disbanded Tanduay Rhum Makers) and young guns. Contenders from day one, this group of Hotdogs swayed the course of PBA history immediately.
He left quite a mark during his Purefoods stint, but the legacy of 1988 Rookie of the Year Jolas was cemented after he transferred to the Alaska franchise after three seasons. It is with the Milkmen/Air Force/Aces that his star shined brightest. Nine championships out of his ten, he earned with Alaska, as well as five of his six Mythical Team selections (1st team thrice, 2nd team, twice). Clutch in the endgame and always locked in with a game-face that came across as aloof, Jolas delivered whenever needed.
We asked him about his favorite season/s or conference/s in the PBA. Here's what he said.
What was your favorite season or conference in your PBA career?
"I would say the 1996 All-Filipino Conference. It was my first All-Filipino championship after four or five times of having been to the Finals." (Jolas had actually played in nine Finals series before that, winning three overall, but not a single All-Filipino in four previous tries, three with Purefoods and one with Alaska. That Alaska won this conference against Jolas' former team, Purefoods, in five games, probably made the victory all that much sweeter.)
What motivated you to play your best during that particular conference?
"For me, winning was always my strongest motivation. It sounds like a cliché, but it is really true for most athletes. I do not take losing well. I get miserable.
"The extra motivation was since all championships I had won were (in conferences) with imports. With Alaska, Sean (Chambers) was always there. As a local unit, we wanted to prove that we can also win without him."
Did you consider yourself to be at your peak that conference?
"I had just turned 32 years old that time, and I was at my peak in terms of the physical and mental aspects of the game. Once I hit the age of thirty, I knew that I had reached my utmost peak and my focus was to keep it at that level longer than usual. I could say that I won most of my rings around that time."
It was a tightly-fought series. After you went up 2-0, Purefoods won Game 3, but you seized back full control by winning Game 4. Game 5, the clincher, was tight all throughout. How do you recall that game went?
"The Game 5 clincher stood out as the best game of the series. It went into overtime via Jeff's (Cariaso) free throws. Jun Reyes steeped in for Johnny (Abarrientos) when Johnny fouled out. I hit some big shots in that game, too, but the (great) performance of everyone, whether it was in scoring or defending, or even passing, or just plainly making plays, was very evident." (Alaska won the game, and thus the series, by the slimmest of margins, 93-92.)
How was Coach Tim Cone throughout that conference and in the Finals?
"I've spoken to Tim about those times, and he said it was the closest thing to coaching in cruise control. Those times were, I guess, a coach's dream, a time when the team was always ready. Of course, there were little disagreements along the way, but that was all part of the journey. The in-game disagreements always got drowned out after the final buzzer, and we all know that (winning) was all we wanted all along."
Do you have an "honorable mention" favorite season or conference?
"My first PBA season in 1988 (with Purefoods). All eyes were on our team, and people expected so much from us for having a really strong lineup. I wanted to know personally if I could play with the big boys.
Another is my first season with Alaska in 1991. After being traded, I wanted to get more responsibility with my new team. I was also curious how my new environment would somehow affect my game."
During the 1996 season, which included Jolas' first All-Filipino title, he averaged 15 points, 2.7 rebounds, and three assists a game in more than 35 minutes per game over 72 games. He shot 44% from the field, 37% from beyond the arc, and slightly under 82% from the free throw line.