Nine-time champion Olsen Racela had a storied career famously quarterbacking a dominant San Miguel Beermen team at the turn of the century.
A self-proclaimed and proud "role player", Racela is considered to be one of the best point guards the league has ever seen. Standing at just 5'11", Racela evolved from being a backup-to-the-backup to a sure starter on one of the toughest teams the PBA has ever seen.
Though he did not win any MVP or Best Player of the Conference awards, Racela relished the chance of doing the best he could do with the role he knew was tailor-made for himself. After playing 18 years in the PBA, Racela admitted he didn't have a "favorite" conference in particular, but he said there were a lot of highlights during his career.
Prior to joining San Miguel, you already won titles as a backup with Purefoods. Then you became a key part of the Beermen who dominated from the late '90s to early 2000s. How did it feel to be winning as a starter?
Back-up-to-the-back-up nga actually in '93 to '94, behind Dindo (Pumaren) and Frankie Lim. Pero I felt those years that you mentioned, those were the best years of San Miguel during my time. Late '90s to early 2000s, in fact we won five championships in seven conferences. I felt that slowly 'yung pieces ng puzzle was all coming together, when they recruited me in '97, when I got traded to San Miguel in '97, si Danny Ildefonso followed the following year '98, then Danny Siegle followed in '99, then it was Dondon ata in 2000. So, we slowly came together, that's why I think 'yun 'yung naging peak namin as a team.
You mentioned nga '99 and 2000, back-to-back yun e, second and third conference -- Governors', Commissioner's and the following season Governors' and Commissioner's again. And naturally 'yun din yung peak ng career ko, winning Mythical Five selection. I felt that was the closest that I could get to an MVP, being a member of the Mythical Five or being the best guard for that season.
The only All-Filipino title you won with San Miguel was in 2001 -- the same year you were part of the Mythical First Team for the second time. What was different about that season?
We were really motivated. We know for a fact that our team will not be fulfilled if we didn't win an All-Filipino championship. We won back-to-back championships in '99 and 2000, but those were with imports.
So yung kulang na lang sa amin was winning the All-Filipino. That's why we were really motivated during that All-Filipino conference in 2001, in spite of the fact that we won the previous two conferences -- the second and third in 2000 -- we were really motivated for that All-Filipino championship, thats why ganun yung linaro namin as a team.
Did you feel that was the peak of your career?
Yes. I was early 30s, 31 years old. I felt that after that year, mag mi-mid-30s ka na, you know that medyo pababa na ang career mo. And I felt that was a perfect time for me. Those were the times when I made the national team also. In '98, as a backup to Johnny, and in 2002. So 'yun 'yung years talaga where I felt that I played my best years.
Looking back at your long career, how do you view what you have done and what you have achieved?
I am always proud of the fact that I played for 18 long years sa PBA and retired at 40. In fact I always tell my players that I am proudest when I tell them from high school up until college, I only missed two games because of an injury. So 'yun 'yung pinaka-proud ako, na pinag-mamayabang ko sa kanila. It shows my resiliency and the way I approach games.
Ako kasi, I have always been goal-oriented, I never thought I'd be playing that long. So nung nag-start ako mag-PBA kasi, siguro sabi ko 'five years, okay na ko.' All about goal-setting. Once when I got to five years, the next ko naman is another five years. Until it reached a point where ang goal ko was to get to 40.
I was very fortunate also that San Miguel supported me, in fact they even asked me about my plans. It doesn't happen often where management asks you kung ano 'yung plano mo. Sometimes players retire because of an injury or because something happens or kung hindi na talaga na-renew yung contract, but they really asked me kung ano 'yung plano ko. They even offered me a position on the coaching staff. That was my goal really, get to 40, retire, and then be an assistant coach. San Miguel naman granted that. In fact, I was very fortunate again to be given a retirement ceremony in my last conference.