The generation of sportswriters who covered his early PBA playing days called him The Big J. The more recent one christened him The Living Legend. To everyone else, meaning the rest of the Philippine population, he is known simply as "Jawo".
Whatever nickname he goes by, he's a certified basketball god. And since he's turning 75, starting on March 2 up to his birthday on March 8 ESPN5.com will be publishing seven - it has to be seven - articles on Robert Jaworski, Sr.
Going just by his bare achievements, as a player and coach, Jaworski has a solid body of work. Over a playing career that spanned a league record 23 seasons, his numbers were a pretty good 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists in 958 games. He logged over 11,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and countless karate chops. He was the MVP in 1978, when he nearly averaged a triple-double for Toyota, the team he helped lead to nine PBA championships. He was a combo guard before the term was invented. As a playing coach he won four titles for Añejo/Ginebra/Gordon's Gin, and as a head coach he piloted the Philippines to an Asian Games silver medal.
But Jaworski was never about the numbers or statistics or titles won, for he certainly transcended all that. Sure, he once held the single-game record for assists (21), he's the only guard in the top 10 all-time on the rebounding list, and he was the first player to sink at least eight three-point shots in one game.
But what catapults him from PBA legend to Living Legend was turning the Barangay into the most popular team in league history. Whenever the Ginebra faithful begin chanting their team name in unison, it's a nod to his legacy. The NSD mantra? He was directly responsible for that thanks to a heroic performance in a 1985 game (more on that in a future article). No other player has directly impacted a PBA franchise as much as Jaworski has with Ginebra.
Jaworski had that rare combination of talent, basketball smarts, longevity, charisma, flair, media savviness, and - it has to be seven attributes, right? - coaching pedigree.
Even when he played the role of villain, he was beloved. Once asked about his rough style of play, he answered as only Jawo can answer: Kung ayaw mong masaktan, mag-chess ka na lang. And so as he turns 75, let's look back and relive his legendary career.
Note: this article was first published on March 8, 2016 on sports5.ph. It has been slightly modified and some answers were translated from Tagalog to English.
We chatted with a few of his former players and teammates, and even an old rival, who shared some Robert Jaworski stories with us. We all have our recollection of certain events in Jaworski's storied career, some good, some bad, some legendary. Let's see what stands out for our respondents.
Chito Loyzaga (Toyota 1983-84, Ginebra 1986-1995)
"If there is one particular PBA game that I will never forget which I can establish as my best 'Jaworski Moment', it would be the PBA game where Coach Sonny received a hit on his eyebrow.
"The site of his blood on half of his face angered most of the Ginebra fans watching, and they were cursing the referees for not calling a foul in his favor. He took himself out of the game and instructed (Assistant) Coach Rino Salazar to take over the coaching duties as he began his way to the locker room. At that point, my thought was that he was going to have himself brought to the hospital and I did not expect him to be back to finish the game.
"After some minutes, a sudden unexpected big roar and a thunderous applause from the fans caught our attention. It was Coach Sonny making his way back to the bench with a heavily bandaged eyebrow. Our thoughts were that Coach Sonny clearly did not want to miss this game for anything and was determined to make his back into the game. A much louder roar and applause was heard when he re-entered the game. That moment made a huge impact on the team, and gave us the victory that evening."
Leo Isaac (Ginebra 1986-1991)
"There was one instance when Dodot Jaworski (Jaworski's son, who once also played for Ginebra) was still young. We had a game at the ULTRA. We ended up in overtime and the game ended late. Dodot and Ryan (Jaworski's other son) watched. And then they had to leave because they had school the next day. So Dodot asked if they could go home ahead of their dad. Their dad said, 'All right, I'll just go home with Leo.'
"So I waited for Coach to finish in the dressing room. Then as we were leaving the dressing room, he saw many fans were still waiting. You know what, he talked to them one by one. And that's what I'll never forget. That's why he really developed charisma with the fans. He never said no. At that time, it was autograph, signature, or a picture with Jawo. There was no cellphone with a camera then. Instamatic Kodaks were still in use. But he talked with each fan until there was no one left. Then I took him home.
"There was this guy who was dying in a hospital. His last wish was to see Coach Jaworski in person. Coach went to the hospital, and he gave the man his dying wish. Those are the situations that will make me never forget Coach Sonny Jaworski." Leo Isaac, former Ginebra player
"This didn't just happen at the ULTRA. Even in our other guestings, in our out-of-town games. When it's time to be with his fans, he was the player who really made time for his fans. He puts a lot of value on the fans' impact on his career. He says, 'Without them, we might not be here.'
"There was one time a sportswriter went to practice. He asked Jaworski to come with him because there was this guy who was dying in a hospital. His last wish was to see Jaworski in person. Jaworski went with the sportswriter to the hospital, and he gave the man his dying wish. Those are the situations that will make me never forget Coach Sonny Jaworski."
Sonny Cabatu (Ginebra 1992-95)
"Well, all I can say about Coach is that his people are well-motivated. His leadership was good. And then if there is a problem with the fans, he'd get on Pido (Jarencio, current Coach of NorthPort) and myself because Pido was team captain and I was assistant team captain. I remember he was very concerned with the fans. He treated them like family. That's what I learned from Coach. When we have fans who have a difficult life, sometimes Pido and I would do fundraising with our teammates. Pido and I would collect. Then Coach would deliver the donation. Of course, he was the representative of Ginebra."
Francis Arnaiz: Jaworski specialized in everything
Francis Arnaiz talks about Sonny Jaworski's diverse skillset.
Vince Hizon (Ginebra 1995-97)
"You have fans, and then you have FANATICS.
"It must have been about 1997 or '98. We were in Isabela or Tuguegarao, somewhere in Northern Luzon. We did our usual thing, where we'd have some sort of a motorcade, with the bus and all of that. We were going through a town and I'll never forget, there was a guy who was in one of these shacks to the side of the road, and he stopped, well he practically got run over. He stopped in front of our bus! He had like a half a bottle of Ginebra, and, right in front of the bus, he 'straighted' it. He downed the whole thing, probably about ten shots of gin. Then, like the Incredible Hulk, he ripped off his shirt, and he raised his arms, he opened his arms and raised them, and he had tattooed, from his wrist, all the way across his arms, across his chest, to his other wrist, it said, 'JAWORSKI FOREVER.' Tattooed. This guy was definitely a Jaworski fanatic.
"Coach Jaworski was so amiable with him. He shook his hand, being the usual very charismatic guy that he always is."
Jayvee Gayoso (Ginebra 1991-97)
Jayvee Gayoso, "Mr Adrenaline" of the Ginebra and Gordon's Gin teams of the late 1990s, dabbled in acting on the side during his basketball career and was never shy in front of the cameras, paid tribute to his former playing-coach in his own way - by recording his stories on video and acting out some of the parts.
In this first video, Gayoso recalls one of the first practices he had with Ginebra in his rookie year. Jaworski was schooling Gayoso's fellow rookie, Bennett Palad, in a game of one-on-one, and Gayoso was up next to challenge The Living Legend. According to Gayoso, this story shows that Jawo had a sense of humor and may not have been as scary to the rookies as his reputation suggested.
(Note: if the videos don't play on this page, you can open them on YouTube instead.)
In this second video, Gayoso tells us about what he calls his "near-death experience" with Jawo, i.e., he really thought Jawo was going to kill him. Luckily for Gayoso, Jaworski showed compassion.
Ricardo Brown (1985 PBA MVP)
"It started 48 hours prior to game time. It involved preparing both physically and mentally because I wanted to be and needed to be at the very top of my game when I took the floor versus #7. It was like a 'road' game because of the tremendous fan support Sonny and his team enjoyed even on a neutral floor such as the Araneta or ULTRA.
"And I loved and embraced and cherished these opportunities more than you could ever imagine. And because of the competitiveness of #7, I had some of my greatest PBA games against him. He truly brought out the best in me. Playing against Sonny was what I lived for as a basketball player in the Philippine Basketball Association. And, as I have said several times over the years, every PBA player who played then and even today should sincerely thank Sonny Jaworski because he helped make the PBA the best show in town and allowed us all to earn a good living playing the game we all loved and played for free since we were young kids. If ever there should be a statue that stands outside the PBA Arenas, the statue should be wearing #7."
A fighter, leader, and a motivator, accommodating to his fans, charismatic, compassionate, and merciful (to Jayvee Gayoso especially), and one who brought out the best from his opponents and peers - these are some of the traits and characteristics by which Jawo is and will always be remembered. At the ripe age of seventy, he still commands an audience wherever he goes and his fighting spirit continues to live in the PBA, especially when the Ginebra faithful begin chanting their team's name during games. Happy 75th birthday, Jawo!