<
>

ESPN5's Best of the Decade: Jimmy Alapag was transcendental

As the decade draws to a close, the ESPN5.com editorial staff look back at the sporting figures and moments that stood out and helped define Philippine sports in the 2010s. Check back regularly until December 31 for the latest features in our ESPN5.com Best of the Decade series.

We honor the athletes who excelled in the 2010s, those who made their mark, raised the bar, and collected championship trophies along the way. Jimmy Alapag's playing career ended a full three years before the decade came to a close, but he had done enough to, at least in our eyes, merit inclusion into the top 10 Filipino athletes of the 2010s. He didn't have the best statistics and he didn't win the most championships of the 2010s, but he was certainly one of the most impactful players.


Transcendental. Jimmy Alapag, the basketball player, just the 10th overall pick in the 2003 PBA Draft, only five foot nine (generously), initially seen as a long shot because of his size (or lack thereof) and lack of exposure to local hoops, now firmly holds a spot in Philippine basketball lore. What he accomplished, what he exuded, during his career goes way beyond the sidelines and baselines on the hard court, and surely several steps beyond the three-point arc, where he loved to pull up and shoot those rainbow Js from "Jimmy territory".

While Alapag already established himself as a PBA superstar in the 2000s, the 2010s provided his platform for establishing his place as a Philippine sporting legend, one who goes beyond his home sport with a far-reaching impact even outside of sports.

Early in the decade, Jimmy led his Talk 'N Text squad to several PBA championships, particularly the 2011 Philippine Cup and the 2011 Commissioner's Cup, the 2012 Philippine Cup, and the 2013 Philippine Cup. With the three consecutive Philippine Cup triumphs, Talk 'N Text became the first team to take home the Jun Bernardino Trophy. Individually, he was named the Finals MVP for both championships series won in 2011 (co-Finals MVP with Jayson Castro in the Commissioner's Cup) and the Best Player of the Conference for the 2011 Commissioner's Cup, and was crowned as league MVP for that season as well. He and Castro led their team to the Finals of the Governors' Cup in a quest for the coveted Grand Slam, but they fell short in a seventh game against the Petron Blaze Boosters (now San Miguel Beermen again).

In 2012, Alapag again captained his team to a Finals appearance in the Commissioner's Cup, but the squad missed out on another trophy, defeated by the B-Meg Derby Ace Llamados (now Magnolia Hotshots). His last Finals appearance with Talk 'N Text was in the 2014 Commissioner's Cup, where again they placed second to San Mig Coffee (now Magnolia).

In 2013, Alapag's legendary status earned its finishing touches. As the senior floor general for the Gilas Pilipinas line-up that competed in the FIBA Asia Championship, he hit some of the biggest shots and was the soul and inspiration for the team as its driving force en route to a berth in the FIBA World Cup that would be held in Seville, Spain in 2014. In the semifinals against dreaded South Korea, Jimmy's huge pair of three-pointers towards the end helped clinch the victory. Images of Alapag seizing control, grabbing his teammates and pulling them into a huddle to stabilize them in times of struggle, celebrating after completed plays, game-face on, pumping his fist and shouting in ecstasy, come to mind when the memories of those glorious days in August 2013 are recalled.

In 2014, during the FIBA World Cup in Seville, Jimmy again emerged, especially with his stellar play in the Philippines' lone victory against Senegal. The win was the Philippines' first in World Cup competition in 40 years. Alapag was instrumental as he scored 18 points, including layups in traffic against the tall trees of Senegal and some pressure-packed free throws in overtime that sealed the deal for Gilas Pilipinas. The team then travelled to Incheon, South Korea for the Asian Games, where Jimmy had his last appearance with the national team.

He first announced his retirement from the PBA in January 2015, and TNT (formerly Talk 'N Text) even retired his jersey during the All-Star festivities held in March that year. He decided to come out of retirement just months later, in August 2015, to play for the Meralco Bolts. While with the Bolts in 2016, during the Finals series of the Governors' Cup against Barangay Gineba, he established himself as the all-time leader in three-point field goals made (1,250) in the PBA, a record which will be hard to break, considering the distance between his total and that of the closest active players.

Days after his last Finals appearance, Jimmy announced that he would no longer play basketball in the PBA, permanently retiring at the age of 39 after 13 stellar seasons. He immediately directed his boundless energy to coaching, first with the Meralco Bolts as an assistant, then with the staff under coach Tab Baldwin for Gilas Pilipinas. More recently, he held the head-coaching position with Alab Pilipinas of the Asean Basketball League and is currently an assistant coach with the San Miguel Beermen. He even had an NBA Summer League stint with the Sacramento Kings.

Amidst all his basketball achievements, Jimmy has impacted lives in many ways. He has been recognized as a leader, a motivator, a mentor, and a teacher. Teammates have frequently commended him for helping them learn the ropes early in their careers and for aiding them in improving their games. His wisdom on the court and about life has inspired countless individuals. He is idolized and imitated, revered and recognized wherever he goes. His charisma has endeared him to fans past and present, whether in the Philippines or abroad. He is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable Filipino sports figures and has become a worldwide ambassador for the sport of basketball, even occupying a position in the FIBA Players' Commission.

Jimmy continues to keep himself close to the sport that brought him personal and team glory. His is a story of perseverance and a testament to hard work and determination. Despite his small size in a game usually dominated by giants, his achievements speak volumes. The man known as the "Mighty Mouse" roared loud enough to be named one of the best Philippine sports personalities of the 2010s and probably, for all time.