Staring blankly at the tiled floor of the Big Dome dugout late Sunday night, after the revelry over San Miguel Beer’s latest title conquest had died down, June Mar Fajardo didn’t take too long to think about the first thing he would do after winning his latest Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) crown.
booking a flight home to Cebu immediately and sleep beside my Mama at the cemetery,” he told the Inquirer in Filipino.
"I have a lot of stories to tell her," he added.
San Miguel is back on top of the Philippine Cup mountain, reclaiming its lofty status as the centerpiece of the tournament it once dominated for five straight years.
In their efforts to break their championship drought, the Beermen also went through a couple of facelifts, disposing of two of their most senior veterans in an effort to address the aging issue. As a result, all they really needed was for Fajardo to return to form after a horrific leg injury. With that, the Beermen once again became the barometer by which all teams vying for the league's most prized trophy would be measured. The club's cornerstone and the league's six-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) broke his right tibia during a practice before the 2020 season.
Fajardo's rehabilitation took more than a year, and at first the results didn't look convincing. The 6-foot-10 big man struggled in his first game back, scoring just five points, five rebounds and one assist in a 93-87 loss to Meralco in July 2021.
A big man with an injured leg? That's reason enough to be concerned that Fajardo's best days are behind him.
"I had thought - I'm not going to be able to go back to my old performance," he said dismissively as he changed into street clothes and prepared to celebrate the club's 28th championship at a hotel in Mandaluyong City.
"That injury was no joke. They said it was career threatening," he added.
Worst end of the season
The past two years have felt like an inconsequential footnote, with San Miguel at the top of the all-Philippines food chain. That was especially true for Fajardo, who capped off his ninth PBA title with the conference's best player (BPC) and finals MVP awards.
Overall, Fajardo now has nine BPC trophies and four Finals MVPs. and as far as tradition goes, he is on track to reclaim the league MVP crown for the seventh time.
For the Beermen and Fajardo, the worst may be behind them.
"As a team, we've been through a lot. For me personally, my journey has been really, really tough. I lost my mom, too," he said.
Fajardo's mother, Mariettes, died on Aug. 21, 2021.