There was hushed silence as Allan Caidic, the acknowledged “Triggerman” of Philippine basketball, lay motionless on the floor. He just hit the floor head first after getting waylaid in a battle for the loose ball.
For a moment, we thought he was unconscious.
But then who knows what graver misfortune could have fallen on him as he was sprawled at the Cuneta Astrodome floor. Nobody from among the capacity crowd was moving, too.
That was ages ago. 29 April 1997 to be exact. Caidic was still playing for San Miguel Beer, which was going up against crowd favorite Gordon’s Gin led by playing coach Robert Jaworski. Just don’t ask us what the score was when play was suspended. Our recollection is somewhat hazy now. But we still recall Jaworski’s Boars eventually winning, 98-94.
We were a sportswriter and columnist for the Manila Bulletin at that time, sometimes moonlighting as a radio reporter for the Philippine Basketball Association coverage on the airwaves.
From where we were seated at press row, we could still remember what happened then.
It was a freak collision with teammate Nelson Asaytono that did Caidic in. The burly Asaytono just missed the second of his missed free throw and immediately went for the rebound as Caidic fought for the loose ball in a scramble. All of a sudden, there was a loud thud as somebody fell on the floor head first. It was Caidic.
It was such a bad fall that the Triggerman even threw up on the floor. There was a look of concern from both the crowd and players from the contending teams.
As Caidic lay motionless, so were thousands of fans in their seats. Minutes passed and there was no one, including game officials, moving or taking action as if no one knew what to do.
It was suspended animation for about five minutes.
Then, from out of the blue, who would rise from the Ginebra bench and berate the referees for delaying the game. He wanted Caidic removed from the floor so that play could resume. His next act would go down as among the most vivid images of Philippine basketball.
Probably irked that nobody was taking charge, Jaworski made a slit-throat gesture at the direction of the referees and hollered ‘Ano, ang tagal na n’yan! Patay na ba?!’ (What’s taking it so long? Is he dead?) to the utter disgust and shock of the basketball crazy crowd and the millions watching the game on television.
It was probably the most thoughtless, despicable display of cold-blooded insensitivity captured vividly on television camera. We knew we heard a lot of “tsk, tsk, tsk” from among the crowd at that time.
We did so, too and vowed to write about it in our next column.
Just when everybody had come to their senses, a stretcher was brought in and Caidic was rushed to the hospital.
The following day, critics and non-Jaworski fans lambasted the Big J for the insensitive gesture. A lot of die-hard Jaworski fanatics, however defended their idol.
It was a polarizing issue at that time with the nation divided on whether the Philippine Basketball Association should penalize the controversial icon or let him go scot-free.
Jaworski defended his action by saying that he was merely criticizing league officials for their inaction and inability to attend to Caidic immediately. The Big J later visited Caidic in his hospital bed moments after the game.
It was a testament to his popularity that he had survived the incident and even became a Senator of the country.
Popularity aside, however, we had to call his action at that incident for what it was — insensitive.
My column after that incident admonished the Big J for his blatant display of cold-blooded disregard for a fellow player that lay helpless on the floor.
Players we interviewed in their dugouts for my radio coverage were similarly aghast but cautioned us against writing scathing remarks about Jaworski who many still consider as the face of the PBA. It was the same caution relayed to us by Vintage big boss Bobong Velez, who was in charge of the television coverage.
We remember getting a long list of e-mails from basketball observers, giving their two cents worth on the issue. They were either for or against Jaworski.
Whether the controversial icon was sincere in his apology to Caidic and the basketball fans following the incident, it is probably best to leave it to him and his conscience. To this day, his legions of fans may have forgotten all about the incident. They still refer to him as the Living Legend.
Many, however, would not agree.
As we said in our column at that time, the Big J, as in the Big Joke, is probably more like it.