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Asi Taulava reflects on 24-year 'good journey' in PBA

A chapter has been closed for Asi Taulava. PBA Images
By Ivan Saldajeno

PASIG--When he was announced to start for NLEX over Brandon Rosser on Wednesday night against TNT, Asi Taulava made PBA history as he became the first player to have played 24 seasons in Asia's premier play-for-pay basketball league.

Right on the same game, though, Taulava, now aged 50, was bidding professional basketball goodbye.

"It's been a good journey. Long 24 years. Nothing to complain about. I'm grateful to the PBA, NLEX, and to all my big bosses, Boss MVP (Manny Pangilinan), Boss Rod [Franco], and Boss Ronald [Dulatre] for giving me this opportunity to suit up again and play for NLEX and be retired," Taulava said.

He admitted, however, that he tried to hold back his tears in what would be his final PBA game, which was highlighted by the Road Warriors retiring his number 88 jersey at halftime.

"I was trying to keep it together. I didn't want to cry in front of all the young guys," Taulava further said.

What made his retirement game even more special was that he played the said match in the same arena where he made his PBA debut, the PhilSports Arena here.

"It was a fitting story to my career," added Taulava, who can still remember his first PBA game, a 1999 showdown between the TNT franchise and then-returning Tanduay.

The PBA went away with the traditional rookie draft for the 1999 season and just let the teams recruit whoever they wanted to.

The Tropang Giga, then called the Mobiline Phone Pals, wasted no time in signing the six-foot-nine Fil-Tongan center, arguably the best big man in the supposed draft class and may have easily been the number one pick if the freshman recruitment was done the old-fashioned way.

However, Taulava said that it would still be fine for him if NLEX would do his jersey retirement game against another team and that he was surprised his team chose to do it against TNT, the very same team that brought him to the pros.

"I had no preference. I wasn't expecting it," Taulava further said.

The Tropang Giga fought back from 22 points down behind a furious second half to steal the win from the Road Warriors, which made him "sad and happy."

However, even if he only got to play for the first two minutes of the game, Taulava still cherished it along with all the other memorable moments he had like leading TNT to its first title in 2003, winning the season MVP that same year, and all that he had with his other teams, Coca-Cola, Meralco, and Air21, whose franchise was eventually absorbed by NLEX, as well as San Miguel's ABL squad where he would win his other pro basketball title in 2013.

"Every second and single moment I spent my time in the PBA, I cherish them. There's not one thing that's better than the other," Taulava further said, adding that he would miss the brotherhood he had with the other players.

Now that he called it a career already, Taulava can now focus full-time again on NLEX's outreach programs, where while he is ruling out a possibility of taking a coaching job gives motivating talks to aspiring basketball players from the provinces.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno

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