Faceoff: The Kraken vs El Presidente

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When June Mar Fajardo recovered 31 huge rebounds during San Miguel Beer’s title clinching Game 7, which they won 72-71, of the 2019 PBA Phlippine Cup on May 15, 2019 at the Araneta Coliseum, many place him on another level of greatness as far as PBA bigmen is concerned. Many of his fandom even said he is the greatest player to ever grace the PBA hardcourt.

It is understandable why they do so.

You see, the 31 rebounds is the new most in a game by any local in PBA history, breaking the previous record of 29 set by Marcelo Simbulan for 7-Up in the league’s maiden season, 1975. It was a record that held up for 49 years and Fajardo’s the one to shatter it.

It also increased his rebound average to an insane 19.1 in the series, which goes along with 22.9 points and 1.9 blocks a game and allowed him to clinch the Finals MVP plum, the third time in his career.

This Philippine Cup title is also the fifth consecutive All-Filipino torunament title for the Beermen during Fajardo’s watch.

He is most definitely the best PBA bigman today.

With these achievements, what’s wrong in putting him as the best of the best bigmen, past or present.  What is keeping him and his ridiculously growing accolades from being the PBA’s all-time best big?

His detractors list a few names: Alberto Guidaben, Alvin Patrimonio, and Ramon Fernandez, all great bigmen of the past who left indelible marks of greatness in the PBA.

The criteria

This battle of “Who will have the better career?” is down to Fernandez and Fajardo. No offense, all four have every right to challenge each other for the Best PBA Bigman of all time, but Fernandez had distanced himself from Guidaben and Patrimonio because of his durability, his team’s success and the individual statistics he compiled. It is a fight for who will have the better career when Fajardo finally hangs his sneakers (Oh, it will be a long time from today).

Naturally, all factors leading to having a good playing career are considered and fantasy and forecasting have to be used in the argument. It is also assumed that Fajardo will eventually pass Guidaben and Patrimonio in the peaking order.

PBA Career Comparison
As of end of 2019 Phillipine Cup
June Mar Fajardo -vs- Ramon Fernandez
6 1/3 Seasons        20
         312 Games played        1,074
       5,521 Points      18,996
      17.70 Pts/game       17.69
       3,808 Rebounds        8,652
      12.21 Rebs/game         8.06
         428 Assists        5,220
        1.37 Asts/game         4.86
         141 Steals        1,302
        0.45 Stls/game         1.21
         515 Blocks        1,853
        1.65 Blks/game         1.73
             7 Titles won            19
             5 MVPs won              4
**June Mar Fajardo stats via realgm.com; Ramon Ferndez stats from PBA releases

The arguments for El Presidente

Fernandez left little doubts when he retired why he should be the greatest player to ever set foot in the PBA. He is the ultimate all-around player, very potent in all aspects of the game.

It’s difficult putting the individual thing first to justify arguments like these but there is just no way to ignore how he prominently placed himself atop every all-time statistical leaderboard.

He is first all-time in total points scored, defensive and total rebounds, and blocks; second in offensive rebounds, assist, and steals. He had excellent shooting percentages from the floor and from the freethrow line for his size.

The only weakness he had, if one can call it as such considering the era he played, is his lack of long distance shooting. For the young ones today, centers were not known, much less allowed, to shoot triples back in Fernandez’s heyday.

Thing is, he is not your PBA Wilt Chamberlain, who would put up insane numbers but seemingly could not get over his nemesis Bill Russell in terms of winning championships.

to the contrary, Fernandez has the most wins as a player in the all-time list at 19 titles. Such is a testament of how successful he was on the court during a long PBA stint.

The arguments for The Kraken

Fajardo, though not the all-around player Fernandez was, is the definition of the true center, good in recovering missed shots and giving his team extra possessions, provide protection in the paint and contribute his share in the scoring duties with his low-post moves.

It is what centers should contribute to a team. And boy, he is more than excellent in these areas of the game.

It is a given that he should not be able to catch Fernandez in majority of the statistics battle at the rate he is currently producing.

His accumulation of caroms, however, has a more than realistic chance to overcome the bar that Fernadez set. By the end of this season, he should around half the total rebounds of Don Ramon with only 7 playing years in his belt.

Looking ahead, by the time his career is finished, Fajardo should be first in the rebounding stats if he maintains his current pace.

He should also be among the all-time leaders in points and blocks, with over 50% shooting percentage from the floor.

It is the team success part, leading to more chances of bagging individual awards, that should be Fajardo’s propeller if he is to pass Fernandez.

San Miguel’s latest title is Fajardo’s 7th in his career, a good pace for team success aspect. His latest Finals MVP is the third in his career, tied for second place in the all-time list.

Aside from his five season MVPs, an all-time high, he has also eight Best Player of the Conference awards, most in history, and a Defensive Player of the Year award.

The verdict

This is one of the more difficult choices to make and argue mainly because it is not a closed case yet.

We may not have yet seen half of Fajardo’s career while Fernandez’s is something most PBA cagers are resigned to simply just realistically dream about.

I like how Fajardo is dominating the boards and living on the post for points in the guise of acting like a true bigman. I also like his pace in the board department. Barring any major injury, I see him outrebounding both Fernandez and Guidaben by the time his career is over.

I can also see Fajardo doubling Fernandez’s MVP trophies. He is on poise to get another one this year. By awarding time, he should be 30 years old. Two more by then is not a reach.

With the way San Miguel stacked up their line up to cushion, and eventually replace, the expected diminishing plays of some of their aging crew, the tile runs of Fajardo should be consistent in the foreseeable future. It would not surprise anybody if I say Fajardo can win 20 or more PBA titles in his career.

That goes well with his chances of bagging more individual awards as well, assuming he stays with the Beermen. (I’m not sure why he would want to leave, nor why San Miguel would want to let him go.)

If I have to choose who will eventually have the better career today, I would say it should still be Fernandez by reason of his brilliant all-around play and averaging almost one PBA title a year.

I still couldn’t forget the time how I was mesmerized as a young hoops fan when I first time read he almost averaged a triple double in a season, 27.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 9.9 assists, that goes along with 1.5 steals and 2.0 blocks a game while shooting 50% from the floor during the 1984 season when he played for Beer Hausen, and eventually saw “El Presidente” rack title after title in the 1980s, including the 1989 San Miguel Grandslam.

I would eventually find out that he missed that Oscar Robertson/Russell Westbrook achievement of averaging a triple double in a season by lacking some six assists.

I, however, reserve my option to reverse this decision if Fajardo goes on to win 20 or more PBA crowns, take home eight MVP trophies, have six Finals MVPs, 20 Best Player of the Conference awards, lead the all-time rebounding stat and be in the Top 5 shotblockers and top 10 scorers in PBA history.

Banner artwork by Don Ray Ramos