By Kriel Ibarrola
“Gee-Neh-Bra! Gee-Neh-Bra!” These made up those loud cheers you’d hear inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum or the Mall of Asia Arena every Barangay Ginebra San Miguel PBA game. The adulation grew even more feverish during out-of-town games.
All this, pre-COVID, of course.
It’s no secret that Ginebra is the PBA’s most popular team of all-time, with no other one coming even close. Fans often joke that over 50 percent of the league’s entire fanbase are rabid Ginebra die-hards (which is actually true to some extent).
Ginebra’s never-say-die attitude (NSD) has basically been some sort of a battle cry or a mantra for the Filipino masses.
Back in the day, it wasn't strange for laborers to sit down in their neighborhood sari-sari stores and down a bottle of Ginebra gin after a long day’s work. That’s basically what the team long represented—a group that’s just completely relatable.
And of course, what makes Ginebra such an amazing team to follow is its legion of enigmatic superstars over the years. This team definitely had its fair share of personalities. For sure, every fan has his own personal Ginebra all-time first five.
For now, we have our own picks for the most iconic Ginebra players in history. Let us know if your fave/s made it to the list...
The Man. The Myth. The Legend. Robert Jaworski IS Ginebra. Truth be told, there was a time when Ginebra didn’t have the fanfare it has now. Back in the late 70s when it still carried the Gilbey’s mantle, people could care less about this team.
That all changed when Jaworski came over in 1984 after leaving Toyota. He quickly paired up with fellow PBA great Francis Arnaiz—and the rest, as we now know, is history.
Playing double-duty as a player-coach (which is a pretty spectacular feat by itself), Jawo led the fan favorites to four PBA titles between 1986 and 1997.
The fiery floor general also orchestrated the PBA’s own version of the Showtime Lakers, as Ginebra arguably had the most exciting play style at the time. No matter how big of a lead Ginebra had to overcome, it seemed they could always climb out of it with their NSD spirit, which lives on to this day.
It was Jawo who made that all possible. In fact, he was so loved that he even used that popularity to gain a Senatorial seat back in 1998.
It’s true that Ginebra did lose some of its luster post-Jaworski era. They even struggled to make an impact in the ensuing years. Thankfully, that stage of mediocrity didn’t last long with the arrival of spitfire Filipino-American guard Mark Caguioa in 2001.
After playing as a back-up to Vergel Meneses at first, the 6-foot-2 fearless guard quickly won the hearts of the fans with his daredevil playstyle.
Caguioa had it all. The fancy crossovers, the acrobatic finishes, and most importantly --- the rare clutch gene.
Ginebra fans were just enamored by his on-court swagger. It’s not just pure angas, too. MC47 backed it up with his brilliance. His nickname “The Spark” is extremely fitting since that’s what he gave the franchise.
The Ginebra lifer has won nine championships with the squad (and possibly counting) since he has refused to hang his sneakers just yet.
What made Caguioa so beloved was the fact that he had a partner in crime who was just as fearless as him. Meet the other half of the Fast and Furious duo, Jayjay Helterbrand. Yup, he’s the fast one.
At his prime, Jayjay was a blur and simply caused some helter-skelter on the floor. Sure, he was Robin to Caguioa’s Batman, but he didn’t mind at all. Heck, Helterbrand proved he wasn’t just Mark’s no.2 by winning league MVP in 2009.
He was the perfect backcourt mate to Caguioa, since he brought some stability at that guard position.
Major Pain. Yup, at the height of his might, Eric Menk was indeed a pain in the butt for Ginebra opponents. The 6-foot-6 bundle of muscle was arguably an immovable object down low for Ginebra. While Caguioa and Helterbrand wreaked havoc in the backcourt, Menk did his thing in the interior.
He was a walking double-double, winning four titles with Ginebra during his time. Oh, yeah, he won Finals MVP on those three of those four occasions. No doubt Menk could have even been the best big man in Ginebra history if not for some career-threatening injuries that cut his prime short.
While Jaworski is still revered as Ginebra’s god, all those early accomplishments wouldn’t have been made possible without Loyzaga. Sure, he only joined Ginebra in the later stages of his career, but those final years were beyond terrific.
Loyzaga, by any means, isn’t a household name for Ginebra fans, but he should be. He is the son of Carlos Loyzaga, considered the first ever Filipino basketball star. The younger Loyzaga was the ultimate utility man, considering he could play all five positions.
His playstyle was even ahead of his time, since he was a big who could stretch the defense with his reliable 3-point stroke.
Again, there have been so many great Ginebra players over the years, so let’s add an Honorable Mentions list:
Did your own set of lodis appear here? If not, try checking out some of the best 12 Ginebra players in this Daily Dose episode from True ID!
While at it, you can follow the newest batch of Filipino basketball stars on PBA Rush—now streaming live on True ID!