Almost two weeks before winning an unprecedented seventh Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Most Valuable Player award, an enthusiastic June Mar Fajardo happily recalled the time he had being away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the rigors of playing for both the San Miguel Beermen and Gilas Pilipinas.
Fajardo was describing the joy of spending time on a boat for a chance to catch a fish or two in Pinamungahan, Cebu, a place he would rather be for rest and relaxation than explore some of the wonders of the Philippines and the world.
“Probinsyano ako. Di mawawala yun sa akin,” Fajardo told the Inquirer shortly after claiming his latest trophy at the Leo Awards at Smart Araneta Coliseum, where he edged out Barangay Ginebra’s Christian Standhardinger and Scottie Thompson and San Miguel teammate CJ Perez as the best of the previous season.
“I’ve never been to Boracay or Palawan, places where people go. The only place I know is Pinamungahan,” he continued in Filipino. “I mean, that’s where I can clear my mind after the season, especially when you feel so stressed after a loss.”
Amid the success and riches that he has garnered since entering the PBA and becoming one of the country’s most popular players of this generation, Fajardo has always been proud of his humble beginnings.He recalls getting a chance to play basketball for the University of Cebu as a means to get a scholarship and being neglected by schoolmates at the campus located in Sanciangko Street in downtown Cebu City.
“Before, no one noticed me when I hung out in the hallway,” he said. “I didn’t expect to end up being mobbed by a lot of people. It just shows how far I’ve come because of basketball.”
Fajardo, who won the first six in consecutive fashion, will now figure out where to display his new MVP trophy, one he won after getting 2,248 points—1,244 from statistics, 852 votes from the media and 152 votes from the players, despite missing 13 of the Beermen’s 59 games in the 2022-23 campaign.
Fajardo’s starring role in San Miguel’s 2022 Philippine Cup title run weighed heavily in winning this MVP, perhaps his most special of all, given the trials and tribulations he endured since his last one in the 2019 season.
First since losing mom
A fractured tibia forced Fajardo to miss out the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, an injury that many—even Fajardo himself—thought would slow the 6-foot-10 gentle giant. He also dealt with personal heartbreak after his mother, Marites, passed away in 2021, without a chance to see her due to the restrictions of the pandemic.
But Fajardo endured and overcame.
Standhardinger placed second with 1,559 points (1,040 stats, 411 media and 108 players), Thompson fell short in his repeat bid 1,539 (1,099 stats, 274 media and 166 players), while Perez had 1,177 (1,117 stats, 17 media and 43 players).“I think this is the most memorable,” said Fajardo.
“I didn’t expect to get another one, especially after my injury [in 2020]. I’m thankful, but I want to push myself further to improve my game.”
More than improvement is the opportunity to give the Beermen more championships as they enter the 48th season as one of the favorites to win at least one of the two conferences, beginning with the import-flavored Commissioner’s Cup that tipped off at presstime with the Magnolia-TNT clash.
He also came off a rigorous service for the national team, namely the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup and the Hangzhou Asian Games where Fajardo became part of the run that ended the country’s 61-year wait for the gold.
“I’m confident that we can compete this season. But I hope we can all be healthy and win a championship. We know it’s not gonna be easy because every team is capable of competing,” he said.
Fajardo has always insisted on staying grounded amid his latest achievement. But the soft-spoken center also opted to boast a bit.
“I’d like to give a shoutout to myself, because I never gave up,” he said.