Renaldo Balkman debuted for Tanduay Alab Pilipinas with 17 points and 11 rebounds in his first game back in the Philippines (Photo by Jamil Buergo)
As Renaldo Balkman walked towards the venue as he prepares to play for Tanduay Alab Pilipinas against the visiting Westports Malaysia Dragons, he didn’t know what to expect until his name was called during the pre-game introductions. As he leisurely walked towards his teammates after his name was called, loud cheers from the crowd briefly put a smile on his face and immediately felt the love of the basketball-crazy Filipino fans in attendance.
PBA fans surely know him because of the infamous choking incident with his then Petron teammate Arwind Santos but he has since regretted that incident and looked forward to the day he will return to the Philippines to redeem himself.
Despite the jet lag and arriving just around seven in the morning without enough sleep, Balkman suited up for Tanduay Alab Pilipinas and immediately made his presence felt as he scored the first basket of the game on an under goal stab after stealing the ball from Joshua Munzon. The steal and his basket set the tone early for Alab Pilipinas enroute to a 90-79 victory against the Malaysia Dragons.
The warm reception of the Filipino fans was something the 33-year old former NBA player, who had stints with Denver, New York and Dallas, never expected coming in to the game. “It felt good. I mean I didn’t expect it you know but the past is past.” said Balkman. “As I moved forward I did a lot of things since then. Like tonight, it wasn’t in my mind, it wasn’t in my head. I just went out there and played basketball.” he added.
While he contributed well for Alab Pilipinas, he acknowledged the fact that he didn’t perform as he expected to and vows to get better as the tournament progresses. “We just landed and it was tough being on a flight for so long. But after a while we would get back and our legs will be upon us and we’ll be better. I have a lot more basketball in me than what I showed tonight.” explained the Puerto Rico National Basketball team mainstay.
Alab Pilipinas head coach Jimmy Alapag shared his brief moment with Renaldo moments after they played against each other in the FIBA World Cup in Spain back in 2014. He said he was approached by Balkman telling him if ever he gets into coaching and the door opens up for him to come back to Manila, he’ll be ready. While it didn’t seem realistic back then, that moment finally arrived.
Alapag also believes what happened to Balkman in the PBA was just a ‘heat of the moment’ thing that happens to any human being. “I really think what happened years back was really an isolated case. At the end of the day, no one’s perfect. We all make mistakes. He’s said it numerous times that he’s regretful of what happened” shared Alapag.
Now that the incident with Arwind is already completely behind him, he never hid the fact that he looks forward to the day he could also return to the PBA. But right now, he’s now focused in helping Alab Pilipinas win the ABL title. “That’s (PBA) the goal. But right now we’re gonna finish the ABL first and we’ll see what happens and we’ll go from there. Now, It’s all about ABL and we’ll talk PBA later. We’ll try to win the championship and that’s our goal right now” said Balkman.