Former PBA center Jolly Escobar played 11 seasons in the pro league, winning two championships with the Shell franchise in the 1990s. For most of his career, Escobar was the quintessential back-up center, sent in to spell the team’s starting big man. With the Zoom Masters, it was Benjie Paras, and later with Barangay Ginebra it was Marlou Aquino.
Escobar, the third pick in the 1992 draft, averaged 5.0 points and 4.2 rebounds in 322 games with Shell, Ginebra and Purefoods. He went head-to-head with some of the best centers in league history, and like many young players who grew in the 1980s, Escobar idolized four-time MVP Mon Fernandez.
So when he finally entered the pro league, Escobar looked forward to playing against his boyhood idol. There’s a saying that you should never meet your heroes, and while Escobar and Fernandez are friendly in retirement, the UE alum probably wished his first close encounter with his hero had played out differently.
In a recent appearance on An Eternity of Basketball, Escobar narrated how Fernandez’s elbow found his face on more than one occasion.
“These guys won’t give you like touch fouls,” said Escobar, talking about the ruggedness of PBA centers during his rookie season. “Talagang paparamdam sila.”
“Mon Fernandez. Yun talagang ta-time-ingan pa niya pag nandoon ka sa likod niya. Talagang sisilipin pa niya kung sino tapos talagang bibigyan ka niya. And this didn’t happen once. Every time kalaban namin ang San Miguel, kaliwa’t kanan.”
Escobar admitted he couldn’t strike back because he was just a rookie and he held Fernandez in high esteem. But eventually he finally had enough, and one game it was his turn to plant an elbow into El Presidente. The blow hit Fernandez in his throat, a dangerous area – just ask June Mar Fajardo – to get hit. An enraged Fernandez went after Escobar, who did the only thing he could: he ran.
“To this day, parang nakikita ko si Norman Black, parang slo-mo. ‘Noooo, Moooon!’ Pinipigilan niya si Mon Fernandez.”
Here’s a clip from the interview:
After seven season with Shell, Escobar was picked up by Barangay Ginebra where, as an injured reserve in the 1999 All-Filipino quarterfinals, he was witness to one of the most iconic shots in Ginebra lore.
“One vs. eight. Asi (Taulava) and company were twice-to-beat. Na-twice-to-beat sila with that Bal David razzle-dazzle pa-bandang tira.”
Escobar was referring to teammate Bal David’s turnaround bank shot at the buzzer that stunned the top-seeded Mobiline Phone Pals and sent the eighth-seeded Barangay into the semifinals.
Watch the full interview of Escobar here: