It’s been some weeks since the dust settled, but shit. I wait a year to see Ivan Johnson play, only to discover that he cussed (shocker) Commissioner Narvasa in a game (he again entered the court), who furiously pointed at him (he’s making a habit of it), which caused the league to have a mini meltdown leading to the center getting the boot for the conference.
I was looking forward to the return of Ivan el Terrible, and low-key spazzed out when the news broke that he got into a scuffle with Blackwater’s Erram and Golla in a tune-up game (I understand that violence is generally a bad thing but basketbrawls still get me pumped; this is partially due to the testosterone in my system and the idea that I might be spending too much time on my own). At the time, my mentality was “Hell, yeah. Ivan Johnson’s back and tearing it up!” because, well, who could forget the havoc he wreaked during last year’s Commissioner’s Cup?
Last I checked, he left a trail of busted teeth, irate players and a grudge-bearing Saitama doppelgänger diagnosing #44’s mental state, on his way to a title.
From a team perspective, Johnson was a good addition to an already great Talk ‘N Text line-up. He provided 1. the rim protection that TNT badly needed (he had a defensive rating of 89.5; while he didn’t block many shots, his interior presence was enough to intimidate offenses) 2. additional scoring, whether in the post, perimeter, or beyond the arc (58.3% true shooting, 54.7% on effective field goals) and 3. all-around toughness. That last one is important, mind you.
You see, they weren’t exactly the ’79-’94 Bad Boys. With the exception of Ranidel de Ocampo, who would keep his brutishness low-key, their roster, consisting of Larry Fonacier, Jayson Castro and formerly Jimmy Alapag, was a collection of conduct awardees and paragons of sportsmanship. They were squeaky clean. And for Christ’s sake, they’re called the Tropang Texters. Fortunately, they found the human embodiment of Mad Max: Fury Road in Johnson, and, for a conference, would metamorphose into the scourge of the league.
Ivan’s combustive style of play was akin to the gnashing of metals from cars and trucks careening into one another in the desert that Max and Furiosa had to speed through. He could bang bodies in the paint, muscle his way to the rim, and was willing to slam on just about anybody. He could’ve breathed fire and it would not have been out of place. I mean, his external features alone were enough to inspire dread. Think about it–the shaved head? Beard? Murderous look? He’s actually a 3-D printed version of the Titan man, minus the eyebrow game.
Sure, Johnson was reckless, but it was precisely his foolhardiness that made him vital to the identity of the team. The inertia of his work ethic and flammability of his will made it easy for the Texters to rally around his sturdy 6’8” frame. He was competitive and fearless, so it was only natural that these qualities spilled over into Talk ‘N Text basketball as swagger. Suddenly, TNT–of all teams–was badass.
The Tropa gained a resbak in Johnson. If other teams had capitalized on bullying them by way of physicality, his existence either rendered the tactic null or completely turned the tables on them. He was crucial in the Texters’ finals series against Rain or Shine. Man, what a series that was. The Elasto Painters were (and still are) a mentally tough bunch, thanks to the guidance of Yeng Guiao and the coaching staff. Not only do they play solid team ball, they have the ability to get under the opponents’ skin, too. With Jay-R Quiñahan and Beau Belga happy to don the villain’s cloak (if you pay close attention, even Chris Tiu gets in on it), anything short of TNT’s A-game would have resulted in a second-place finish.
Johnson delivered. From Game 1 to Game 7, he shot 50%, 50%, 55%, 38.5%, 62.5%, 22.2%, and 45.5% from the field. Rain or Shine obviously focused their defensive energy on him the night he shot the most poorly but that isn’t the point. The point is, he managed to keep his composure (enough to not get him kicked out of games, at least) against a team that tried to psych him out. He was aware that his temper was going to be used against him. He did not allow this to happen; he let the little things slide and kept his eyes on the prize. The result? He came out a champ.
But that was then and this is now. I have to say it again: Goddammit. God-frigging-dammit. On one hand, I was stoked that he was bringing back his aggressive game on the hardwood, but on the other, I was hoping that he picked up some lessons from his last conference here and that he’d avoid making the same mistakes this time around. I’m not sure if he could infer the changes in how the officials were making calls based on their uniform redesign. I couldn’t ascertain if he was briefed on the theatrical leanings of the new commish. I also can’t assume that Talk ‘N Text takes this championship if Johnson reined himself in, but at least they’d have a legit shot (aside: this is not to dismiss his replacement, David Simon, who seems to be the real deal but you know, continuity and such and such).
Ah, what does it matter now? He’s gone.
But I rant on. It was great that Johnson and Narvasa reconciled but overall, the brisk (read: due process-free) decision to impose a lifetime ban on a player then eventually taking it back just isn’t a good look for the Association (I won’t get into the part where kume joined the chaos on the floor because what the fuck even). It just sets a bad example in a league where people clamor for consistency and fairness.
But what do I know?
I’m just a disgruntled twenty-something, sitting in front of his laptop, asking the PBA to get its shit together.