As the old saying goes, there are only two things certain in this world: Death and taxes. In the Philippine basketball world, however, there are three: Death, taxes, and Brgy. Ginebra being the most popular ball club in the country. And with its rich history of iconic players, particularly in the guard position – with the likes of Robert Jaworski, Mark Caguioa, Bal David, Rudy Distrito and Jayjay Helterbrand just to name a few – somewhere lost in the shuffle is the often unheralded LA Tenorio.
Today, March 17, 2019, Tenorio will be playing a record breaking 597th consecutive game, which will make him the league’s newly dubbed Iron Man, passing Alvin Patrimonio. While many will gawk over his streak of consecutive games, even more impressive with Tenorio has been the consistency he has brought to the Ginebra folklore ever since joining the team in 2012.
When Tenorio arrived in Ginebra, the team was still pretty much Caguioa’s. But conference after conference, as much as some fans would eschew from it, the reality is that the 5’8” guard is clearly becoming the team’s most important player. He has consistently been Ginebra’s best player for quite some time now.
Tenorio was a natural born leader. He came into the world with skill built for a true point guard. The Batangas native was never shy of dictating the game through his chieftainship and ball distribution.
In his first season with Ginebra, the Gineral’s weaponry was a little less explosive as compared to the current Ginebra roster. Greg Slaughter was still holding the paint for Ateneo. Japeth Aguilar did not come to the team until the third conference, Sol Mercado was still jumping on different teams before finally settling in Ginebra, and Scottie Thompson was still tearing the house down in NCAA.
Still, Tenorio was able to average 6.3 assists per game throughout that season – with a whopping 9.8 assists per game during the third conference – showing his uncanny ability to make plays for his teammates. He did this in a variety of ways such as giving slick passes off of pick and rolls to the roll man, finding a cutting Mark Caguioa on the baseline, or setting up wide open shooters.
The PnR attack is probably where the 34-year-old point guard is at his deadliest. Because of his unparalleled passing ability, vision, and capability to create, Tenorio attacking and scoring off a ball screen is a nightmare matchup for any opponent. Just watch how he torched Team USA during the 2012 Jones Cup Finals just by doing repeated ball screen actions with Marcus Douthit.
If his defender comes under the screen, then you might as well give up the three easy points because LA has been one of the more underrated three-point shooters in the league. He has been playing at around the 35 percent shooting clip in his Ginebra stint.
The Gineral also has a variety of ways of finishing under the rim. And if the roll man defender doesn’t commit to him enough, he can hit you with either a floater or his patented Pilita Corrales reverse layup.
With the current lineup of Ginebra constructed mainly for the Triangle offense of Coach Tim Cone, LA’s mastery of the pick and roll proved to be much more pivotal. The trademark system of Cone mainly requires not only post up actions but also ball screen motions particularly from the side and the wing.
And with the Gin Kings having a bunch of talented big men led by the twin towers in Slaughter and Aguilar, Tenorio can easily have a field day on his pick and roll attacks anytime he wants. This is why when all else fails, Cone loves to call LA’s number with a two-man pick and roll action from the top of the key.
Another integral facet of Tenorio’s diverse offensive game is his shooting off the catch. In fact, LA is Ginebra’s best three-point shooter. In this conference alone, the Gineral is shooting 43 percent from rainbow country at five three-point attempts per game. That type of production is really good at any type of league you play in, especially when you take into account the number of attempts he has on a daily basis.
This was illustrated in two instances in Ginebra’s last game versus Phoenix, where Tenorio wound up with 23 points. After Jason Perkins inexplicably doubled Jervy Cruz in the post off of the switching defense for two consecutive possessions, LA was able to drill two wide open crucial three-point shots late in the game.
In the pros, what separates elite players from good players is their ability to play on both ends of the floor. Tenorio is perhaps one of the best defensive point guards in the PBA for years now. Often overlooked as a defender because of his size and stature, LA is able to use his 5’8” frame packed with unmatched defensive I.Q., tenacity to bother opposing guards, and the activity to pressure backcourts over the course of an entire game.
One perfect example of Tenorio’s leech-like defensive prowess is in an elimination game against the then Globalport Batang Pier in the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup. Although the game is popularly remembered with an altercation between him and Terrence Romeo, it was LA’s irritating defense on Romeo in the whole game that ultimately triggered Romeo’s frustrations.
Because of his lateral quickness and activity on the passing lanes, the Gineral is always able to stay in front of his defenders and use his wit to either pick up charging fouls or pickpocket opponents. These make him one of the supreme defensive guards in the league, averaging 2.14 steals per game this conference.
More than Tenorio’s skills and abilities on the hardwood floor, what really makes the Gineral an elite player and a perfect fit in the Barangay is his heart and no fear attitude especially on the biggest of stages. Counting how many clutch shots Tenorio has made ever since he donned the Kings uniform is close to impossible. He is a big-time player, the type that is worthy of the adoration of the league’s largest fanbase.
Perhaps one of the more memorable clutch shots that Tenorio clinched is in the now famous Christmas Clasico against arch-rivals Magnolia (then Star Hotshots) where he hit a buzzer-beating three pointer in Overtime after an amazing display of never say die from Ginebra during regulation.
In the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup, Tenorio bagged his first and only Best Player of the Conference so far as he led Ginebra to a miraculous Finals appearance. He pretty much carried the offensive load for the Gin Kings. Although they did not win the title that conference, it showcased LA’s ability to carry an undermanned team even when faced with so much pressure under the limelight of the nation’s favorite team.
The icing on the cake, however, is how LA helped deliver three championships for Ginebra after an eight-year title drought for the proud franchise. Of the three championships, Tenorio was named Finals MVP on two occasions – in the 2016 and 2017 Governor’s Cup finals.
Although the most vivid memory of Game 6 of the 2016 Finals is super import Justin Brownlee made the title-clinching buzzer beater versus the Meralco Bolts, it was Tenorio who led Ginebra climbed from a double-digit deficit. He caught fire in the third quarter, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half alone that proved to be the turning point of the game. The pivotal rematch in 2017 reached a do or die Game 7 and once again, LA was at his absolute best, scoring 26 big points.
When the lights are bright and the pressure is on, this is where the Gineral can really prove his worth. Because no matter how big the moment is, count on Tenorio to bring stability, grace and most of all, the staggering killer instinct that has made him one the most prolific point guards in PBA history.
On Sunday, LA Tenorio will officially become the league’s Iron Man. But for seven years now, the Gineral has always been Ginebra’s Iron Man just like what Tony Stark is as the Iron Man for the Avengers – the true leader of the pack and the group’s most pivotal player. And when all is said and done, he will etch his mark as one of the greatest Ginebra players in the history of PBA.