40 minutes suddenly passed and just like that, it was over. It all came by so quickly that once the final buzzer sounded, Alvin Pasaol couldn’t help but burst into tears. However he had no time to compose himself. One by one, his teammates started to crowd him, all with the intent of giving their best player the tightest hug they could give him. It looked rowdy, kind of like an all-boys High School class really, but you couldn’t deny the joy the UE Red Warriors showed in that moment. 

You would have thought the Red Warriors had just won the UAAP championship before a jam packed crowd that Sunday afternoon in the Mall of Asia Arena. In reality, this was far from the case. Number one: the crowd wasn’t even close to packed. You could have probably fit the audience that day into the Filoil Flying V Arena and the seats wouldn’t have even been three-fourths filled. Number two: they didn’t win the UAAP championship. They didn’t even win the game. The Red Warriors lost versus the NU Bulldogs, 79-71, to end what had been a tough regular season for them. This was their 13th loss out of 14 games, a regression compared to their promising performance during the previous year. 

Yet despite these factors, the joy coming out of the Red Warriors looked as genuine as it could be. Endings, no matter how rough, are always celebrated in Filipino culture. This was the celebration of a season of rebirth, a new age for the UE Red Warriors with Coach Joe Silva at the helm. In a more immediate point of view, this was a celebration of players who helped spearhead this movement for UE. One was Jason Varilla. But most noticeably, the other was Alvin Pasaol, the man who turned from mystery to cult hero with the snap of a finger and gave a dwindling program hope to be relevant once more.

Alvin’s story started to take shape during the offseason of Season 80, when the UE Red Warriors played in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup. While putting together some solid performances during Season 79, it was in the Filoil tourney where he slowly established himself as among the league’s elite. He wasn’t just playing well. He was literally carrying the Red Warriors to the point where he’d lead almost all of the statistical categories for UE during the tournament. Thus came the birth of an inside joke among hardcore basketball circles: the UE Red Pasaols. 

Whether you’d consider that as a good or bad thing for Alvin really depends on how you wanted to view the situation. On one hand, at least Alvin was being recognized for being a good basketball player. On the other hand, that’s the only claim to fame Alvin had within basketball circles; as the only recognizable figure of a team that had been below average for the latter half of this decade. He was polarizing in that regard, with a concrete title for who he was as a player up in the air. 

The losses kept piling, but so did the production of Pasaol. Eventually it would reach its tipping point, on October 4, 2017 to be exact. Then and there, we’d discover the perfect title for Alvin Pasaol: Cult Hero.

Versus the DLSU Green Archers, Alvin Pasaol put up a career-high 49 points in a performance that sent shockwaves throughout the UAAP. On the surface, it was what you’d expect out of the UE Red Warriors. To no surprise, they lost. Also no shock was Alvin putting up big numbers to no avail. But 49 wasn’t just some big number which amped up the hype surrounding Pasaol. 49 was the bait which hooked the entire UAAP into the personality that was Alvin Pasaol.

On paper, Alvin did not have the type of profile which screamed special. He stood at around 6’2”, with a frame that looked straight out of a pick-up game between titos. His athleticism didn’t pop-out. Even his skill set, normally the last result when trying to make a case as to why a player is elite, wasn’t particularly mesmerizing. All in all, Alvin Pasaol had the build of the average Filipino basketball player. Undersized, not so in shape aesthetically, with a skill set that was respectable. 

Yet, despite all of these factors, he still got to put up 49 points against the defending champions. Chalk it up to garbage time points? You have a point. But take away the stat sheet and just watch how Alvin played. Focus on that and you have the best explanation as to why Alvin suddenly turned from average joe to cult hero overnight.

Quite simply; Alvin Pasaol gave a damn even though he had every reason to give up and throw in the towel. He was playing for a program that hadn’t made the Final Four ever since Season 72 and hadn’t made moves to convince the UAAP it was ready to make the leap back to playoff contention. For Pasaol himself, his physical stature didn’t seem like it was ready to play elite basketball. Mataba. Maliit lang naman. Hanggang UAAP lang yan. Comments Alvin had heard ever since he entered the UAAP, as a kid from Davao who just wanted the chance to show his wares to an even bigger audience. 

As a kid from Davao. The desire to show one’s wares to an even bigger audience.

That’s really where it all boiled down to. Dreams that needed to be chased. No one would do the work for you, so why not get up and fight even though circumstances pushed you down? Never mind the questionable program. Why think about your physical limitations. Alvin was willing to give a damn despite all of this and his production is very evidence as to why just giving a damn can do wonders for your play.

You couldn’t call him as just Alvin Pasaol. He was THE Alvin Pasaol. Alvin’s sheer will allowed his physical limitations and so-so skillset to shine in ways it couldn’t for other players. Starting with that 49 point game, the legend of Alvin continued to grow. A deeper appreciation for his game was gained with every bucket he put up no matter what the result was. At the end of the day, it was his will which pulled people towards his way. That’s what everyone wants right? The acceptance that we all have our limitations but to still have the determination and confidence to perform like you were meant for greater things. Alvin did that and it resonated with everyone. 

This coming UAAP season, Alvin will no longer be suiting up, but his influence can be felt from all over the league. Just mentioning his name elicits reactions from anyone in UAAP circles, always ready with their best stories from Alvin’s three-year run in the league. The stories may be filled with losses on the basketball court, but filled with inspiration with what Alvin did for the UE Red Warriors. He gave a damn. That’s what so many of us want to have despite whatever doubts circle our minds. Being that kind of inspiration in itself makes Alvin worthy to be called a hero.