By Aeron Pantig

In basketball, like in other professional sports, earning a moniker means an athlete has established a certain character or image through his or her distinctive playstyle and attitude. Be it “the Blur” for Jayson Castro’s speed, or “the Mailman” for Karl Malone’s ability to deliver, earning a monicker is a sign of sports greatness. However, for some, no matter how great or illustrious the career, it seems like no amount of creative words or nicknames can completely capture their personality; and one of them is Ranidel De Ocampo. 

The name Ranidel De Ocampo was easily registered into my memory as a basketball fan. He was hailed as the Best Player of the Game when I watched my first PBA game in 2012. It was the Philippine Cup Quarter Finals between the Talk N’ Text Tropang Texters (now TNT KaTropa) and Air21 (now NLEX Road Warriors). De Ocampo finished the game with 13 points and drained a clutch dagger to lead TNT to the semis. I knew nothing about the PBA back then. But in an instant, I was excited by the style of basketball that the Tropang Texters played, fast-paced and high intensity, until I just found myself in front of the television watching every Talk N’ Text game.

After that match, I also discovered that TNT was a powerhouse squad and that they were already gunning for a third straight All-Filipino Cup title, a feat which before the San Miguel Beermen’s five-peat, no team in PBA history had ever achieved. Facing an under-experienced Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the Finals, the Norman Black-led Tropang Texters clearly had the upper hand. The reigning champion only needed four games to etch their names in history books as the first team to win the monumental three-peat trophy and the fourth team to complete a finals sweep. Also, during that conference, Ranidel De Ocampo earned his first Finals Most Valuable Player award after dishing out a stellar average of 18 points, eight rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

Ranidel De Ocampo was not the flashiest player on the court, but he was one of the most efficient. A 6-foot-6 stretch forward who could operate effectively in the shaded lane, had the ability to shoot beyond the three-point arc, had the guts to take crucial baskets, and most of all, had the heart, dedication, and leadership to push any team he was on to greater heights. In other words, he was the type of player you would want to have on your team. This made it a no brainer for coach Chot Reyes to include him in the Gilas Pilipinas team which made a historic run during the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. 

Alongside TNT teammates and former Gilas Pilipinas players Jimmy Alapag and Larry Fonacier, Ranidel played a vital role in breaking the “Korean Curse” and putting the Philippines back on the basketball map of the world. With less than three minutes left in the final period, Gilas Pilipinas was trailing by a single point, Ranidel rallied five straight points to give Gilas Pilipinas the lead, 81-77, that eventually booked their ticket to the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Throughout his career, it was like Ranidel was made for heroic moments. During the 2014 FIBA World Cup game against Senegal, he played through an injury with two staples on his forehead and sank in two crucial free throws that would seal the Philippines’ first victory in the world stage after 40 years. 

Ranidel De Ocampo remained as an integral cog for the national team in the following years until he decided to retire from international competition in July 2016 after their tough loss to the New Zealand men’s national basketball team that ended their bid to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Ranidel may have ended his national team career with a defeat but the Cavite-native had definitely earned the respect of his fellow countrymen and even competitors on the world stage.

Under the TNT franchise, the big man continued to collect individual and team accolades such as his second Finals MVP plum, PBA All-Star, and Mythical team award. However, in 2017, the team management shipped Ranidel to sister team Meralco Bolts in a three-team trade involving the Phoenix Fuel Masters. In the trade, TNT KaTropa acquired centers Justin Chua, Norbert Torres and a first-round pick. 

Ranidel spent nine years of his career with the TNT franchise; and just like him, probably, I felt mixed emotions as a TNT fan. I expected him to end his decorated PBA career donning the blue and yellow. It was the same thing I felt when fellow KaTropa Larry Fonacier, Jared Dillinger, and Jimmy Alapag were also sent to sister teams Meralco and NLEX. But he had to accept it, that’s how professional basketball is. 

Upon his arrival to the Bolts, Ranidel was reunited with former coach Norman Black and former teammate Jared Dillinger. But unlike his monumental stint with TNT, Ranidel did not gain any rings with Meralco. For several conferences, the Bolts surged their way through to the Finals only to suffer multiple Game 7 heartbreaks. And although his stay with Meralco was plagued by injuries, there were still breakout games where the veteran forward would remind fans why he’s one of the most respected power forwards in the league. 

Aside from the extraordinary moments of his career, PBA fans know Ranidel for the entertainment he brings whenever he is in front of a crowd. 

When LeBron James came to Manila as part of his Strive for Greatness tour in 2017, there was this one fast break play where the NBA star had an open lane for his signature tomahawk slam. The audience was on their feet as they were about to witness a future NBA Hall of Famer dunk. What followed was an exercise in futility, albeit an entertaining one. For the heck of it, Ranidel ran as fast as he could down the court and tried to pull off a chase-down block, a move Lebron James was well known for especially after the title-saving one he did in 2016. Ranidel failed to deny Lebron, it wasn’t even close. Lebron won the joust at the rim but at least Ranidel won the internet. 

Who could forget the iconic commercial released by Talk N’ Text featuring Jayson Castro, Larry Fonacier, and Ranidel De Ocampo? In the scene, the latter was telling his teammates how he envied their nicknames, The Blur for Jayson Castro, Baby-faced Assassin for Larry Fonacier, and Machine Gun Kelly for Kelly Williams. For those who aren’t familiar, the TNT powerhouse squad back then had numerous players who were branded with colorful monickers. Aside from the names mentioned above, they had Mighty Mouse Jimmy Alapag, The Energizer Ryan Reyes, The Daredevil Jared Dillinger, and Man Mountain Ali Peek. 

Ranidel lamented on why his nickname was just his initials, then went on to crowdsource on Facebook for suggestions. Monikers like RaniDelightful, Big Breezy, Papa Bear, Magic Mountain were pitched until he came upon with Hodor, a character in the award-winning TV series Game of Thrones. The three laugh out after hearing the suggestion with Ranidel even asking, “Sino nagsulat nito?” But eventually Hodor became a jokey moniker for Ranidel De Ocampo. 

Unfortunately, last on April 13, 2020, Ranidel De Ocampo shocked the PBA community when he announced that he is retiring after an illustrious 16-year career. He will be hanging up his shoes as a two-time Finals MVP, six-time PBA champion, nine-time All-Star, and a four-time Mythical team member. 

RDO, Hodor, Big Breezy, RaniDelightful, Papa Bear, Ranidirk, Pambansang Siko, whatever you call him, no moniker perfectly captures Ranidel De Ocampo’s journey in becoming one of the legendary big men of the PBA. It’s peculiar for an athlete so revered and respected to not have a monicker that sticks. But for Ranidel being best known as his initials reflects the best aspect of his game— less flashiness, straight to the point, all greatness.

P.S. As tributes from former teammates and coaches pour in for Ranidel, may this article serve as gratitude to one of the best PBA players I grew up watching. Thank you for your service to the country. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement, idol.