MANILA,Philippines - Even in faraway Dubai, PBA icon Robert Jaworski’s No. 7 jersey has been retired in a tribute to the Living Legend.
Jaworski was recently in Dubai as guest of the Philippine Expat Basketball Conference (PEBC) which staged an exhibition game between the visiting PBA Legends and the Dubai All-Stars at the Al Shabab Club during his three-day stay. Before the match, the Big J’s No. 7 jersey was formally retired in a ceremony presided by PEBC chairman Edwin Deang who said no player will be allowed to use the number in any PEBC-sanctioned tournament. Last July, Jaworski’s Ginebra No. 7 jersey was retired by the PBA.
Jaworski sat in the VIP section as the PBA Legends won, 109-105, behind Kenneth Duremdes’ 40 points. Marlou Aquino, Alvin Patrimonio, Vince Hizon, Noli Locsin, Jojo Lastimosa, Ato Agustin, Bobby Jose and Bonel Balingit also saw action in the goodwill contest. The Dubai All-Stars were led by Nonoy Sayon, Al Federiso, Jayson Araneta, Khalifa Salem and Ruben de la Rosa. In side attractions, Hizon won the three-point shootout competition and former NCAA cager Romar Menor took the slam dunk title.
A highlight of the event was the awarding of two airline tickets for Ambassador Grace Relucio Princesa to send two distressed OFWs home to their families. The PEBC, through sponsors Al Ghaliyah Travel and Asiana Hotel, provided for the tickets which were handed to Princesa by Jaworski and Deang.
Jaworski was also the guest at the inauguration of an exhibit featuring Filipino business initiatives at the Boracay Bar and Restaurant in the Asiana Hotel. He cut the ceremonial ribbon to open the exhibit showcasing Filipino entrepreneurship. Jaworski said it was a positive sign that Filipinos are making their mark in the Middle East as entrepreneurs and promised to support projects that “multiply opportunities for hope leading to success.” Boracay manager Jinggay Feliciano committed to host the Filipino exhibit on the last Friday of each month.
It was hardly a vacation for Jaworski. In a courtesy call to consul general Benito Valeriano, Jaworski spoke to over 100 distressed OFWs temporarily sheltered in the Philippine office while awaiting repatriation. The OFWs are victims of physical and sexual abuse by employers, non-payment of salaries and other forms of prejudice and persecution but are unable to pay their way back to their country. Jaworski told the OFWs that he will personally exert efforts to raise funds and try to bring home an average of at least five a month. “If it will take for me to wear my jersey again and play, then I’ll do it,” he told the OFWs some of whom shed tears as the Big J spoke. Jaworski also shared words of advice to several Filipino couples that were in the consulate to get married.
Jaworski’s visit was covered by the Emirates’ City 7 news program 7NN. He was shown in an interview where he lauded Filipino entrepreneurs, OFWs and professionals in Dubai, saying it was an honor to visit and touch base with countrymen working overseas. The program also aired footage of the PBA Legends game with the commentary that the PBA players “carried out their legendary status despite the age difference.” Lastimosa was shown in an interview where he said it felt like home in Dubai with the large Filipino community and promised to return to play. The program said the game was staged “for goodwill and to inspire hope.”
It was Jaworski’s first trip to Dubai and the visit opened his eyes to the plight of Filipino OFWs. Jaworski said he will organize a team of basketball ambassadors to tour the Middle East to preach the message of hope. “It will be a way of giving back to our countrymen who are our heroes abroad,” he said. “At the same time, we’ll be providing our former PBA stars with an opportunity to travel and earn for their families.”
Dubai-based Filipino writer Jong Acena said Jaworski’s visit created a major impact. “His presence brought so much joy to OFWs in Dubai,” said Acena. “He was mobbed everywhere he went, from the Philippine consulate, to malls, restaurants and at the playing venue where thousands of Pinoys patiently lined up to get up close and take photos with the Big J. He also gave away commemorative basketballs from his PBA retirement ceremony and No. 7 jerseys to the delight of the crowd at Al Shabab. The Big J was extremely moved by his experience at the Dubai consulate so much so that he promised to support organizations like the PEBC with noble intentions, assisting distressed workers.”
The exhibition game was a thriller. The Legends came back from a four-point halftime deficit to down the hosts. Duremdes hit 33 points in the second half to lead the charge. Aquino scored 20 with Patrimonio chipping in 13, Hizon 12 and Locsin 11. Sapon led the Dubai All-Stars with 16.