Words & Interview by: Lex Perry Ignacio @xelyrrep
Visuals by: Kris Villano & Raymond Manglo of @thevisualclub
It was exactly a year ago when I was given the opportunity to interview one of my long-time heroes in the hard court. At that time, he was sporting a different go-to sneaker, playing for a different organization, and was yet to get married. I had shorter hair and was nursing a knee injury then. Shortly thereafter, a lot of changes immediately took place and advancements happened in-between so we had to delay the posting of the article.
From then a simple project, Talkin’ with the Mob became an official segment about two months ago, and I knew that this was the best time to have my story updated and revised. For the third episode of this program, we’re finally featuring the man who dons the jersey number three, and it’s no other than the Tondo native, the league’s lethal weapon, the epitome of Angas – Paul Lee
It’s often, if not always, the experiences in life and the influence of those who are close to us that help pave the path and direction of our life. It is the primary factors which matters most to us that create the biggest impact in our lives and push us to do more out of the circumstances present around us. For Paul, it’s the way his family lives and how they spent countless hours working thoroughly just to provide them their needs. Seeing that taking place while growing up, it served as his principal inspiration in life.
Paul Lee started hooping at a young age. His love for the game was already inherent during the early stages of his life. From joining the leagues in their local community, his talent and brilliance in playing the sport has enabled him to play in notable leagues such as the NCAA, UAAP, and PBL before he played professionally in the PBA.
We may think at times that we already have the ball rolling, acting as if we know what we’ll do and where we’ll end up next, but life sure is not that simple and our brand ambassador reminds us that it really requires evident hard work and effort to achieve our goals. Despite having an excellent performance and winning the championship in his last year as a high school player, Paul did not get any invitation or recruitment from the scouts to play at the collegiate level.
“I thought it was going to be easy after high school, but it was a struggle because nobody wants to get me in college. It was either the scouts didn’t know that I was graduating or maybe my skills were not enough – it was only either of the two reasons” he recalls,
Raphy Reyes, his friend and high school teammate was already bound to suit up for the UE Red Warriors and play in the UAAP, Paul then got a call from Raphy’s father asking him to come play with his son, which was followed by a request from his then high school coach asking the basketball management from the University of the East to get both him and Raphy as a package deal.
He went on to become a reserved player in his freshman year being part of the school’s secondary team “I just kept working hard every day to show them that I’m deserving of a spot, I always try to prove everyone that I deserve to be part of the line-up” And so on 2007, he officially became part of the primary line-up, and that’s when things slowly started to transition for him. After his second year playing college hoops, Paul went on to play in a bigger league – the PBL.
“I know this was another big test for me, different league, older opponents, lots of ex-PBA players and veteran PBL players. This was the test if I can make it to the next level, if I can play in the PBA.”
He immediately got the answer to his question one season later when he was awarded as the best player of the conference, even bagging a record as the youngest player ever to win the award as he only turned twenty on that year. “After that I told myself that I can make it, that’s when things started heading in my direction and that’s when I was able to establish confidence in myself, until now.”
Fast forward to 2011, he was drafted 2nd overall in the Philippine Basketball Association and continued to showcase the finesse of his game that early by winning the Rookie of the Year award. Not only did Paul participate in the big leagues but also continued to establish his budding name by bagging a number of championships and more individual awards like being the league’s Finals MVP. His journey was a matter of being ready for every opportunity whenever it presents itself and making the most out of it. He was determined to step up to whatever challenge and all along he knew that he never played to just take part, he was there to take over.
Undoubtedly, he has built a strong reputation through his game and worked his way to become one of the top players in the PBA. When I asked how he is able to maintain such a reputable position, he told me that the key is to never be satisfied and contented with what you have. “In year 1, you can get 1, so why not get 2 on your second year? Every year you should show something new. After all, even my coaches say that there’s always room for improvement, as old as it may sound, but its effective, and that’s what needs to be said”
He never became complacent and always looked for ways to utilize and sharpen his already incredible skills, and that’s how he stays on top of his game and ahead of his opponents. Even with everything surrounding him with his career, he is an individual who values humility and keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground.
“Fame and recognition is something that can be granted to you out of nowhere, but similarly, it’s also something that can be taken away instantly from you. Prove yourself that everything you have is earned and deserved and don’t let all the attention get to your head.”
It is his own personal mission to give back and reach his helping hand to the whole community especially the youth, wherein he makes a visit to his hometown and coordinates with their local government sector so he could cater to the needs of the majority better. He never forgets to honor those who helped him reach his dream; acknowledge his humble beginnings and where he came from. And this is something that I can vouch for given that I know him for nearly 2 years now and I personally see how he engages with the people. Paul is simply pure and real.
We were already fans of his before, so when we knew that he extended his support to the brand, we were eager to meet and get to know him a little better. It was at the flagship store and he was with his then girlfriend and now wife, Rubie on our first meeting. I was startstrucked and somewhat nervous, but some moments after, I finally became loose and relaxed, and during our conversation, it was already irrefutable not to think that there was an instant connection between the stories and messages coming from both him and the brand. It was a no-brainer for us to have him as our brand ambassador, knowing he is someone who could truly represent what DBTK is all about. But ultimately, more than that, we were able to create a genuine bond altogether – and he is someone I consider as another big brother.
No matter how smooth and functional the surface of the road may be, there will always be roadblocks that will hinder us from getting where we ought to be, and in this case, these humps and detours happen to be in the form of a knee injury. At that time when I had my ACL torn, there was a delay in my recovery because there seems to be yet another joint complication. I was getting negative feedbacks and concerns from various people affirming that I would no longer perform the same or get back in shape. When Paul knew about my condition, he was consequently checking on how things were going with my therapy and gave me additional advice on how I could heal faster.
Paul had his struggles with injuries as well, and he knows how hard and crucial it is to get back from such mishap. But like what I said, he was always ready to dominate come hell or high water, and that kind of mentality propelled me to defeat and get passed my roadblock. Now, I am clear to play and I’ve never been in a better shape before.
Just like what he says, the examples and standards you set, along with the people you surround yourselves with, definitely play a vital role in your life, and I am glad that in mine, one of those people happen to be someone like Paul Lee.