A little over a month ago, the season for the New York Yankees ended and with it, the career of baseball’s face for over a decade. Yankees captain and short stop Derek Jeter hung up his cleats at 40 years of age. In his final season, he played 145 out of a possible 162 games where he hit four home runs and 50 RBIs. He stole 10 bases and struck out 87 times and finished the season with a .256 batting average.
About eight thousand miles away, another team captain and ageless wonder himself showed that he is far from done.
The 41-year old center of the NLEX Road Warriors, Asi Taulava, overcame a slow start to lead NLEX to its first ever win in the PBA by chalking up 21 points (including 12 in the final quarter), eight rebounds, and five assists in a 101-96 win. He scored key baskets in the game’s dying moments in addition to finding key teammates for a couple of key baskets as well.
It’s hard to believe that Taulava is still going strong even at that age when most pro basketball players have hung up their high tops. It isn’t any fluke as in Season 39, Asi was ranked seventh in performance among local players as he suited up for 40 matches for Air21 while averaging 14.75 points per game.
The Big Fella was also fourth in total free throws made with an average of 3.9 per match for a total of 156 FTs scored. Incredibly, he was second only to JuneMar Fajardo’s 14.1 rebounds per game with 12.3 of his own! He pulled down more boards than Barangay Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter, San Miguel Beer’s Arwind Santos, and Alaska’s Sonny Thoss even if they played more games than he did.
And to show that he was rock solid for last year – he played the most minutes of any local by logging 37.7 minutes per game.
I asked the 6’9” center who is now on his 16th year in the league how he manages to stay in remarkable shape and to be able to contribute mightily to his team’s cause despite his age.
Taulava took no offense at the question and merely said that he wants to stay in the league as long as possible. “I’d credit that first to Rajko Toroman when he asked me to be a part of Smart Gilas,” said Taulava. “If you want to play for him you have to be in shape. And that taught me a lot about staying in the game and lengthening my career. And second, it’s for the love of the game, man. And I want to go out with at least another championship.”
Asi admitted it’s also about eating the right foods and staying fit and sharp. “You hear it so many times about taking care of one’s body. Man, I’ve got so many bumps, bruises, and pain all over but I’ve been blessed to be healthy at this stage. So I really have to take care of myself if I want to continue playing.”
The Fil-Tongan is part of a small community of PBA players who plied their trade at the age of 40 and above. The list includes Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Elpidio Villamin, Terry Saldaña, Abet Guidaben, Olsen Racela, Nic Belasco, and John Ferriols. If Eric Menk suits up this season, he’ll be on that list too.
When told about Jeter playing at 40, Taulava glowed. “See? I really am in good company.”
“Now if I can win a championship that’s even better.”