How Scottie Thompson evolved into the face of Ginebra

During the third quarter of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Game 6 triumph over the Meralco Bolts, Scottie Thompson stood at the free throw line to complete a three-point play.

As he waited for the ball, the crowd of over 20,000 began to sing in unison.

“MVP! MVP! MVP!”

As the chant cascaded from the confines of the Mall of Asia Arena onto the pitch, Thompson had only one thing on his mind: to make the free throw.

“I actually got nervous when I heard that,” he admitted after the Gin Kings’ 103-92 win on Friday night. “I was afraid of missing my free throw, and I did it!”

Thompson could be forgiven for the miss, because it’s not every day that the biggest fandom in PBA history lets you know openly that you’re their pick for the league’s best player. Additionally, Ginebra captured the Governors Cup crown minutes later, and Scottie was a near-unanimous pick by the PBA Press Corps for Finals MVP.

The MVP chants, however, speak to a larger narrative at work here. Thompson, 28, has played his entire seven-year career with Ginebra, and he has long endeared himself to avid fans of the franchise. His work ethic, restlessness, winning history (a must for any Ginebra legend) and penchant for grabbing impossible rebounds fit right into the team’s mantra.

But now, as Thompson reaches the pinnacle of his powers and the Gin Kings have established themselves as one of the best teams over the past six seasons, a new responsibility is placed on his shoulders, one that has just been the most popular player on the PBA’s most popular team.

Scottie Thompson could now very well be the face of Barangay Ginebra.

“I think we’re all looking for that thing,” his coach Tim Cone said. “He’s young and he’s just won conference MVP and Finals MVP. So yeah, I think he’s developed that way. And I don’t think anybody on our team He’s so good- It’s the same with Mark (Caguioa). Mark is such a nice guy and his teammates love him. It’s very fair to say that about Scottie.”

Fans also clearly love him. Thompson is not. The 6 jersey is easily the most popular among fans at Ginebra matches, already eclipsing the no. 47 de Caguioa, the last recognized face of the franchise.

By most accounts, Thompson is perhaps Ginebra’s most unlikely hero. While Ginebra legends like Robert Jaworski and Caguioa have never been afraid to speak their mind, Thompson’s signature off the pitch is his humility. Reporters who interview him sometimes wish they had bionic ears when transcribing his audio, as he barely speaks above a whisper. The franchise’s early heroes were known for their physical play; Thompson is universally liked by his peers.

On the court, Thompson is perhaps more Jaworski than Caguioa with his beautiful all-around game (in a prescient gesture, his dad named him after Scottie Pippen). But he will inevitably be more compared to Caguioa since their careers overlap and there is a linear passing of the torch.

Thompson, of course, shuns such comparisons and isn’t eager to snatch the mantle from his veteran teammate just yet.

“You still can’t take that away from Mark Caguioa. I’m still a long way from his accomplishments. He’s done a lot and I’m just getting started.”

Thompson is statistically correct. No player has scored more points or appeared in more games in a Ginebra uniform than Caguioa. He is the last Ginebra player to win MVP, has three Mythical Five citations, and was Rookie of the Year. He has played his entire career, which began in 2001, with Ginebra. He also has four more titles than Thompson.

But Caguioa’s career has also slowed considerably as he has barely seen action in the last three seasons. Thompson, with every rebound he grabbed from bigger players, climbed the pantheon of greats at Ginebra. He won his first conference MVP award in the recent Governors Cup. He was clearly the best player in the Finals and is one of the most recognizable and marketable PBA players today.

In Cone’s mind, Thompson is already there and worthy of the title.

“It’s a big legacy if you think about it. It started with Jaworski as the face, then Caguioa. Maybe Bal David was a bit, but then it went to Mark. And now it’s Scottie . Five, six, eight years later now, maybe he’s someone we don’t know yet. But it’s a great legacy to follow.”

An MVP would surely cement Thompson’s status as a Ginebra icon; he would become the third Gin King to win it after Caguioa and Eric Menk. The award won’t be presented for a few weeks, but already Thompson and TNT’s Mikey Williams are in the conversation.

True to form, Thompson dismisses these comments.

“I’ll let fate give it to me. If it happens, it happens. If not, it’s fine. But the goal is to win another championship. I want a championship more than a special prize. It’s addictive. After you win one, you want to win more. There are many other players who deserve it.”

The MVP race for Season 46 is unique as there have only been two conferences and no major player has reached the finals in either. Magnolia’s Calvin Abueva was the MVP in the conference while Williams was MVP in the Philippine Cup final, where Ginebra was ousted in the quarter-finals. Thompson, however, won both Governors Cup awards.

“I think it’s going to be hard to deny it,” Cone said. “We know there’s a lot of deserving guys out there. But Scottie is the freshest on our minds right now. He’s been beyond spectacular, and that’s what MVPs do. For me, he’s been so valuable to us because all the things that He does. And he’s a totally complete player because of what he does on the pitch and what he does off the pitch. He’s a great teammate , he’s so easy to coach. He always has been. You just don’t see him off the pitch or in training like we do. He’s a great teammate. He’s been incredibly valuable to us, and I think that’s the definition of an MVP. How valuable he is to the team, and his value is unquestioned.

Cone’s chief assistant, Richard Del Rosario, thinks Thompson “has a good chance” of winning. But regardless, Del Rosario thinks we’re seeing a special player evolve before our eyes.

“Scottie has really become a two-way player over the years,” Del Rosario said. “What sets him apart is that with all the awards and accolades he’s received, he’s remained humble and hardworking. I’m just lucky to witness that up close because I’m sure at Going forward, he will be recognized as one of the greatest players in the PBA.”

When asked if there was a particular moment, game or play that made him think Thompson finally took that big leap, Del Rosario said it was a confluence of events.

“That’s what’s unique about Scottie. There’s no single moment but a collection of moments in the game. That’s why he’s hard to keep.”

The scary part for the rest of the league is that Thompson has just entered his prime. So while he may already be the face of the Ginebra franchise, he could very well become the face of the PBA in future seasons. Cone is already a believer.

“I think you’re just starting to see the start of Scottie’s career. I think he’s just going to improve from here.”

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