Back in 1995 at the height of the Philippine Basketball League, eventual Grand Slam champion Stag was invited to play an exhibition game during a town fiesta in the heart of Tondo, Manila.
Among those who graced the event was Pilseners point guard Jason Webb, a former De La Salle Green Archer stalwart and unarguably the most popular amateur player at the time.
A huge crowd gathered at the historic playground to watch the scrimmage, with the players divided into two teams.
Screaming fans packed the perimeter four or five-man deep, obscuring the out-of-bounds lines. People nestled on the roofs of surrounding houses, dangled from the steel goal posts, and craned their necks from atop a concrete stage.
Needless to say, the undersized playing court was jammed, with those in front closing in on the players inch by inch. The atmosphere palpitated with heavy restlessness.
Jason, son of Philippine basketball great Freddie Webb, was a blur long before Talk ‘N Text speedster Jayson Castro was, burning rubber soles on the cement pavement, screeching with shifts and turns, and holding the hundreds enraptured with his flash-and-dash, energy and, of course, looks.
The shrieks, especially from female spectators, went on unabated, increasing in decibels every time he handled the ball. Without letup, the bedlam went on and with about five minutes remaining of the intense contest it was obvious Webb was going to get mobbed once the final buzzer sounded.
A quick getaway plan had to be devised.
At the two-minute mark, one side called time and Webb, never one to lazy-walk, trotted back to the bench. Even before he could reach the huddle, however, somebody walked up to him and whispered something in his ear.
In an instant, Webb, his eyes darting, picked up his towel and sprinted across the court, through the thick crowd, onto the street and right to the house of a former WPD officer who had allowed them access to his home to get dressed and shower.
It took a while for the crowd to process what just happened; then it hit them.
In a second they tore after the fleet-footed escape artist, yelling his name with borderline manic passion. They knocked at the gate, trampled over the grass and the flower shrubs, and sent the poor homeowner in a furious rage.
In the end, things calmed down. The players made their way to a cordoned-off area in the street to have dinner and some refreshments, and Jason Webb’s fans had a field day getting his autograph and their photos taken.
Webb eventually turned pro, played six or seven seasons, and quietly slipped into private life, broadcasting and then politics.
He is thrust back to the spotlight, however, not by his own making but by circumstances that spun beyond anybody’s control, starting when Alaska’s Calvin Abueva backed into somebody in front of the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel bench during the quarterfinal playoffs in the recent PBA Governors’ Cup.
Named to take over Tim Cone as head coach of the multi-titled, high-powered Grand Slam champion Star Hotshots after Cone, from the frying pan to the fire, was sent to cage inside a triangle wayward Barangay Ginebra, Webb now gets a crack at a job only a few chosen ones ever excel in.
Deferentially, he makes clear stepping into Cone’s shoes is never on his mind, calling them ‘unfillable.’ Instead, Webb says, he’s moving into a “vacancy” and setting up an offensive system patterned after his own personality.
“For those who remembered my short playing minutes when I was still playing, I was very aggressive, high-intensity,” he told Spin.ph. “So it’s going to be something like that.”
It’s a brand new game for the former La Salle heartthrob and PBL pin-up boy, one that would see Hotshots diehards going after him for a different reason if their favorite team fares badly in the 41st PBA season.
Neither will a getaway strategy be made available in the sad eventuality, just an exit plan with Ray Charles singing to him, “Hit the road, Jack!”
But Jason Webb doesn’t scare easy. He can run fast, no question about it , but always to where the action is, never away from it.
“Rest assured that we will come out next year – with the situation at hand – and we will perform to the best of our ability,” he said.
Webb has an idea how to run things at Star in the post-Cone, post-triangle era. Now comes the task of selling the concept to James Yap, Marc Pingris, Mark Barroca and the rest of the Hotshots, opening their eyes to the beauty of the outside world and having them run with him.
If he does that, then it’s probably half the job done.