Bobby Parks (1962-2013): The True Gentleman of Philippine Basketball
I was supposed to visit him a few weeks back, but I allowed my work schedules to take control of my time and hence, I wasn’t able to check out the condition of the former seven-time Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Best Import in his battle with laryngeal cancer. Now, he’s gone and I will never be able to speak to him again. Bobby Parks, a man who will be remembered by many as one of the game’s elite players and a true gentleman of the sport, passed away today (March 30) at the San Juan de Dios Hospital. He was only 51.
Many might not have anticipated that this former Memphis State standout would make a lasting impact in the PBA when he made his debut in a San Miguel Beer uniform in 1987. “Lasting impact” is I think an understatement to what this rugged warrior has meant to the scene in the country’s national passion.
As many of you have now spent the past couple of hours now reading up on the news accounts surrounding his death and the biography of this legend, I will not get into the details of his storied career that spanned nearly three decades. Instead, I will do my best to honor him in this requiem. I will always cherish my memories of Bobby and now as he now enters the gates of Heaven and joins the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Maravich and a phalanx of others in the “Dream Team” of the Great Beyond, I will take a break from my writing hiatus to celebrate the life of Bobby Parks from my personal experiences of the guy.
Interestingly enough, he was the only reason why I enjoyed watching Formula Shell in the pre-Benjie Paras era. He was explosive going to the hoop and had that silky smooth jump shot that he made look so effortless. I even compared him to Michael Jordan. When I joined the PBA broadcast team in 1997, I was still able to call a few of his games—in a relatively more perimeter-oriented state—before he finally called it quits as a PBA player in 1998. Over that eleven-year stretch, Bobby amassed over eight thousand points, three thousand rebounds and over one thousand assists. Those career totals are probably something that may never be toppled by any PBA import ever. It was later on when Bobby began suiting up in regional leagues that I got to know him personally.
I spent a whole lot of time with Bobby in 2003 when he joined the M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala squad in the fledgling National Basketball Conference (then known as the National Basketball League). Me and fellow sportscaster Mark Zambrano (now one of the star reporters for GMA-7) used to hook up with the Tennessee native after the matches and had dinner with him. He had this effervescent charm about him that never wavered and loved to poke fun at himself on his exploits being an international basketball campaigner.
“I remember one time playing in China,” Bobby once confided. “The guys who wrote the roster list there forgot to put the ‘S’ on my surname and it was the name sewed on my jersey. So I was introduced as ‘Bobby Park’. One of the coaches actually thought I was Korean. It was hilarious.”
One of the best moments I shared with Bobby was when Cebu had an away game against the Pampanga team at the Bren Guiao Gym in San Fernando. I don’t really recall how it started but I challenged one of the players in former Philippine Christian University (PCU) stalwart Francis Sanz to a three-point shootout, Sanz, not really known for his range, obliged me and I ended up winning handily. Then from the dugout Bobby’s voice came booming: “Hey Noel, pick on someone with your own range! I’ll take you on!” So before a crowd of about fifteen people, I battled the legend—shot for shot, through twenty-five attempts.
I still remember the final score: Zarate-17, Parks-15.
Whether or not he allowed me to beat him is something he has now taken to his grave, but he still “owes” me a house and lot in Forbes Park for my victory as those who witnessed my feat all called it “tsamba (lucky)” or “tapon (he threw the match)”.
It was also on that day he began boasting about his son.
“Watch out for my kid,” he told me, proudly. “He’s a legit Fil-Am and I’m teaching him to be a guard. I think he’ll be better than me.” To that, I remember my eyes widening. I even thought to myself that if he can even play half as good as his father, then he’d be special.
Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. went on to capture the 2011 Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Most Valuable Player as a rookie, a rare feat. So he is indeed special, just as his father had foretold.
Bobby Sr. was always known to be extremely giving, even after his playing days were over. In 2004, the PBA Radio Team made its debut in the Raffy Japa Cup; a basketball tournament exclusive to the PBA family. In the Raffy Japa Cup, each team is allowed to acquire the services of two “imports” in the form of non-active PBA players. After successfully “signing” ex-pro and 3-point specialist Joey Guanio to our squad, I recruited Bobby and he surprisingly agreed. I had even made plans for him to stay at my house the night before the first game so he wouldn’t have to travel from his Parañaque residence in the early morning hours of a weekday to the RFM Gym in Mandaluyong City where the games were to be held. Bobby even told me, “I can sleep in your living room,” to which my parents freaked out.
The day before the opening, however, the organizing committee informed me that Parks was not allowed to play. I was not aware that former PBA imports were barred from joining, so we stuck with Guanio and ended up going winless. However, one scribe approached me during a subsequent PBA coverage and brought up my recruitment of Bobby for our Raffy Japa team and told me, “No one has ever tried what you did. You must really be close to Parks.”
Actually, Bobby told me he was never asked. He was intrigued by my query and decided to humor me. Bobby said he would have done the same for anyone else who asked—time permitting. He was that generous.
In his brief stint as the Head Coach of the San Miguel Beermen in the Asean Basketball League (ABL), Bobby approached his players with utmost respect. I never saw him scream at any of his players and when he did contest a bum call or non-call, he did it as a gentleman. I was at the Ynares Sports Complex last year when the Beermen lost to the Indonesia Warriors to claim the ABL crown on Philippine soil. Bobby was among the first to congratulate the opposition and still had enough energy to flash a smile to the appreciative crowd before retreating into the dugout with his charges. He eventually became too ill to continue coaching and today he leaves us for good.
These are a few anecdotes I recall from my short but meaningful time spent with one of the greatest in the game. I’m sure to all of those who had the opportunity to get to know Bobby, the stories would be pretty similar in theme: generosity, laughs and learnings.
He leaves behind a legacy for all those who want to be game-changers, not only in basketball but in life. He set the standard for imports. National Coach Chot Reyes has even gone on to propose that the PBA’s Best Import Awards should be named, “The Bobby Parks Award”. It is a step in the right direction to solidify the stature of a man who has meant so much to the game and to those whose lives he has touched. And once Ray Parks recovers from his injuries, he will continue the mission and standards that his esteemed father has left behind. That’s for certain.
For me, Bobby Parks is the epitome of class. He gave so much of himself that the landscape of Philippine basketball has changed forever in the wake of his passage. Off the court, he was an ambassador to how a cager should carry himself. Dignified and humble, Bobby Parks has paved the way for our future.
He will be missed. But more than that, it is my wish that he will always be remembered, Rest in peace, old friend. As Noli Eala said, “He’s home now.”