Arwind Santos: from pedicab driver to PBA MVP

Chris Lagunzad
Petron's Arwind Santos gets down on his knees and lifts his Most Valuable Player trophy at teh 2013 PBA Leo Awards held Oct. 18, 2013 at the Mall of Asia Arena. (Nuki Sabio/PBA Images)

(UPDATED) Petron Blaze forward Arwind Santos added another trophy to his growing collection of silverware, but this one surely sparkles the brightest.

Exactly five days after being named the Best Player of the Conference anew in the PBA Governors' Cup, the 6-foot-4 Santos was named the league’s newest Most Valuable Player during the Leo Awards Friday night at the Mall of Asia Arena, validating his exemplary performance all season long and completing an extraordinary journey from a young man doing odd jobs while growing up in Pampanga to being the best player in Asia's first professional basketball league.

Selected second overall by Air21 during the rookie draft seven years ago, Santos, 32, got enough votes from mediamen to boost his cumulative statistical points and, in the process, claim the league’s highest individual award against fellow BPC awardees in Barangay Ginebra guard LA Tenorio (Commissioners Cup) and Talk ‘N Text spitfire Jayson Castro (Philippine Cup).

Nicknamed “The Spiderman,” Santos also became the fifth cager from the storied San Miguel Beer franchise to be named the league’s season best after teammate Danny Ildefonso (2000 and 2001), current Ginebra head coach Ato Agustin (1992), Ramon Fernandez (1988) and Abet Guidaben (1987).

Santos also became the second Far Eastern University standout to hoist the league’s MVP award since former Alaska star and current San Mig Coffee coach Johnny Abarrientos did the trick in 1996.

According to resident pro league statistician Fidel Mangonon III, this was the closest MVP race ever in the 38-year history of the pro league. Santos amassed 2840 votes, just 21 ahead of the 5-foot-9 Tenorio, who got the most votes from fellow players and the Commissioners Office.

“Nabigyan po ng kulay ang buhay ko dahil sa award na ito,” said Santos, who couldn’t help but recall his challenging climb to the top in an inspiring tale of triumph over adversity.

“Naging utusan po ako dati tapos naging pedicab driver, nag bakal-bote, nag-carwash (boy), naglako rin ako ng orchids. Sobrang hirap namin noon,” he stated while fighting back tears. “Ito (MVP award) ang nagsasabi na kahit ang tao mahirap, may chance makuha ang award na ito. Sana ma-inspire ko po kayo.”

Santos, for the sixth time, also made it to the league’s first Mythical Team and was joined by Tenorio, Castro, Alaska’s prolific rookie Calvin Abueva and Talk ‘N Text center Ranidel De Ocampo.

VIEW: Slideshow of 2013 PBA Leo Awards

The Angeles City, Pampanga native also led the All Defensive team composed of Petron teammate Marcio Lassiter, Alaska center Sonny Thoss, Gabe Norwood of Rain or Shine and San Mig Coffee’s Marc Pingris.

By winning the MVP plum while making it to the league’s First Mythical and All-Defensive teams, Santos became just the fourth player in league history to achieve such a feat, joining TNT forward Kelly Williams, Air21 center Asi Taulava and Abarrientos.

Comprising the Second Mythical Team were Pingris, Thoss, Alaska guard Cyrus Baguio, Petron guard Alex Cabagnot and Boosters rookie June Mar Fajardo.

The 6-foot-3 Abueva, who was selected second overall in last year’s draft, was named the league’s top rookie, besting the likes of the 6-foot-11 Fajardo, Meralco’s Cliff Hodge, Chris Ellis of Ginebra and Air21’s Vic Manuel.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga bumoto sa akin pati sa mga haters ko,” said Abueva, who powered the Aces to the Commissioners Cup title.

High-flying Air21 forward KG Canaleta clinched the Most Improved Player while Alaska playmaker JVee Casio bagged the Sportsmanship Award for the second straight season.

Here is the complete list of winners for the 2013 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Leo Awards. The awards are named after the late PBA Commissioner Leo Prieto.

Most Valuable Player: Arwind Santos (Petron Blaze)

Mythical First Team: Arwind Santos (Petron Blaze), Jayson Castro (Talk 'N Text), Calvin Abueva (Alaska), LA Tenorio (Barangay Ginebra), Ranidel De Ocampo (Talk 'N Text)

Mythical Second Team: Marc Pingris (San Mig Coffee), June Mar Fajardo (Petron Blaze), Alex Cabagnot (Petron Blaze), Sonny Thoss (Alaska), Cyrus Baguio (Alaska)

All-Defensive Team: Marc Pingris (San Mig Coffee), Sonny Thoss (Alaska), Arwind Santos (Petron Blaze), Gabe Norwood (Rain or Shine), Marcio Lassiter (Petron Blaze)

Most Improved Player: Nino Canaleta (Air21 Express)

Rookie of the Year: Calvin Abueva (Alaska Aces)

Sportsmanship Award: JVee Casio (Alaska Aces)