Sixth Man is the unsung hero, the one cheering from the bench and delivering quality minutes when needed. In this weekly series, BuhayBasket puts the spotlight on the men and women who contribute to the game in their own way, away from the limelight.GI-NE-BRA! GI-NE-BRA! This familiar chant rocks the arena each time Ginebra does Ginebra things. Echoing all the way from Los Baños, Laguna, die-hard fan Kaye Cabal makes sure her chants–in 140 characters–are heard as well.
“Please, please, please,” Cabal tweeted, as her favorite team was pushed to the brink of elimination at the recent PBA Commissioner’s Cup. “Laban, Barangay Ginebra!”
“13 points. Last 12 minutes. Never say die. Gising, Barangay Ginebra!” she said to her 146,900 followers.
Cabal is a social media producer for a news organization and was working the late shift when Ginebra was ousted by eventual champions Rain or Shine.
But her day job isn’t the reason why she has more followers than Mark Caguioa or LA Tenorio or Greg Slaughter. She is the woman behind the @barangayginebra fan account on Twitter.
This is how Cabal, 24, has been supporting her team for the past six years, dishing out play-by-plays and words of encouragement for her fellow Ginebra faithful on Twitter.
“My main objective talaga was just to tweet play-by-play updates. Then I realized habang binabasa ko ‘yung mentions, marami palang nag-aabang ng tweets, ‘yung mga hindi nakakapanood, ‘yung mga OFW, ‘yung mga may klase, ‘yung mga na-traffic, so mas naramdaman ko na kailangan ko makipag-usap sa kanila kasi katulad din nila ako,” she tells BuhayBasket.
During Ginebra games, Cabal’s home in Laguna doesn’t buzz like the Smart-Araneta coliseum, but her cheers have always been the loudest.
“The first time I saw Barangay Ginebra on TV back in 2003, na-curious agad ako kung bakit ang dami-daming nagchi-cheer kapag sila ‘yung naglalaro,” she says.
Ginebra is the most popular team in the PBA, the basketball counterpart to Tito, Vic, and Joey. In their films in the 80s, TVJ are often underdogs–caricatures of the struggling everyman. Ginebra, blessed with similar 80s nostalgia, fit in to that same role in the pros.
Those come-from-behind runs, unexpected victories, and storybook endings keep you glued to Working Boys, Shoot That Ball, and Manila Clasico.
“Maybe it’s for that one reason that the team plays with sheer heart and unbelievable guts and that same reason will make you realize, even if seeing them play for the first time, that this team is definitely above the rest,” Cabal says. “This Ginebra magic, I never found this in any other team. Barangay Ginebra is home for me.”
Teams these days–or any organization for that matter–use Twitter as a marketing tool. Hashtags have become too planned, and trending topics are too often nonsense.
When Cabal created the @barangayginebra account as an 18-year-old fan in 2010, all she wanted was to connect to other people with similar interests, as any 18-year-old with a laptop would do.
“Iba talaga for me ‘yung feeling na alam mong hindi ka nag-iisa na sumusuporta sa paborito mong team. Before Twitter, alam ko naman na marami na talagang Ginebra fans, sa PBA forum palang, madami nang ka-kwentuhan. Pero nung nakaka-kwentuhan ko ‘yung mga fans sa Twitter, mas lalo kong napatunayan na iba talaga sumuporta ang Barangay Ginebra fans,” she says.
Cabal saw the community grow to a hundred thousand, making it the biggest PBA fan account on Twitter.
Ginebra’s Manila Clasico rival, Purefoods, has its own growing fan base–the Apo Hiking Society to Ginebra’s Tito, Vic and Joey. But on Twitter, Purefoods’ followers (a combined 62,000 from two accounts) are not even half of @barangayginebra’s.
Cabal is aware of her responsibility of harnessing the power of Ginebra fandom, which can sometimes be reckless when rubbed the wrong way.
“I don’t entertain much negativity sa Ginebra account, so mas maingay kami during victories kaysa sa mga araw na talo,” she says.
And the losses have been piling up for Barangay Ginebra. The last time the franchise won a title in the PBA was in 2008, when the team had players like Vic Pablo, Junthy Valenzuela, and Rodney Santos in the lineup.
Champion coach Tim Cone is now manning the sidelines for Ginebra in hopes of bringing the title back to the barangay. Despite the title drought and the many heartbreaks, Cabal and the thousands of believers haven’t lost faith.
“Hindi naman nawawala sa Ginebra fans ‘yan. ‘Yung ibang fans, nagpahinga lang, ‘yung iba manhid na sa sakit, pero deep inside, Ginebra pa rin talaga. Wala namang iba para sa atin eh,” she says.
“‘Yung maramdaman ko at maramdaman nila na sabay-sabay kami na malungkot tuwing natatalo at masaya tuwing nananalo, feeling ko mission accomplished na ako sa @barangayginebra.”