MANILA, December 16, 2003  (BULLETIN) By Edgard Hilario - PAUL ASI Taulava’s roller-coaster season in the Philippine Basketball Association ended on a high note when the Talk ’N Text slotman won the coveted Most Valuable Player trophy in last night’s Leo Awards at the Music Museum in Greenhills, San Juan.

The 6-foot-9 Taulava rode a wave of votes from mediamen and fellow players to beat statistical leader Rudy Hatfield of Coca-Cola for the league’s top individual honor — the second foreign-born player to do so after Ricardo Brown in 1985.

That put a sweet ending to a season that started with the Fil-Tongan, who entered the league in 1999 as a direct-hire recruit of Talk ’N Text, serving time on the suspended list after traces of marijuana was found in his urine sample during a routine medical test.

His disputed claim to Filipino lineage, which had caused his banishment early in his PBA career, once again haunted him during the season after a Senate inquiry tagged him and several others as ‘Fil-Shams’ and recommended their deportation.

Amidst the controversy, Taulava led the Phone Pals to their first-ever conference championship in the All-Filipino.

“I admit having done a lot of wrong things in my life, and I’m not proud of it. But one thing I’m sure of, I am a Filipino and I want my family to stay as such and live here in the Philippines,’’ said Taulava in an interview at the end of TNT’s season.

Taulava was on 34 of the 42 votes cast by mediamen, got half of the 32 votes from players and a sweep of the four votes from the MVP committee.

Together with the 1158 points Taulava got from statistics, he garnered 8,845 points to easily win over Hatfield (2,752), Coca-Cola’s Jeffrey Cariaso (2,043) and Rafi Reavis (1,081), TNT teammate Jimmy Alapag (920) and Alaska’s Ali Peek (760).

Taulava also won spots in the Mythical first team and the All-Defensive team selections and was picked, because of his amiable ways, as Darling of the Media.

The awards and his first career championship will surely boost his stock when he starts re-negotiating his contract with Talk N’Text next season.

His old contract with the Phone Pals, which reportedly pays him less than R300,000 a month despite his star status, expires at the end of the season.

‘’A lot of people think that I’m one of the PBA millionaires. I’m not. That’s why I feel bad when some talk about me being a fake Filipino who just wants to earn millions in the PBA.

‘’I just want to play basketball, it’s my life,’’ said Taulava.

Sharing the spotlight with Taulava in the star-studded affair dubbed ‘Blitz Meets Glitz’ was founding commissioner Leo Prieto who became the first recipient of the the Gawad Emerson Costeng Award.

Alapag, one of the key figures in the Talk N’Text championship run, booked a Mythical team berth as well as the Rookie of the Year plum which he won overwhelmingly (12,116-2,271) over Alaska guard Mike Cortez.

Also in the Mythical team were Cariaso, Hatfield and Sta. Lucia Realty’s Dennis Espino while the second team was composed of Coca-Cola’s Johnny Abarrientos, Sta. Lucia’s Marlou Aquino and Alaska’s John Arigo and Don Allado and TNT’s Harvey Carey.

Patrick Fran of Talk ’N Text won the Sportsmanship award and a spot in the All-Defensive selection while, in the closest race of the evening, Reavis beat Shell’s Tony dela Cruz, 1,467-1,410, for the Most Improved Player award.

Joining Fran and Taulava in the All-Defensive team were Hatfield, Aquino and last year’s MVP Willie Miller of Red Bull.

San Miguel Beer’s Joey Mente was named Mr. Energy.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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