He may be the Man with a Million Moves, but there’s only one path for James Yap after his playing days are over: the PBA Hall of Fame.
And even though he only played for two franchises in his illustrious career, it seems like his pro basketball story can be divided into four chapters.
With that in mind, let’s take an examination of Big Game James’ performance under Purefoods, B-Meg, San Mig Coffee, and Star Hotshots uniform.
Purefoods – The rising star
Majority of Yap’s career was played under the Purefoods brand. Christened as the heir apparent to Alvin Patrimonio, he did not disappoint during his rookie season. In 63 games played, he averaged 12.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and one assist per contest. However, the Rookie of the Year went to Rich Alvarez despite him averaging lower averages. Still, the pride of Escalante City, Negros Occidental was just getting started.
The following season, he led the Chunkee Giants to a runner-up finish against Red Bull in the Fiesta Conference and avenged their defeat against the same team in the Philippine Cup. His exemplary year was capped with his first Most Valuable Player Award as he averaged 17.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and a career-high 1.2 steals per game. With the keys to the franchise now in his hands, his playing time also increased from 27 to 36.4 minutes per game.
Now a bona fide superstar, he became one of the deadliest scorers in the league with his slick and suave approach. He increased his per-game scoring averages to 19.7 and a career-high 21.3 in the next two seasons while maintaining his rebounds and assists average within range. In his fourth PBA season, now playing for the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants, he also averaged career-highs in three-point and free throw conversions with 35.9 and 80.2 percent, respectively.
The former UE Red Warrior cemented his PBA legacy by winning his second MVP trophy during the 2009-10 season. After winning his lone Best Player of the Conference award during that season’s Philippine Cup, Yap delivered his second title with the franchise via a sweep of the Alaska Aces. At season’s end, he tallied 18.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 33.9 minutes per game in 64 games played.
B-Meg – The struggling star
Before the 2009-10 Fiesta Conference, the Purefoods TJ Giants switched names to the B-Meg Derby Ace Llamados. Yap and his squad finished third in the eliminations with a 13-5 record, but were defeated by the San Miguel Beermen in a six-game semifinals series. The struggles worsened as the Llamados placed fourth, seventh, and sixth in the three conferences of the 2010-2011 PBA season, respectively. Despite those post-season struggles, Yap remained a bright spot with numbers of 18.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per match.
Despite having multi-titled coach Tim Cone at the helm, their troubles parlayed during the 2011-12 Philippine Cup. After finishing first in the eliminations, they were dominated by the eighth-seeded and eventual finalists Powerade Tigers even though the Llamados had a twice-to-beat advantage. However, redemption was served when B-Meg bagged the Commissioner’s Cup after bouncing Talk N’ Text in seven games.
In two full seasons under B-Meg, Yap’s scoring average dwindled from 18.8 to 16.7. In contrast, his rebounding (from 4.3 to 4.7 per game) and assists (from 1.8 to 2.2 per outing) totals increased. With Cone being a staunch advocate of scattering the offensive production, he used his main man to develop the likes of Mark Barroca, Marc Pingris, and Peter June Simon to become reliable weapons as well.
San Mig Coffee – The guiding star
The Mixers were poised to dominate the opposition with dependable stalwarts like Barroca, Pingris, Simon, Rafi Reavis, and Joe Devance. After consecutive semifinal finishes in the 2012-13 Philippine and Commissioner’s Cups, they grabbed the Governor’s Cup title against the Petron Blaze Boosters. Amidst all this, Yap remained a key contributor even though he was limited by injuries. In 62 games that season, he still averaged 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.
His digits may have been lower, but his pedestal couldn’t have been higher after achieving a Grand Slam for the 2013-14 season. With Yap still leading the way, the solid core of the San Mig Coffee Mixers was bolstered by rookies Justin Melton and Ian Sangalang. Thus, it’s no surprise that they won the Philippine Cup over Rain or Shine, grabbed the Commissioner’s Cup with import James Mays against the Tropang Texters, and swept the title collection together with Marqus Blakely in a repeat victory over the Elasto Painters.
After winning four straight PBA titles, Yap probably couldn’t care less if his production dropped to 12 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. But with nagging injuries and declining productivity, experts speculated if the end for the two-time PBA MVP was near.
Star Hotshots – The falling star
By the start of the 2014-15 season, it seems like Father Time has caught on with James Yap. He was breaking down physically, as shown with all the injuries that have become frequent visitors to his body. With their main guy missing some games, the Star Hotshots could only go as far as the semifinals of both the Commissioner’s and Governor’s Cup. He suited for an average of just 27.5 minutes per game in 41 played. Still, he averaged double digits in scoring with 11.8 to go with a career-low 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per duel.
Injuries to his back and his calf caused him to miss more playing time for his 12th season with the franchise. He played only 28 games and had his lowest average of 11.6 points per game. His condition took a toll on the Hotshots as they finished as high as eighth during the three tourneys of the 2015-16 season.
As the Purefoods management sensed that his star was fading, James Yap was traded to Rain or Shine for Paul Lee before the 2016-17 season.
Like a star that is about to run out of gas, he still has occasional flashes of brilliance. But sooner or later, his twinkle will run out just like those who came before him.