The UAAP season just opened and somehow university colors become brighter during this time. I decided to revisit our favorite UAAP basketball hero Chris Tiu because of the queries about him I received in the website. The timing is also impeccable because of three reasons: 1.) It’s the opening of the UAAP; 2.) It’s his birthday this week (July 15); and surprisingly, 3.) This is my 17th article in the website; 17 is Chris’ number!
After his UAAP stint as the team captain in 2008 (the first year of the three-peat championship of the Ateneo Blue Eagles), Chris joined Smart Gilas, a national team that competes with different countries. Aside from being the team captain, he also hosts a couple of TV shows (Hanep Buhay, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not), runs a couple of businesses and is a kagawad of their barangay. He is also involved in other advocacies on housing and entrepreneurship. Of course you also see his face on billboards and tv commercials as a product endorser. As you can see he’s a very busy young man.
In my book I wrote how Chris was raised as narrated by his mom Lianne Tiu. This time I wish to share with you what I gathered from Number 17 himself during my one-on-one chat with him last week. At that time he was not feeling well and under medication. When I arrived at the San Juan arena, he was carrying his lunch in a styropack which he was supposed to take before my interview and their practice. However, I arrived very early (but I was willing to wait, I always bring my kindle just in case) but when he saw me, he said he wasn’t hungry yet so we started the interview inside the dugout which was still empty then. He put down his styropacked lunch beside my audio recorder on the locker table. I was expecting a short one because the poor kid was not feeling well and was about to take his lunch. But you know our chat lasted a pretty long time. I was surprised to find him makwento.
I also want you readers to capture the real Chris Tiu, to find out why everybody loves him – boys and girls, students and professionals, moms and dads, advertisers, basketball enthusiasts or otherwise. So I’m sharing with you excerpts from that interview, straight from Chris’ mouth.
ON HIS BALANCING ACADEMICS AND BASKETBALL:
Rose: You know a lot of people really admire your ability to do well in the fields you get into. Graduating as cum laude in difficult courses (Management Engineering and Applied Mathematics and Finance) while being the basketball team captain is what my sons call “Imba.” How were you able to do that? Or are you just naturally intelligent.
Chris: That’s one misconception people have about me. People think I’m naturally super intelligent that’s why I get good grades. But I’m not. Unlike some people who hardly study but get good grades, I’m more of the hardworking matiyaga type that’s why I got good grades. Maybe resourceful in a way that I’m able to manage my time and find ways to get the job done. With the other fields naman, I think it’s more of my personality – I want to get involved with so many things. But at the same time I’m also careful that I don’t spread myself too thin. I only accept projects and commitments that I can still focus on. If I think that I will be compromising my other commitments and the work quality, I don’t. Before even when I was still in high school I was SK Chairman, student council VP, captain of varsity team. Hardly any slack time – 7am ‘til 4pm classes, practice ’til 7 pm, go home then study. But high school was not that toxic naman. In college it was heavier, my grades in first year took a dip because of the adjustment in workload. Being a “prized recruit” (Ateneo and La Salle both tried very hard to get him to play for their school) there was a lot of pressure and hype. There was high expectation and I was in ME, an honors program where most students struggle to survive and I’m not super genius naman.
Rose: But Math was your favorite subject, right?
Chris: It was my favorite until I entered ME, hahaha! But Math, whether you love it or not is good training for the brain. You’re able to think logically and critically. It’s a good training ground for whatever field you get in.
Rose: Were you given any special treatment?
Chris: No. That was one thing I really wanted to make sure when I was a student. When you’re a varsity player, people assume you get special treatment. They assume you slack off in academics. I didn’t want the teachers to have that stereotype impression of me as an athlete so I really made effort to come to class on time, submit the requirements on time. Whatever was expected of a regular student, I did it. The only thing probably that I got was to have a special test when there’s a conflict of schedule. Like when a test was scheduled during a game, I would take the exam on a different day and they also changed the test so there’s no leakage.
Rose: You’re so loved in campus. Are you aware of that? Do you know that you had a group of admirers in campus called Iglesia ni Chris Tiu? A college student also told me that when people saw you approaching, they would try to fix up themselves, nagpupulbos pa daw even the manangs and other school staff.
Chris: (Smiles)Hindi naman siguro, I was so underdressed in school. I just wore shorts, simple lang.
Rose: How are you able to remain humble?
Chris: Maybe my mom and dad. They always remind us that these are all blessings from God. They have to be shared with others and used correctly to be able to teach the right values to the other youngsters who look up to you. Even before I stepped in as a freshman in Ateneo, Fr. Tito Caluag already talked to me. We were at the lobby of Manila Pen attending a wedding. He said, “You’re about to enter the UAAP, all eyes are going to be on you, parang may spotlight ka dyan, a lot will be expected from you, people will be watching you, what you really have to remember is that God put you here for a reason, a purpose. What that purpose is, it’s really up to you to find out.” That thought has always been in my mind, for every decision I made, my behavior. I know people will see, people might imitate, especially the young ones who imitate their idols. I always have to set a good example.
Even me, when I was in high school, I used to watch the UAAP, sina LA Tenorio. It was a dream to join them. I never thought I could make it until I got recruited.
Rose: This being good in basketball has redirected your path? Did you ever think you would be playing basketball for a living?
Chris: At first I thought I’d be playing up to high school lang. Then I thought up to college lang. Now I’m at crossroads because my 3 year contract with Smart Gilas is about to end.
Rose: Oh yes, I read that in your blog, you said it might be your last year in competitive basketball.
Chris: We have family businesses that I have to sort of help out in. It’s sort of expected from me. They need help from inside the family.
(Their family has businesses in banking – Sterling Bank, real estate-Discovery Group, manufacturing-steel, among others)
Rose: Were you given a deadline by your family?
Chris: No naman. It’s more of me having to decide. If I join the PBA draft this August, that will be 2 to 3 years commitment in the contract. Or I may continue to play with the national team.
Rose: How has your stint with the national team been? Has it met your expectations?
Chris: Ya pretty much, we have a Serbian coach Rajko Toroman who is known internationally. He adopted a new system which I think is very effective for us. Although we haven’t really won in the major competitions, we have shown that we are very competitive and there are just a few missing links na lang to our success. The real test will be this September, that’s the qualifying games for the Olympics. That’s what we’re really working for. We have to win in Asia to qualify for the Olympics. That means we have to beat the likes of China, Iran, Qatar, Lebanon, Korea, Japan. Pero kaya na we’re really getting there. It’s not impossible, it’s within our reach.
Rose: Don’t you get tired of being the poster boy? You’re the poster boy of Xavier & Ateneo.
Chris: Really? I don’t see it that way. I just do what I do. I try to do things correctly. I think when you do things the upright way and totally commit to your job, then you should not worry about living up to anybody’s expectation.
Rose: Wala ka bang moments of “masarap yatang magloko ng konti?” Do you have vices?
Chris: (Laughs) Magloko… Vices… Smoke-No, Drugs-No, Alcohol-social drinking Yes. pero in moderation, just a few beers, as long as you know your limit.
Rose: What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?
Chris: Naughtiest? (Thought for a while) I can’t remember now. Later, if I remember, I’ll tell you.
Rose: Who is the most influential person in your life?
Chris: My parents.
Rose: Do you intend to continue living with them?
Chris: Yes. But when I get married I will be on my own. But of course there’s the Chinese value of filial piety – taking care of your parents.
Rose: No deadline? What if you’re not yet married at age 40?
Chris: Hindi naman siguro.
Rose: Has the idea of living on your own occurred to you?
Chris: Yes I was able to do that in my junior year when I studied in France. Super fun but all the more I appreciated the value of living at home with my family where we have household helpers. It’s fun to live alone but you get tired of it also. I lived in a room inside the campus about 9 square meters in size.
Rose: How do you handle your money considering that basketball players have very short career spans? What’s the average?
Chris: If you’re lucky you can play for 15 years. Some get drafted and not renewed after several months, some 2, some 3 years.
Rose: Do you know that 60% of NBA players go broke within 5 years from retirement?
Chris: Yes and that’s why it’s important for athletes to manage their money well. They get high salaries compared to their peers at the start. Like, even if you’re an ME graduate, you have to start with 20-30k/month then you go up the corporate ladder. If you get drafted you can start with 150k/month. Sometimes they get mesmerized with the sudden huge pay and then they don’t know how to handle their money. It becomes short lived.
Rose: You’re lucky because you have options other than basketball. What would you advise those who only have basketball and only know basketball?
Chris: I guess you just have to be disciplined. And don’t just save, you should also invest.
Rose: Do you actually tell them that o nakakahiya?
Chris: Sinasabi ko sa kanila. Kasi there are a lot of stories. Pagsueldo bili na ko blackberry, ipad. Of course it’s also hard because for them it’s aspirational – now they have the money to buy things and sometimes they can’t see what’s ahead, what’s more important. Do you really need a fancy car or just a car that will bring you to work and home? And later on will you have enough to buy a house? Can you later support a family? I tell them you have to save while you earn so that when opportunities cross your path, you have the money to invest. It’s important to invest in the right instruments. For me property is one area where you can’t go wrong. But of course you have to know what suits you.
Rose: Do you invest in the stock market?
Chris: Ya. I invest in stocks, bonds and businesses.
Rose: Who manages your portfolio?
Chris: I do.
Rose: What are your favorite stocks?
Chris: It depends. Before I liked speculative stocks kasi short term e excitement lang. Pero now it’s more of long term orientation na. It’s more of invest and forget. Go back to it 10 20 years from now. I choose companies with good value, good management, good potential. Siempre I’m affiliated with MVP group so I also invest in his companies.
Rose: When did you start?
Chris: College or maybe high school. In college I started earning na so I also put up a business. In business at least you’re in control there. Stocks you’re affected by the market. I also have insurance.
(Chris’ first business was Chinky Chicken which he started as a student in Ateneo. Now it has branches in AteneoHigh School and MiriamCollege. He is also part owner of the local franchise of Happy Lemon with branches in Promenade Greenhills and Eastwood. Soon to open in Rockwell, Megamall and Trinoma.)
Rose: I read in your blog that the 2 people you’d like to see this year are Jay Chou and Steve Nash. What do you admire about them?
Chris: Oh I’ve seen Jay Chou when I watched his concert in Singapore. Actually, he and his entourage passed by while we were at the lobby. Nahiya naman akong tumakbo at magpa-authograph parang fan boy (laughs).
Rose: What do you like about him?
Chris: He is a great musician. He plays the piano, drums, guitar, he sings and composes. He has entered Hollywood as actor, producer. He’s the guy in The Green Hornet playing Kato. He’s very talented and at the same time he is able to stick to the traditional values. In his CNN interview, he said even if some of his songs are rap they talk about listening to your mother’s words, obeying your parents, unlike most rap songs which talk about sex and violence. Idol sya ng mga bata. He uses his talent to influence others positively. He teaches his values to the people who listen to his music. He’s the only son, a bachelor and a lot of girls are swooning over him but he still lives with his mother, who’s separated, because he wants to take care of her. Very Eastern yong values nya. That’s also one reason why I admire him.
Steve Nash naman. He’s not very gifted athletically. He doesn’t jump high or run very fast but he excels because he uses his brain. He’s very smart and skilled. He’s a great passer, assist leader in the league. He always makes his team and his teammates look better. He’very selfless in the court. Even if he doesn’t score as long as the team does. This allows the team to excel. For me that’s also what I want to emulate, it’s not always about scoring for yourself but finding ways to make the team better, not only inside the court but even outside. Ganon din sya he’s very involved in charitable organizations like fund raising for the homeless.
Rose: You do have a girlfriend?
Chris: Ya. Matagal na kami.
Rose: Since high school?
Chris: Third year high school pero grade school pa lang nililigawan ko na. But then we were on and off. She’s my batchmate. But in college she studied in Canada so I was basically on my own here.
Rose: Buti na lang she didn’t study here. I’m guessing, if she studied in the same school with you in college, baka taray tarayan sya ng mga maldita because of the adulation you were getting in college.
Chris: (Laughs)Maybe she’s one of the reasons why I’m also grounded. Her family ties are also very strong. Her mom is very strict. Like my mom, she’s also a member of the Opus Dei, she’s very conservative. She’s an investment banker. You were also an investment banker right? She’s with UBS.
Rose: Do you have plans of getting married?
Chris: No. Career muna.
Rose: What age are you looking at?
Chris: I don’t know 29, 30. We’ll see. (laughs)
Rose: But you’ve been a couple for a long time, has it been 10 years?
Chris: Meron na. On and off.
Rose: How are you able to keep your relationship last this long? With the help of technology?
Chris: Well it helps – skype and cellphones. Since she studied college in Canada, we only saw each other once or twice a year. When I was in France during my junior year, I wanted to extend my stay and spend Christmas there but I decided to fly back home on December 24 because she was flying back to Manila; otherwise, I would have missed that chance to be with her that year. I guess it’s also because we share the same values and outlook in life. We communicate things well. We both understand that we have to make some sacrifices because it’s not going to be always romantic like what most people think di ba?
Rose: Is she your one and only girlfriend or have you had others?
Chris: No I never had other girlfriends but our relationship was also on and off so I also started seeing other people, meeting new friends but nothing serious.
Rose: Same with her?
Rose: How do you fight boredom?
Chris: I guess the nature of our jobs and interests. When she came back I was entering media – GMA 7 so it was a whole new world for both of us to talk about. Then when she became an investment banker and entered the corporate world it was also a whole new world. She was meeting all these executives and learning all these things that also interest me which she shared with me. So in a way these things keep the fire burning instead of us doing the same thing. We allow each other to try new things. We allow ourselves to grow even if it’s a risk to our relationship.
As the other players started arriving and getting inside the dugout, it was getting noisy and I was concerned that some of his teammates were feeling uncomfortable with a girl inside their locker room. I was also getting a bit distracted when someone goes inside the toilet which was my direct view to take a pee, hahaha! Then I realized we have been talking for more than an hour and he has not eaten his lunch yet. So I started to wind down our interesting conversation. He brought me outside near the parking lot while he tried to figure out whether he was fit to join their basketball practice feeling sick. The team was flying to Cebu the next day for a 4-day stint. When I was saying thank you and goodbye to him, I couldn’t help but show my appreciation to this fine young man. In my mind was “I wish to have more Pinoy boys like you!” I tapped his left shoulder and said, “Ang galing galing mo, keep it up ha!” And when I said that I wasn’t just referring to his achievements but the fact that he’s able to stay very kind and humble. In fact, I think his humility is what really caught me. Indeed humility disarms!
Happy birthday Chris! May your tribe increase, and by the way you still owe me the answer to the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done.