The Redeemer: LaCruz Journey from All-Star Snubbed to League MVP
- By Jron Magcale, Day 1, 2024
LOS ANGELES - "We are pleased to announce that Fireballs PG Chris LaCruz has been named the 2023 JBL Regular Season League MVP." GM Jron said in a press conference held at The Forum during the Fireballs End of Season press conference. The room applaud as the league MVP enters the podium on which he was congratulated by GM Jron, Head Coach Rudaski Odrzywolski and #1 Assistant Coach Alton Wilkes heading to his seat. JBL Commissioner Jason Forte was in attendance and was the one who awarded the MVP trophy to LaCruz. He waved at everybody in attendance and proceeds to take his seat.
The road for Chris LaCruz wasn't easy to say the least, he has been tagged as the franchise player of the Los Angeles Fireballs ever since he was acquired via trade in the offseason of the 2019 season. GM Jron basically gambled his chips on LaCruz when he first sat as the Fireballs GM and it paid off making the playoffs on LaCruz 1st season with the Fireballs, finishing 34-22 and the 3rd seed in the West but lost in the 1st round against the Austin Rockets, LaCruz finished 22.2 ppg, 8.4 apg, 5.7 rpg and 1.9 spg, made his 1st All-Star appearance and was named All-JBL 1st team, he didn't stop there are the next season he up the ante finishing as the 2nd seed in the West and with the help of Colin Stafford, Isaiah "iMac" McCarty and Jordan Carstensen they reach the finals after taking both Austin Rockets and Las Vegas Scorpions to 7 games but eventually losing to the Nashville Stars 4-1. LaCruz was again named in the All-Star game his 1st as a starter then was also named All-JBL 1st team his 2nd straight. His numbers were impressive 26.2 ppg, 8.9 apg, 4.8 rpg and 1.8 spg and the marks the start of his full takeover of LA.
His 3rd season with the Fireballs is rather a roller coaster ride as it was the 1st season of the expansion playing 82 games. The team suffered some injuries to key players but LaCruz still managed to play 81 our of the 82 games and his numbers slightly dipped 25.3 ppg, 8.3 apg, 5.3 rpg and 1.8 spg was again named as a starter in the All-star game and named All-JBL 1st team 3 straight years. LA barely made it to the playoffs finishing 49-33 (8th Seed in the West) and exited in the 1st round of the JBL playoffs 1-4 vs Seattle Thunder. With aging stars and some changes the Fireballs failed to make the playoffs in 2022, LaCruz still had a slow start of the season but picked it up in the 2nd half, he was snubbed in the All-Star game altogether despite at that time averaging 25 ppg, 8 apg, 5 rpg and 1.5 spg. LaCruz went on a tear finishing the 2022 season and ended with 26.1 ppg, 9.5 apg, 5 rpg and 1.5 spg bagging him All-JBL 2nd team honors but he wasn't satisfied on how his season ended and made a vow to get better the next season and as soon as their season ended he pushed himself to the limit working out with assistant coach Alton Wilkes to work on his game.
LaCruz did pushed himself to the limit as he suffered a broken toe in one of his workouts that requires him to rest the duration of the offseason so he can be available on training camp. His hunger, his drive was different that offseason and his willingness to learn under former JBL MVP Alton Wilkes who was one of the last great point guards to win the award took his game to another level once the season started LaCruz was a different animal. More aggressive than ever and he has this fire in him that was burning throughout the season. His best game of the season was at Seattle against the Thunder where LaCruz recorded his 1st 60-point triple double joining Mitchell Butler (ironically) and Rashard Stevens as the only Fireballs to do so posting 60 points (28/44 FG, 4/8 3FG, 2/3 FT), 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He was unbelievable all season long and despite losing crowd favorite iMac in the Reggie Coleman trade and basically having a new team with him, he carried the Fireballs to its 1st 50-win season and a 6th seed in the tough western conference when everybody thought they were even 50/50 for the 8th seed. He dominated the All-Star game as well for the West and was named All-Star MVP an early indication that he wants to be the best player in the JBL this season.
LaCruz also was holding the scoring title most of the year but with playoff positioning on their sights he didn't put his focus on it rather tried to get his team the needed wins to secure the 6th seed in the West, Seattle Thunder superstar wing Andre Phifer took over the total points scored and won that title by 4 points 2444 to 2440, they were tied for points per game with 31.3 ppg. The Fireballs eventually lost to the Las Vegas Scorpions in 6 games (2-4) and LaCruz season ends prematurely. The Scorpions were able to close out the games better as they took the close games that eventually eliminated the Fireballs. After the season LaCruz was voted GM Player of the Year, also his 1st for such award as he impressively carried his team to relevance. Just a few days ago the league announced that he have officially been named the 2023 JBL Regular Season League MVP and it was a moment that the City of Los Angeles was proud of. LaCruz ended the season with 31.3 ppg (tied 1st), 9.2 apg (ranked 9th), 5.6 rpg, 1.2 spg and 0.6 bpg shooting 49% FG, 38% 3FG and 53% eFG. He finished 8th in PER with 24.9, 2nd in EWA with 15.1, ranked 1st in OWS with 10.3 and 2nd in WS with 12.8. Truly deserving the award.
He gathered himself before ending the press conference with his speech: "What a ride...whoaa. I never would believed it if you tell me when I enter the league that I would be a future MVP. It wasn't really on my mind when I came into the league as a 20 year old. I was just excited I made it in the league. I always wanted to win more than anything else and when I was traded here in LA, GM Jron told me that we'll bring glory to LA and that they would know my name. I always believed that. 5 years in LA and I'm confident to call this my home. My family in Brooklyn and in the Philippines they know that LA is where my heart resides. I'm just a Brown Crooklyn man in the LA streets (laughs a bit), but on a serious note. What I have gone through to be on this level is what I want to share to everyone who dreams to becoming a JBL player, if you want it, you have to work for it. You'll break bones, you'll fail, you'll sulk in defeat and you'll doubt yourself but your perseverance and your heart will steer you to where you need to be. 2022 was a down year for me, I wouldn't say I didn't gave my best because I did. But there are players in the league who stepped up and played better than I did, they were more successful, they worked hard for it, harder than I could have that year and they deserve it. But I promised myself I'll do better the next season, I'll get back on it. My comeback bid cut short in the offseason when I broke my foot but I didn't stop learning, I want to thank the coaches, Coach O, coach Alton, Coach Jarrett for helping me on that front. I came back stronger and more prepared I told myself 2023 is my year and I'm taking it. I want to thank God of course for always giving me the strength and blessing even when I don't deserve it, my moms and my pops for always keeping me in check and telling me 'Sundalo ka ng Diyos, wala kang hindi kayang laban' (you're a soldier of God, there is no war you can't fight!). To the whole Fireballs organization from the owner down to the people who I see on the daily in The Forum, thank you guys. To the entire Los Angeles community to always having my back, I love you all. This isn't my MVP award, this is ours. Thank you! Let's Run LA!"
He said that he ain't finished yet, the mission is still to win the championship in LA. As of this release, sources said that LaCruz has been having pick up games with other JBL stars and holding private workouts with some of them. According to him, he has no offseason and while the others are resting he's trying to get better and work on his game. He already reached out to Seattle Thunder head coach Mitchell Butler for a workout with the Fireballs legend. Chris LaCruz is the 1st PG since Rubin Wingfield (2017) and Alton Wilkes (2007) to win the MVP award and the 1st PG to win the GM Player of the Year since Rubin Wingfield (2017).