Arwind Santos: From Pedicab Driver to San Miguel Legend

The PBA player known as ‘Spiderman’ recently had his jersey retired by the San Miguel Beermen, completing a remarkable story of perseverance and determination.

If there’s one Filipino basketball player that can best be described as a late bloomer, it’s Arwind Santos.

“Spiderman” didn’t start playing competitive basketball until his late teens, and he was already 21 when he made his UAAP debut with the FEU Tamaraws. But he sure knew how to make up for lost time.

On May 1, the San Miguel Beermen, for whom Santos played 12 seasons and won nine championships, retired his no. 29. It seemed apt that the ceremony was done on Labor Day, for few PBA players have gone through the assortment of odd jobs Santos dabbled in before basketball provided him with a chance at uplifting his life.

Born and raised in Angeles City, Pampanga, Arwind Santos barely registered a blip in the high basketball landscape. As a youngster barely out of his teens, he was thrust into the role of family breadwinner after his father suddenly died of a heart attack. Many players often talk loosely about having blue-collar roots. Arwind’s work experience was as blue-collar as you can get. Among his jobs were pedicab driver and tindero, anything to put food on the table.

He was discovered by current Pampanga governor Delta Pineda, who gave him his break in basketball and eventually brought the skinny 6’4” forward to Manila. He landed in Morayta, a place rich in college basketball tradition, and by the time he left, he had become one of the most beloved Tamaraws of all time.

King Tamaraw

Arwind was the best player on those loaded Tamaraws teams that dominated the UAAP in the early aughts. By the time he was done in the UAAP, he had won Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player (twice) and had led the Tamaraws to three straight UAAP titles (although the middle title was won by forfeiture). Most importantly, he left a lasting legacy in the school which has won the most number of UAAP men’s basketball championships.

“Arwind is a success story that has inspired countless aspiring basketball players, a lot of which became Tamaraws because of him,” FEU athletic director Mark Molina told The GAME. “He made FEU basketball the most dominant college program during his time. To this day his loyalty and commitment to his alma mater is unmatched as you can count on his support anytime it is needed. He is definitely the most accomplished and most influential FEU basketball student-athlete of the UAAP Final Four era.”

FEU was actually ahead of San Miguel in recognizing Arwind’s greatness, for the school retired his no. 19 several years before the Beermen’s ceremony for no. 29.

From the most successful UAAP men’s basketball program, Arwind eventually joined the most successful PBA franchise of all time. After three years with the Air21/Burger Machine franchise, he was traded to the San Miguel Beermen, where he would become a part of one of the best-starting fives in league history.

The ‘Death Five’

The pinnacle of Arwind Santos’ individual PBA career came in 2013 when he was named Most Valuable Player. Upon receiving the trophy, he was so overcome by emotion that he knelt on the court and thrust the trophy upwards with tears flowing down his face.

Soon, though, individual success would give way to team triumph. At this point, Santos had won just one PBA title, but the team would gradually put in place the other pieces that would form its so-called Death Five.

The first piece, a very big one at that, had actually arrived at the start of his MVP year. The Beermen drafted 6’10” center June Mar Fajardo, who would succeed Santos as MVP the following year and keep a stranglehold of the title for the next six seasons.

Then came shooter Marcio Lassiter, defensive whiz Chris Ross, and point guard extraordinaire Alex Cabagnot. Collectively, this starting five would be the centerpieces of nine San Miguel championships.

San Miguel Beermen Arwind Santos
San Miguel’s ‘Death Five” of Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, and Chris Ross together with coach Leo Austria. (PBA Media Bureau)

Arwind was the steady one in the group, always averaging double digits in scoring except for one season. He was also the one who gave up his spot in the starting five during import-flavored conferences, but his contributions were never diminished.

Among the five, he also had the best signature move, one which gave him the moniker “Spiderman.” After a dunk, he would hang on to the rim and lift both his legs upwards towards the backboard. The league eventually banned the move, but by then it had already become part of its lore.

In November 2021, Santos was traded by the Beermen to the NorthPort Batang Pier for Vic Manuel, marking the end of a 12-year tenure with the franchise. At the time, he was the longest-tenured Beerman. There was something off about seeing him playing in an orange-colored jersey, but such is life in the PBA.

Santos and Cabagnot are no longer with the Beermen, but on Labor Day the five reunited to celebrate Arwind’s retirement ceremony. And if he had his way, Santos would want all five of them to eventually have their numbers retired by the franchise.

“Kung ako ang tatanungin mo, siyempre, dahil maganda ang pinagsamahan namin,” he told the media.

San Miguel Beermen Arwind Santos
Arwind Santos holds aloft his framed jersey during his jersey retirement ceremony. (PBA Media Bureau)

Santos became just the seventh player in San Miguel history to have his jersey number retired, joining Allan Caidic (8), Samboy Lim (9), Yves Dgnadice (12), Hector Calma (14), Olsen Racela (17) and Ramon Fernandez (19).

Sobrang sarap talaga ng feeling dahil biro mo, mga legend ang mga iyon,” he said about joining elite company. “Iyong isa nga doon, si Samboy Lim, nawala na. Tapos pang-pito lang ako. Iilan lang siya na na-retire ang jersey.”

Arwind last played for the Pampanga Giant Lanterns in the MPBL. There was actually a plan afoot to have him play one last game for the Beermen, but there were too many obstacles to overcome. For one, his rights are still with the Batang Pier, so the Beermen would have had to trade a player to NorthPort just to get Arwind.

Dapat,” he confirmed. “Pero medyo komplikado nga daw. Hindi ko na pinakinggan kung ano iyong dahilan na iyon kasi naintindihan ko naman. Kailangan pa ng kontrata, kailangan pa ng trade yata, mga ganoon.”

Yet despite the moving ceremony on Labor Day, Arwind Santos refuses to categorically say that he is retired.

“Anytime, hindi natin masabi. Baka maglaro ulit ako. Hindi ko lang alam kung saan.”

We’ll be waiting for your next move, Spiderman.

Banner Image by PBA Media Bureau.

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