TIM Cone has already secured a niche in the pro league’s annals for being the coach with most titles in PBA history.
The same is true of Ginebra, the country’s most popular ballclub the last two decades running.
Cone and the Kings have just carved a very special place in the record books following their championship run in the Philippine Cup bubble in Angeles City.
Ginebra defeated undermanned but gritty TNT 82-78 last Wednesday at the AUF Sports and Cultural Arena to wrap up their best-of-seven finals series 4-1.
It was the 23rd PBA title for Cone, his fifth All-Filipino crown in all, and his fifth with the Ginebra team he joined in 2015.
For the Kings, it is their 13th championship in all and third All-Filipino crown but first in the import-less tourney since 2007.
This one is so unlike the others, though.
“It’s a little surreal because again, the experience is so different,” Cone said amid the celebration at the gym where all games were played since the PBA, put on hold by the outbreak following its March 8 opening, resumed on Oct. 11.
“The celebration’s different, the awarding is different, even the press, you know, it’s just a very different experience,” added Cone.
The absence of the fans who had to content themselves by watching the games on TV and some online platforms didn’t prevent Cone from giving a heartfelt nod to Ginebra’s supporters.
“To all the Ginebra fans watching right now, this one’s for you,” Cone said.
If everything falls into place and the COVID pandemic is eventually contained, the tournament would stand as the only one in history to be played in a secure environment.
The set-up alone, painstakingly thought out by league officials and concerned health and Clark Development Authority officials to salvage at least part of the pro league’s 45th season, did not come close to what has been the norm.
All 12 teams stayed at the Quest Hotel since entering the bubble in late September. Even the schedule had to be compressed, leading to teams playing almost every other day.
“I remember coming into the bubble, looking… We didn’t have Greg (Slaughter), we didn’t have LA (Tenorio), we didn’t have Japeth (Aguilar),” said Cone. “I was saying to myself:
‘Can we even make the playoffs?’ You know, ‘Can we prevent ourselves from being eliminated?’”
Slaughter decided to take a leave of absence in February, and missed the whole conference. Tenorio had to undergo an emergency appendectomy before the restart, and Aguilar was also late in entering the bubble.
“And then we went out and won our first four games,” added Cone with a wry chuckle.
Main credit goes to Ginebra’s depth as Prince Caperal, moved up from third-string center to starter, emerged as the breakout star of the team and helped Scottie Thompson, Stanley Pringle and Aljon Mariano run the show.
By the time the playoffs arrived, Ginebra had secured the No. 1 seeding, and was poised to get even better as both Tenorio and Aguilar have worked their way back into shape.
Tenorio, in particular, played his best in the championship series and earned the nod as PBA Press Corps-Honda Finals MVP.
“There was so much out-of-the-box thinking that had to go into being successful here. I think you really had to think out of the box and so the experience is so different from the other championships you had, it’s so unique,” said Cone.
“When we get back to Manila and we look back on this one, I think that we’ll just be amazed at how this all evolved and how it all came together and how we actually ended up winning that championship,” added Cone.
If plans to not miscarry, the PBA’s 46th season starts in April 2020. That gives Cone and Ginebra enough time to savor their latest triumph, which should have its very own special place in the history books.
“Hopefully, there’s only gonna be one bubble championship. And if there’s only one bubble championship, we got it. And that’s so cool,” said Cone.
“Twenty to 30 years from now, maybe when they look back and they say, ‘You know that bubble championship?’ They’ll remember our team because we had the most unique championship in the history of the PBA.