The search for heroes and villains in the looming B-Meg-Alaska battle snaked through airport roads and crawled past religious processions before finally landing within arms length of an iconic basketball coach Saturday evening.
“For sure, there’ll be a lot of sympathy for Fred [Uytengsu, Alaska owner],” said the coach, who has enough insight into the Alaska organization, having been instrumental in brokering the franchise’s entry into the league.
Alaska and B-Meg clash Wednesday evening at the Big Dome in what is expected to be an emotionally-charged encounter if only for the central figure wedged between both clubs: Grand Slam coach Tim Cone, the architect of the Alaska 90s dynasty who ended a 22-year relationship with the Uytengsu squad and hopped over to the SMC umbrella to coach the B-Meg Llamados.
The coach’s take on the divorce was altogether vague and revealing, descriptions that until Saturday night, could not have been possibly strung together to describe a single conversation.
“In a lot of ways, Tim is like Tiger Woods chasing Jack Nicklaus. He’s looking at the championship record of Baby Dalupan and he’s still going after it,” said the coach.
15 titles. That’s the yardstick Cone has set for himself. He’s got 13 now, but a check at the collection reveals an alarming trend: After winning nine titles in the 90s, Alaska has won just four more championships. Those stats, more than anything else, prodded Cone to seek opportunities elsewhere, said the coach, who will remain anonymous until he decides to write his tell-all article.
“It wasn’t about the money. Not with Tim,” he said.
Cone was doing it for history.
“He knew he wasn’t going to get Baby’s record by staying at Alaska,” the coach said.
In less blunt terms, that was exactly what Cone hinted at. In an interview with the Inquirer, when he was asked what specifically he was looking for that he found in B-Meg, that he could no longer find in Alaska, Cone simply said: “I felt that I reached my ceiling with Alaska.”
He was battling the monster he created, he added. The thing that he did not mention but what the coach-source agreed with was the case? The only way Cone could triumph over the legacy he had built—the one he was always being compared to—is to beat Dalupan’s record. And as the coach-source put it, Cone wasn’t getting that task done with Alaska.
It will be hard to sell that notion to Fred Uytengsu, who has kept silent on the issue despite conspiracy theorists postulating that the Cone transfer had been worked out right under the nose of the Alaska owner.
Uytengsu, long the moral compass of the PBA, has often complained that money talks too much in the league and that little is being done to silence big spenders. Ironically, in a season when PBA commissioner Chito Salud promised a more stringent watch on the salary cap, Uytengsu lost his long-time coach.
The outspoken owner was last noted to be in a business trip in Hawaii, but assistant coach Dickie Bachmann said Uytengsu will fly in to watch Alaska’s game against B-Meg.
“Fred will make sure he’s back for the game against Derby Ace on Wednesday,” Dickie told the Inquirer’s Beth Celis.
It won’t be a surprise if Uytengsu strikes his favorite pose when things don’t go his team’s way. Standing up, an arm stretched toward his object of derision, his index and middle fingers rubbing against his thumb.
Whether or not Uytengsu actually makes the gesture at the direction of Cone remains to be seen. If it happens, trust the crowd—B-Meg is one of the league’s most popular teams—to toss the villain’s robe on him.
But the coach-source insisted that there will be no villains or heroes when the Aces and Llamado clash. Whatever show of anger Uytengsu displays is understandable. Alaska had conceded several things to Cone (the coach-source said this includes breaking up the Grand Slam team, whose members, Cone was said to have told management, “no longer wanted to play” for him) so he could continue chasing history. Uytengsu always believed Cone would achieve that goal with the Aces.
It will be hard to make Cone the bad guy, too. For a full decade after one of the most successful runs in basketball history, the American coach watched as teams went on spending sprees to build superpowers that went on championship runs.
And the Aces were sideswiped along the way, while they pinched every penny to nobly defend the idea behind the salary cap and lost every other battle outside of it. As it became evident that Alaska could not—would not—keep up with the arms race, Cone saw his own personal window get smaller by the day.
And he jumped out before it closed completely.
And so each side will pin the villain tag on the other for as long as people are still willing to squeeze out every drop of drama from the Cone switch.
As far as heroes go, there’ll be little to go with until the final buzzer. And even then, you only have the winning team and the best player of the game. After all, this is just one game betweeh two teams that lost their season debuts.
The real hero will emerge when one of the two sides finally nails a championship—Alaska without Cone, or Cone without Alaska.