It took a while for me to get my thoughts together for this piece. My mind has been a mish-mash of thoughts about Tim Cone’s re-assignment to Ginebra. There’s this negative aura about this move that I can’t shake.
Why? How can Tim Cone coaching my favorite team be negative? I should be celebrating! This is Coach Tim we’re talking about. He is the best coach in the PBA today. There’s no other coach in the league that can come close to his resume. Coach Tim’s been to the Finals 30 times and won 18 of them. He brings the experience of a coach that’s won two Grand Slams. All of Ginebra’s coaches last season combined can’t touch his accomplishments. Jump for joy! Tim Cone is officially the head coach of Barangay Ginebra!
This isn’t a triumph. This is more of a surrender. In the two years that I have been a Ka-Barangay, Tim Cone was the enemy. He’s a natural antagonist to Barangay Ginebra. It may only be two years for me, but for lifelong Ginebra fans, Tim Cone has been the well-dressed villain on the opposite sideline. He’s the architect of numerous painful eliminations and humiliating blowout losses. Tim Cone has been beating Ginebra his entire life. Now he’s with the team he’s conquered countless times to teach them how to win?
But for more than 20 years before I was a Ginebra fan, I was an Alaska fan. Coach Tim was part of my formative basketball and PBA years. I was spoiled by his consistent level of excellence. He coached the Milkmen to championship after championship. Under his tutelage, the idols of my youth, Johnny A and Jolas, became legends in their own right. His teams were always viewed as champions, the benchmark that all other PBA teams measure themselves against. I can’t wait for him to bring the same lofty standards to Ginebra. Coach Tim said that he never gets tired of winning. I believe that.
I didn’t ask for Tim Cone. To be honest, most Ginebra fans didn’t ask for him too. The clamor from the fans was for a championship, not for another head coach. The fans were tired of the constant rebooting of the team. They just wanted continuity. Good things were actually happening under Coach Frankie Lim. He weathered several injuries to key players and steered the team to a postseason appearance. The team was back to playing hard. LA showed more energy on defense. Japeth was playing like a BPC candidate again. His decisions, like getting Sol and unleashing Rodney, were system-building moves that were beneficial for the team. Imagine how good Ginebra would have been if Coach Frankie was given more time.
Ginebra doesn’t have the luxury of time. Coach Tim is the easiest way to a championship. He brings with him a system that was designed to take advantage of the strengths of the current roster. He’s a big man’s coach that hasn’t had the opportunity to mold a game-changing big man in his entire career. With Ginebra, he has two. I get goosebumps just imagining Greg as the focal point of his Triangle Offense. I’m excited to watch him unlock Japeth’s potential. LA played the best basketball of his career under Coach Tim. He is the only coach with the influence to shape and mold Ginebra into a balanced championship team. Even though he said that they won’t hurry, he did acknowledge that they will have to be quick in working towards a championship.
Getting Tim Cone might be the fastest way to a championship. But is it the right way? This move broke up the Grand Slam Purefoods team, not even a season removed from their championships. It just doesn’t feel right, like a third party breaking up a perfectly good relationship. Now, it will never feel right beating them too. Purefoods fans can place an imaginary asterisk on every Ginebra Manila Clasico win knowing that their former coach was one of the main reasons for the victory. It’s never going to be as satisfying as beating the complete, Grand Slam team, coached by Tim Cone. With this move, Ginebra came off as a beggar soliciting management for wins. It just feels like instead of owning our wins, we now owe it to management or worse, to Purefoods. Our franchise has a proud and rich history. We are better than that.
Pride? What’s the use of pride when the rest of the league is making fun of our every elimination? The rest of the PBA has a great big laugh whenever Ginebra fails to win another championship. For the past few seasons, we’ve been called the Gin Kings of Boracay. Getting Coach Tim changes that. I understand that this move makes our team look like petty children throwing a tantrum when we don’t get what we want. The entire league will curse Ginebra. But it’s better to be a hated champion than a mocked vegetable-that-must-not-be-named. Embrace the hate.
Winning a championship is important, but not at the expense of the identity of the franchise. Tim Cone is a top-notch coach associated with elite teams. Ginebra is known as a scrappy, underdog team that fights hard for every win. There’s a clear disconnect between Ginebra and Tim Cone. He doesn’t fit the traditional Ginebra legacy built by Coach Jawo. Where’s the #NSD in a coach that’s lorded it over the entire PBA? Tim Cone will change Ginebra’s identity.
Ginebra’s identity is clearly “never say die.” But in the past few years, the fans, more than the players, have fostered this spirit. Ginebra has forgetten how to win. Because of this, they get lost in the shuffle. San Miguel Beer is the winningest franchise in the PBA. They’ve found success again after their Petronovela years. Purefoods, because of their recent Grand Slam is recognized as a perennial championship contender. It can’t just be #NSD all the time. Coach Tim can evolve Ginebra’s legacy. He spoke of wanting to follow the footsteps of Coach Jawo and make him proud. He understands the team’s tradition. Coach Tim doesn’t want to change Ginebra. He just wants to make them better. How can I not want that?
In the past two years cheering for Ginebra, I learned to cheer for the name in front of the jersey, not the names at the back. And that includes the name listed down as head coach. After the wild ride last season, Coach Tim might be Ginebra’s best shot at continuity and a championship. Now more than ever, the team needs my support. I can’t leave them now. So, never say die?
Never say die.