Any doubt about the San Miguel Beermen’s place in PBA history, has surely been quieted after their latest triumph in the Philippine Cup.
San Miguel battled tooth and nail with the Magnolia Hotshots before securing a league record fifth straight All-Filipino crown. The Beermen eclipsed the Crispa Redmanizers team of the 80’s, whose record stands at four consecutive trophies.
“It’s about legacy,” San Miguel guard Chris Ross said as the team celebrated in the locker room.
That legacy is borne out of their dominance in the league’s toughest conference. While the team had close calls in their five-year rampage, they have managed to find a way to survive against all odds.
It is easy to chalk it down to the sheer talent that the Beermen possess, from a dead-eye shooter in Marcio Lassiter, a supreme playmaker and scorer in Alex Cabagnot, a defensive maven Chris Ross, an athletic stretch four in Arwind Santos, and a once in a generation talent in June Mar Fajardo.
Even their own head coach makes self-depreciating jokes about that very point.
“Salamat sa mga players ko, you made me look like a great coach,” Head coach Leo Austria said after claiming another All-Filipino crown.
Austria was being modest, after all, he is the coach that managed to get all of the big personalities in his roster to finally click with one another. Prior to his arrival, the Beermen cycled through two head coaches within a calendar year and had yet to deliver a trophy. It was Austria who managed to right the ship, and turn the Beermen into the resilient bunch we know today.
While their talent has seen them just overwhelm foes in various Philippine Cup Finals, San Miguel have come out of situations that they had no business winning.
Climbing out of a 0-3 hole in the 2016 Philippine Cup Finals stands out, but one just has to look back at how they won their latest crown to see how difficult the task actually was.
Had Jio Jalalon converted on a late put back attempt in Magnolia’s last meaningful offensive possession of the ballgame, the Hotshots could have effectively ended the Beermen’s dynasty. Instead what stood out was Fajardo collecting another defensive rebound to become the league leader of rebounds in a Finals game.
That is how close it came to San Miguel ending their dramatic streak.
“It was one of the toughest,” Ross told ESPN5 after their latest series against Magnolia. “This was the first time I actually cried after winning the game.”
Winning a championship is one thing, but doing it not once, not, twice, not thrice, but five times in a row is almost unfathomable.
“It’s really the legacy that’s not done in one day,” Lassiter said in the locker room. “It entailed a lot of hard work, patience and dedication. And it’s amazing.”
With their fifth straight championship under their belt, this iteration of San Miguel now stands alone in rarified air. Without a doubt, this squad will be included in the greatest ever assembled in PBA history.
The scary part about this team is that there is the potential for them to win even more. The fulcrum of their entire offense, Fajardo, is still improving at 29-years old. With the team continuing to build around the league’s brightest talent, there could be even more chips to be won for San Miguel.
The next step for the team is clear, to grab an elusive Grand Slam to make themselves the favorite choice in the conversation for Greatest Team of All Time.
There is another level to go for this team, and all PBA fans wait with bated breath whether or not they can reach that summit as well.