When the Magnolia Hotshots and its faithful exploded in joy as they copped the 2018 PBA Governors’ Cup title last December 19, it meant so much more than the storied franchise breaking its four-year championship drought.
It capped off what had been a great and memorable 2018 for the San Miguel Corporation in the PBA.
The Hotshots’ success in the season-ending conference completed a rare treble in Asia’s first-ever play-for-pay league — all three teams under the San Miguel umbrella have conquered all three tilts, a first in PBA history.
Their dominance in the league started last April, when SMC’s flagship franchise San Miguel Beermen collected its unprecedented fourth straight Philippine Cup crown at the expense of sister team Magnolia in five grueling games.
Reigning four-time league Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo was a big factor in the title-clincher, dropping a monster 42 and 20 in the 108-99 overtime win to not only hoist the championship trophy but the Finals MVP plaque as well.
The Beermen’s success in the all-Filipino made them a heavy favorite in defending their Commissioner’s Cup crown. And add to that the fact that they had Renaldo Balkman as reinforcement after the league lifted its’ lifetime ban on him.
But as strong as they were deemed, San Miguel had a rough start into the mid-season joust, as they suffered three consecutive defeats in the hands of the Meralco Bolts, the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, and the Alaska Aces.
But being the champions they are, the Beermen managed to get their act together just in time. They qualified for the quarterfinals as the six-seed, but that didn’t matter to them as they beat third-ranked TNT KaTropa in the quarters.
The Beermen’s surge continued up to the semifinals. Facing an Aces squad that has the returning Diamon Simpson plus a Vic Manuel that was in the midst of a scoring streak, SMB finished them in four games to return to the Big Dance.
But sadly, all good things must come to an end.
The franchise with the most number of championships failed to meet expectations of conquering the second conference, as they lost to Justin Brownlee and crowd darlings Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in six games.
The Gin Kings winning the conference came as a surprise, considering that Brownlee is the smallest import in the pack at 6-foot-4. But that didn’t seem to be a problem at all, and he even bagged his first-ever Best Import award.
Scottie Thompson was adjudged as the Finals MVP after averaging 10.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists. The three-year pro out of the Perpetual Altas program had 12 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in the clincher.
The attention quickly went in the way of the Gin Kings after that. And expectations of them winning the Governors’ Cup shot up high, for they have been lording over the season-ending tilt for two straight seasons.
Ginebra proved why they were the back-to-back champions by showing it in the elimination phase. They finished the round with an excellent 9-2 win-loss card, and that made them the top seed heading into the quarterfinals.
The Barangay’s fiery surge would go on to the quarters as they ran roughshod over Aaron Fuller and the NLEX Road Warriors, 111-75, on the very same night that veteran guard-forward Jeff Chan reached 5,000 career points.
With the way they were playing, Ginebra was seen to pull off a rare three-peat. But fate had other plans.
Magnolia, who’s been known as the bitter rivals of Ginebra for a long time now despite being sister teams, proved to be the villain to the Gin Kings as they dashed the latter’s hopes by finishing them off in four games in the semifinals.
It was totally a heartbreaker for the crowd darlings as it wasted their stellar run in the elims and ended their reign as well, but the Hotshots were too much in Game Four especially Romeo Travis, as he exploded for 50 big points.
From that monumental victory, the Hotshots would go all the way to the Promised Land, as they finished off Alaska in six games. And that victory was a huge message that the SMC group is truly a force to be reckoned with.
Back in January, then-second-year ball club Alab Pilipinas of the ASEAN Basketball League was looking for a backer, as initial sponsor Tanduay backed out reportedly due to a disagreement in player additions.
But luckily for Alab, San Miguel was there to pick them up. And from there, as they say, the rest was history.
With Balkman and Brownlee serving as imports plus now PBA-bound Ray Parks Jr., Alab seemed to be re-energized with their new backer, as they went all the way to the Big Dance and defeated Mono Vampire BC to snag the crown.
San Miguel Alab’s success was a historic one as it broke the Philippines’ half-a-decade title drought in the regional pro league. The last time a Filipino contingent won in the ABL was in 2013, thanks to the San Miguel Beermen.
They started by avenging their 2017 PSL Grand Prix loss to the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers. The Blaze Spikers brought back their dynamic pair of imports in Americans Lindsay Stalzer and Hillary Hurley. The latter’s ankle injury late in the season could have been a problem for any other squad, but Petron always had a flare for team building.
American Katherine Bell came in just in time to replace Hurley for the tournament’s semifinal. Touted as a game-changer having come over from one of the best professional leagues in the world in Turkey, Bell proved dominant in the Finals and overwhelmed F2 Logistics.
The following conference was not as successful as the play-all Invitational Conference title fell to the hands of rivals F2 Logistics. That heartbreak, however, was enough to propel the squad to new heights in the All-Filipino Conference.
Petron’s chemistry shone in the year-ending conference as different players starred in their historic 13-0 run, which included Game One of the Finals against the Cargo Movers. Even when they absorbed a loss in Game Two, the Blaze Spikers were cool and calm, as they were through their wins.
That’s two golds, one silver, and numerous all-league selections for the Blaze Spikers.
Their PSL stint was only a part of Petron’s hegemony over local volleyball.
The Philippine National Team featured Delos Santos as head coach and Blaze Spikers Mika Reyes and Aiza Maizo-Pontillas along with Rhea Dimaculangan and Ces Molina, who both made the National Team pool.
Nobody knows what the future holds, or what 2019 in particular will have in store. But the only thing that’s sure is that the San Miguel group won’t rest on their laurels, as promised by none other than SMC sports director Alfrancis Chua.
“We’re not gonna stop,” he said. “We started this like three, four years ago. Puro San Miguel, Ginebra, ngayon nahaluan ng Magnolia. And then dumating yung ABL. We got the volleyball din, yung Petron.
“Hindi kami puwedeng tumigil. I told the coaches, I told the managers of the teams, lahat, we need to learn more and lalo natin palakasin at i-improve bawat team namin,” furthered Chua, who’s been SMC’s sports chief since 2015
“We’re not gonna stop now. 2019, 2020, we have to find ways to make us competitive.”