It has been widely agreed upon that winning a PBA championship entails taking down a San Miguel Corporation team, an order so tall to fill since all of its squads have quite become the barometer due to their success over the years.
Imagine beating all three.
As difficult as it may seem, though, TNT proved that it can actually be done. The flagship MVP Group franchise brought down all of its rival conglomerate’s ball clubs to lord over the 2021 Philippine Cup to end its six-year title drought.
No team has done such a feat in two decades, or since Red Bull pulled it off in 2001 when Yeng Guiao’s wards went through the SMC wringer to rule the Commissioner’s Cup for the franchise’s first-ever league crown.
Back then, the Thunder took down Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinals, finished off Purefoods Tender Juicy in the semis in a best-of-five affair that went the distance, and ultimately beat San Miguel in six games to clinch the gold.
And that path was a tad similar to what the Tropang Giga treaded. They beat erstwhile reigning champs Gin Kings in the quarters, before conquering the Beermen in a see-saw seven-game series in the penultimate round.
They went on to hurdle Magnolia by way of a gentleman’s sweep, 4-1, in what was a perfect atonement for the heartbreak they suffered in the previous all-Filipino conference, where they bowed to Ginebra through the very same result.
The Tropa had undeniably one of the most impressive championship runs in recent memory. And that was all a result of the team’s decision to bring in someone from the past to steer them to their glory days once more.
Chot Reyes, of course.
The league’s only five-time Coach of the Year was already at peace focusing on his businesses until that one phone call from no less than team owner Manny V. Pangilinan had him rethinking coming back into coaching.
On February 13, it was official.
The 58-year-old took over the coaching reins from Bong Ravena and Mark Dickel, marking his return to PBA coaching in nearly a decade or since he last handled the Texters in 2012 before leaving the post for Gilas Pilipinas.
Such a development was among the reasons why that particular offseason made the league the talk of the town. A month prior to Reyes’ comeback, San Miguel opened the year with a trade to acquire young star CJ Perez.
Just days after Reyes hugged headlines, the Hotshots took the spotlight by landing Calvin Abueva through a multi-player deal.
And the following month, the Barangay shipped Greg Slaughter to get Christian Standhardinger.
TNT, though, wasn’t left behind. Midway into March, the Tropang Giga initiated a trade with NLEX and Blackwater to get the Road Warriors’ no. 4 pick to address the departure of Ray Parks. The pick turned out to be Mikey Williams.
That deal took place mere days after the team welcomed Kelly Williams back in the fold. The former league Most Valuable Player came out of retirement with renewed optimism following the return of his old mentor.
So with a mix of new and familiar faces such as Jayson Castro, Ryan Reyes, and Roger Pogoy, to name some, it was as if Reyes’ magic was in full effect in so short a time, as evident with the way they played.
TNT started the Philippine Cup with six consecutive victories, eventually finishing the elimination round with a remarkable 10-1 record to clinch the top seed that also gave it a twice-to-beat advantage for the playoffs.
And then, history ensued. The Tropa went on to overcome all the SMC teams to bag home the all-Filipino championship for the first time in eight years, or since winning the 2013 Philippine Cup that capped off a rare three-peat.
Reyes, prior to facing the very same franchise that gave him his first head coaching break some 27 years ago, offered that facing the long-time powerhouse ball clubs was simply the luck of the draw.
He argued that nobody expected Ginebra to finish no. 8 in the eliminations — the league’s most popular team struggled during the eliminations due to injuries and COVID-19, but caught the last bus after beating Phoenix Super LPG.
The same goes, he added, for the Beermen, winner of five Philippine Cup titles in the last six years who entered the playoffs as the fourth seed with a 7-4 record — just behind the Hotshots, who amassed an 8-3 slate.
Regardless, what he and TNT achieved will undeniably be something that would be talked about for years to come. And making it even more special is the fact that he practically was the one who ended SMC’s dominion over the league.
Prior to the Tropa’s emergence, SMC won the previous 11 conferences, which began in 2016 when Tim Cone steered the Barangay to the mountaintop of the Governors’ Cup that also ended the team’s eight-year wait for a title.
The Gin Kings and the Beermen collected five championships each in that span, with the other one courtesy of the Hotshots when they foiled the former’s bid for a treble in the season-ending conference back in 2018.
It was like a plot taken straight out of a comic book: Someone from the past comes back to help end a reign deemed to be interminable. And that someone, ironically, was a part of that very empire many years ago.