In 2014, Jimmy Alapag was still riding the FIBA World Championship high, while Willie Miller unfortunately, in stark contrast, settled for exhibitions matches for other teams as he struggled to land with a PBA squad.
It seemed Miller, who was still a free agent during that point, would never again see the light of winning a championship, basking under a wave of confetti and hearing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” blast from the speakers of the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
All of that changed, however, after Alapag’s eventual retirement earlier this year led to a vacancy in Talk ‘N Text’s backcourt rotation. Alapag reached out to his long-time friend, Miller, as the Tropang Texters tried to fill a void, and it set the stage for the latter’s return in the big league.
Twenty-one games after, the two soaked in a moment not everyone thought would happen again: winning a championship together.
Alapag and Miller gave each other a warm embrace at centercourt as the Tropang Texters finally ended a two-year dry spell. It was Miller’s first for the blue and gold, and while his numbers will go quietly into the night, the scene is something that will last in his mind for the next days, months, and years to come.
It was a title shared with a comrade Miller knew would succeed the first time he saw a glimpse.
“Ako yung unang kumakausap sa kanya dahil karamihan sa amin mga tagalog. Sa akin siya naging komportable,” Miller recalled a point in 2002 where Alapag tried out for the Red Bull squad, Miller’s former club.
“Nagkaroon naman ng chance mapunta ulit sa Talk ‘N Text nung nalaman niya na wala akong team, kinausap niya ako, tinawagan niya agad ako. Napakasarap ng pakiramdam. From the early 2000s andun yung samahan hindi pa rin nagbabago.”
Alapag and Miller went on to share the floor for the Tropang Texters (then Phone Pals) in 2004 for a formidable backcourt that led the franchise to multiple championship appearances, although the duo fell short several times before Miller was dealt to another squad three years after.
Years removed and a few championships won and lost along the way for different teams, the two backcourt legends crossed paths again after in a bizarre turn of events, which saw the Miller wearing blue and gold anew.
” My role is a lot different nowadays. I try to help them outside the lines instead of, for so long, in between the lines. That makes this championship even more special. We had a lot of history together, being teammates and having a lot of success in the short time that we were together,” Alapag shared what it meant to be with Miller in the same organization again.
“For us to cross paths like this, and I knew what he went through before joining us. To share the championship with him is a lot. At this stage of our lives with myself really retired and himself closer to the end, it’s special. He is one of the best guards in the league.”
Alapag will never again register a minute as a player in the league, while Miller’s career already has a virtual countdown. But basketball, in its strangest way, simply served as a bridge for the two to reunite and accomplish something they never did in the past.
Their roles may not be the same anymore in a league that has Jayson Castro, Mark Barroca, and Paul Lee reigning in the backcourt, but for the two, the moment shines just as bright as all the memories they’ve shared together on and off the court.