For the San Miguel Corporation, 2017 was clearly their year. Well, at least, in the Philippine Basketball Association.
The league may have had a rough time this year, but that doesn’t take away the fact that storied franchises San Miguel Beermen and Barangay Ginebra rewrote the history books all thanks to their respective successes the past season.
From the star-studded Beermen dominating the Philippine and Commissioner’s Cups, to the fan favorite Gin Kings winning their second straight Governor’s Cup title, 2017 was definitely a great time for the conglomerate.
Beermen’s dominance continues
2017 was truly a historic one for the Beermen. Favorites to win their third straight Philippine Cup title, SMB didn’t disappoint, running roughshod over the competition to fulfill such via a five-game demolition of Ginebra in the Finals.
Aside from the rare three-peat that had made them bag the Perpetual Trophy, talks of SMB winning their second Grand Slam surfaced all thanks to the dominant team they have, led by reigning four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo.
Head coach Leo Austria and the Beermen have always insisted that winning the Grand Slam is tough. But another title run this time in the import-laden 2017 Commissioner’s Cup only made them even more poised in doing such.
The Beermen won over long-time rivals TNT Katropa in six games to collect their third Commissioner’s Cup title and their 24th championship overall, thus solidifying their status as the most successful team in league history.
With one more conference to conquer, the Beermen was on the cusp of rewriting history once more. Unfortunately for them though, the season-ending 2017 Governor’s Cup became the nightmare to their fairy tale.
Far from the past two cups where they sat atop the team standings, SMB went into the playoffs as the sixth seed. And making things even harder for them was that they have to face defending champs Ginebra in a do-or-die quarterfinals.
San Miguel lost to the eventual back-to-back champions, 84-104.
The heartbreaking loss had spelled the end of their Triple Crown hopes, and it had also thrown away all the work they have put in just to get where they are. But it was still a season to remember, indeed, for the Beermen.
“Just ’cause we [didn’t] win the Grand Slam doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great year. We had a great year,” said Chris Ross. “Our season’s not a failure. I’m proud of the guys in the locker room, proud of my brothers out there.”
Commissioner’s Cup hattrick
In the 42-year history of the PBA, no team within one stable was able to finish in the top three and share the lead at the end of the eliminations up until the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup.
The corporation achieved a hattrick of sorts as teams from the giant conglomerate were able to finish one, two, and three, respectively as the Barangay Ginebra Kings, the San Miguel Beermen, and the Star Hotshots ended up in a three-way tie for the lead at the end of the elimination round of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
The three teams wound up with a 9-2 win-loss mark with the Gin Kings taking the top seed and the Reigning three-time champion Beermen takjng the No. 2 seat. Both squads will carry a twice-to-beat advantage heading to the playoffs.
The Hotshots, the team that has the inferior quotient, settled for no. 3, but that won’t be a problem for head coach Chito Victolero, who guided the team’s rise this season following a turbulent campaign under then head coach Jason Webb.
“We’re happy at where we are right now. The players worked hard for this. It doesn’t matter where we end up as long as we continue winning,” said Victolero.
Rene Pardo, the long-time team executive of the old Purefoods franchise, who continuously serves as the team’s representative to the PBA board, deflected the credit to the man who made responsible in bringing Victolero on board — Alfrancis Chua.
“I think credit should be given to Boss Alfrancis Chua who made things possible in bringing Chito Victolero to become our head coach,” Pardo said. “He was also the one who initiated in the James Yap-Paul Lee trade and look what is happening to us now. He has been helping us the past few years and look at where we are right now.”
Like Pardo, fellow executives Robert Non and Gee Abanilla of San Miguel Beer lauded Chua’s big involvement as far as movements and improvements that transpired within the three teams under the SMC stable.
“Ever since he came here, malaki ang ipinagbago ng takbo ng mga teams. He started as consultant of Ginebra, then became the head coach and brought the team to the finals after a 0-4 star,” added Non, San Miguel Beer’s representative to the PBA board. “When my BFF (Chua) became our sports director, he was able to set the direction within the three teams. San Miguel won three straight all-Filipino, Ginebra won a championship for the first time in eight years and Star made significant improvement the past two conferences.”
Gin Kings extend reign
Similar to what they did in 2016, Barangay Ginebra saved its’ best for last in 2017.
In a rematch with corporate rivals Meralco Bolts that could possibly be the start of a rivalry, the tall Gin Kings extended their reign in the Governor’s Cup for another year after a thrilling seven-game Finals series.
Making the victory even sweeter was the fact that a massive number of people — 54,064 to be exact — trooped to the mammoth Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan and witnessed the Barangay’s second coronation last October 27.
“Nobody does that, nobody coaches basketball in front of 54,000 people. Maybe 30,000 or 25,000, but 54,000? That’s such a privilege. It blows my mind,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, left in awe with the record attendance.
For Cone, the win is memorable for him not just because they were able to do it infront of 50,000-plus, but also because Ginebra’s 10th overall title marks his 20th crown in the league, cementing his place as the PBA’s winningest coach.
The triumph means a lot for the league’s most popular team, as it somehow exorcised their bitter past — made up mostly of losing seasons and being the butt of jokes — and had made them a formidable squad once more.
Of course, they have import Justin Brownlee to thank for for their back-to-back championships, but their locals, especially with the return of seven-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter from injury, also made a lot of wonders.
Ginebra has finally found the recipe to success, it seems. And 2017, which also saw them make it into the Philippine Cup Finals and Commissioner’s Cup Semis, was the year where that success has come into fruition.
And it might just get even scarier in the next conferences.
The final win
Even if the San Miguel Beermen failed in its goal of winning the Grand Slam, the franchise were able to build for the future when it traded for the top overall pick in the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft.
And when Christian Standhardinger was called up to the stage after being named the top overall pick in the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft, a chorus of boos was heard at the Robinson’s Place Manila. It was as if the moment that fans of other teams only thought would happen in a nightmare just became a reality: the 6-foot-8 Standhardinger will pair up with reigning Most Valuable Player, the 6-foot-10 June Mar Fajardo.
And the same could be said for the other coaches in the league, as their work has just gotten tougher.
“Nalulungkot ako, hindi ako nagagalit. I’m just sad over the situation dahil nga lahat ng nakausap ko, they had some misgivings about the situation, and wala akong masabing dahilan because I’m also part of the PBA,” said second-year NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao, “Matalino naman yung basketball public, alam nila yung nangyayari.
“The sad thing for me is naghusga na yung mga tao. Nahusgahan na tayo.”
The way the Beermen ended up with the top overall pick was vexing to say the least, as the deal had needed three revisions in a span of one week to get approval from Commissioner Chito Narvasa. Even with those revisions, the pieces that were shipped from San Miguel to Kia drew ire from the fans.
The apparent coveted piece by the Picanto in the trade was 14-year league veteran Ronald Tubid. But Tubid had played just seven games in the Governors’ Cup and played a grand total of just 29.1 minutes.
The other chips were 15-year pro Yancy De Ocampo, who played in just 24 games last season; incoming sophomore Rashawn McCarthy, who logged in just 48.9 minutes the entire season; and a first round pick in the 2019 Rookie Draft, which will most likely end up as a low pick.
“I don’t have any comment on the trade. We just have to mind our own business,” said Meralco Bolts head coach Norman Black, whose team has struggled in the past during All-Filipino conferences, “They already have the best player in the league and they added a young, PBA-ready big man. It’s going to be tough for us to match up with their size.”
Safe to say, the San Miguel Beermen still got the last laugh to end 2017.