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Tim Cone's multiple titles, grand slam make him one of decade's best

As the decade draws to a close, the ESPN5.com editorial staff look back at the sporting figures and moments that stood out and helped define Philippine sports in the 2010s. Check back regularly until December 31 for the latest features in our ESPN5.com Best of the Decade series.

We honor the coaches who excelled in the 2010s, those who made their mark, raised the bar, and collected championship trophies along the way. One of them was Earl Timothy Cone, who began the decade by giving the team he had been with since 1989 one last championship before turning his attention to two other storied PBA franchises and leading them to a combined eight titles. Cone will end the 2010s as the winningest coach in PBA history, a feat that helped land him the dream job of coaching Gilas Pilipinas to gold at the Southeast Asian Games.

Winning championships has become synonymous with Tim Cone.

Since beginning his coaching career with Alaska in 1989, decade by decade, Cone has set a new standard in the PBA as far as coaching is concerned.

During his first 21 years as coach, Cone won 13 league titles with Alaska, the PBA franchise owned by long-time sportsman-businessman Fred Uytengsu.

His illustrious coaching career there included winning his first PBA grand slam during the 1996 season, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to accomplish the rare feat after the legendary Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan (1976), Tommy Manotoc (1983) and Norman Black (1989).

His dominant PBA title runs with Alaska included 8 championships in 12 conferences, spanning the 1994 Governors' Cup to the 1998 Commissioner's Cup.

Cone won his 13th PBA title when he steered Alaska to the 2010 Fiesta Conference crown after beating San Miguel Beer in six games in the Finals.

Winningest ever

By the second year of the second decade in the 21st century, Cone joined the San Miguel Corporation umbrella as he took on a new challenge by agreeing to handle the B-Meg Llamados prior to the 2011-12 season.

The franchise had won just two league titles since it transitioned from Alvin Patrimonio to James Yap, the face of the team upon Cone's arrival.

Aside from Yap, B-Meg had a solid talent base with Marc Pingris and Joe Devance leading the bigs, along with guards Jonas Villanueva, Josh Urbiztondo, Peter June Simon and a pesky rookie by the name of Mark Barroca.

With such a strong base of local players, it was all up to Cone to turn a title contender into a championship ballclub.

In his first full conference as coach, Cone steered B-Meg to the top of the standings with a 10-4 card to capture the no. 1 seed in the 2012 Philippine Cup playoffs.

Everyone was talking about B-Meg advancing easily to the Finals as the team faced eighth seed Powerade in the quarterfinals. B-Meg enjoyed a twice-to-beat advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, B-Meg ended on the ugly side of history when the Llamados lost to the Powerade Tigers twice to become just the third top-seeded PBA team to lose to the no. 8 ranked squad in the opening round of playoffs.

Cone, being the type of coach who doesn't dwell on the past, quickly regrouped his troops in preparation for the 2012 Commissioner's Cup. They tapped a young import by the name of Denzel Bowles in the mid-season conference, and Cone transformed his team into a mean defensive unit as B-Meg entered the playoffs as third seed.

From there, B-Meg dispatched of Meralco in the quarterfinals, ripped Barangay Ginebra in the semis, before outlasting Talk 'N Text in seven games in the Finals to reward Cone his first PBA title for the franchise.

The winning moment was just the start for B-Meg.

As the team switched names from B-Meg to San Mig Coffee, Cone ingrained a winning culture to the franchise, which went on to capture four straight PBA crowns from 2013 Governors' to the 2014 Governors' Cup.

Cone rewrote history several times during the 2014 season. He surpassed Dalupan's all-time record 15 PBA titles won by a coach when the American booked his 16th league crown in the Philippine Cup. San Mig's title conquests in the 2014 Commissioner's Cup and Governors' Cup also sealed the franchise's spot in history by becoming just the fourth team to win a grand slam. Cone also became the only PBA coach to win two grand slam crowns.

From tormentor to coach

But some good things never last, especially in the PBA.

Barangay Ginebra, San Mig's sister team, had been languishing in the doldrums for many years. The league's most popular ballclub won its eighth and last PBA crown in 2008 Fiesta Conference.

With each season's failure to win a championship, Ginebra fans wondered when their favorite team would ever celebrate another title.

So when news came that Cone would be moving over to coach Ginebra in July 2015, Kings fans started talking about seeing their favorite team put an end to its long title drought.

History had been unkind to Ginebra every time it faced Cone and the Purefoods franchise. Since Cone took over the helm of the Purefoods franchise in the 2012 season, the American held a 17-9 head-to-head record against Ginebra, according to PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon.

Cone actually bagged his very first PBA title against Ginebra when he led Alaska to a 3-1 victory in their 1991 Third Conference championship duel. He also capped his first grand slam championship with Alaska when the Milkmen drubbed Ginebra, 4-1 in the 1996 Governors' Cup Finals.

After a honeymoon stage with Ginebra in the first two conferences, Cone shifted gears and gradually re-modeled the team.

Ginebra had long been the team of Mark Caguioa and Jajay Helterbrand for years. But with Cone shifting the system to maximize the team's frontcourt of Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar, as well as relying on the heady plays of LA Tenorio, Ginebra steadily rose back to relevance.

Ginebra eventually reached the 2016 Governors' Cup Finals through the leadership of Justin Brownlee where they squared off with Meralco and hulking import Allen Durham.

Brownlee provided the iconic play in the Finals when he drained the game-winning three-point shot over Durham - a buzzer-beater that put Ginebra back at the top of the league as the Kings ended eight years of fruitless campaign.

And to prove that Ginebra's 2016 championship was no fluke, the Kings and Brownlee repeated as champions in the 2017 Governors' Cup, before adding the 2018 Commissioner's Cup crown at their collection.

Since the start of the 2010s, Cone won nine PBA titles, a mean feat considering the degree of difficulty one has to go through to even reach the Finals. He ended the decade on a winning note, leading the star-studded Gilas Pilipinas to the gold medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

But the 61-year-old has maintained his sharpness at the sidelines in his 30th year of coaching in the pro league. And this has a lot to do with his laser-like focus on improving his craft, his commitment to respect the game of basketball and his desire to be the "best version" of himself in every given opportunity.

As Cone moves to his 31st year as coach next season, the sky is the limit for the American bench tactician. A 22nd, 23rd and 24th PBA title are all possibilities for Cone, who has learned to remain a student of the game.