Over the next few weeks in the lead-up to the opening of the PBA's 45th season on March 8, ESPN5.com writers will take a look at the history of the six oldest franchises in the PBA and name the four players from each who have achieved the most with the franchise; mention their name to any fan and that team immediately comes to mind. This is ESPN5's Mount Rushmore series featuring the top players of all time from San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra, Magnolia, Alaska, TNT, and Rain or Shine.
A PBA member since acquiring the rights to the former Pepsi Cola franchise in 1996 and joining the league as the Mobiline Phonepals, the TNT KaTropa have won eight league titles in 19 finals appearances.
During a searing run at the onset of the previous decade, TNT became one of the most dominant teams in the land. Today, the franchise is in a full youth movement with RR Pogoy and Troy Rosario looking to be the cornerstones of the next generation.
In its 24 years in the PBA, TNT has also produced and developed several players that have made a difference in the game. Here are our choices for the top four.
When Mobiline used its first ever draft pick to select eventual Rookie of the Year Andy Seigle in 1997, it appeared that the franchise made its first move to become a future contender. Seigle at 6'8" appeared to be the young face of the team until the Direct Hire Rule allowed them to bring in Taulava from the Blu Detergent Kings in the now defunct Philippine Basketball League in 1999.
The 6'9" Fil-Tongan was such a dominant presence in the paint that he became an immediate game-changer for the Phonepals which had him and Seigle creating the PBA's version of Twin Towers.
Taulava immediately became the benchmark at the pivot position in the league and normed 17.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and almost a block a game in his rookie campaign. By 2003 "The Rock" was churning in averages of 23.4 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game to become the unanimous choice for MVP.
He spent eight seasons with the franchise but won only one title-the 2003 All-Filipino championship where he was named Finals MVP.
But his brute strength, inside tenacity and gamesmanship with his opposite numbers endeared him to Mobiline/Talk 'N Text fans in his nearly one decade of service.
Ranidel de Ocampo
When this Tanza, Cavite native was moved to the Meralco Bolts in 2017, many TNT faithful struggled to come to terms with his departure. After all, he was a two-time Finals MVP, a former Best Player of the Conference and even had television commercials endorsing the company's products and services.
De Ocampo had already emerged as a bonafide All-Star with the Air21 Express but when he was traded for center Don Allado in the middle of the 2008-2009 season, the 6'6" swing forward turned out to be the missing piece for the team and they went on to capture the Philippine Cup title. He would be part of all six post-Taulava titles and was deemed as one of the non-tradable assets of the franchise.
In all, RDO garnered four Mythical Team selections and six of his nine All-Star appearances in his eight seasons with TNT.
Also sharing in the six titles since the Taulava departure is this 5'10" Guagua, Pampanga native who was once hailed as the "Best Point Guard in Asia".
Castro has played his entire career with the franchise since being picked third overall in the 2008 PBA Draft. Since his days as feisty playmaker for the Philippine Christian University and the national team (starting from the youth level), he has shown his own brand of silent leadership by energizing his unit on the floor and showcasing his incredible speed, quickness and resilience to earn him the moniker "The Blur".
He was also among those rumored to be taking a step forward as several international leagues eyed his services, but he remained loyal to the franchise that nurtured him from the get-go.
Castro has won five BPCs and was declared Finals MVP twice. He also won the much coveted PBA Order of Merit award in 2016 as well as a scoring title in 2014. This seven-time PBA All-Star may be 33 years of age, but has shown no signs of slowing down and still remains as one of the top orchestrators in league.
When you're the only player in franchise history to have your jersey number retired, then it speaks volumes of what this former 10th overall draft pick has done not only for TNT, but for Philippine basketball. Jimmy Alapag is perhaps the most transcendent figure in all of basketball.
Not very many people know that Alapag was supposed to be a lock to join Purefoods in the 2002 PBA Draft as an unknown from California. But the 5'9" enigma broke his hand and was unable to attend any pre-draft camps and became largely forgotten heading into the 2003 Draft.
By the end of the 2003 PBA season, Alapag was averaging 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and almost a steal a game. He emerged as the hands down ROY as he teamed up with Taulava and fellow rookie Harvey Carey to help the franchise to its first "official" PBA crown in the 2003 All-Filipino Conference. It would be the start of a long and fruitful career with TNT which would eventually end with six titles, three Mythical Team plums, 11 All-Star appearances and a league MVP trophy in 2011.
But then in 2013, he began establishing himself as one of the most iconic players to ever wear the national team jersey, leading Gilas Pilipinas to its first FIBA World Championship appearance in 40 years and highlighted his campaign by sinking the winning free throws against Senegal in the nationals' final game in the 2014 tournament.
Alapag also goes down in the annals of the PBA as the top three-point shooter in league history when he surpassed what was thought to be an unbreakable mark set by Allan Caidic in 2015.
Toughest cuts: Harvey Carey and Ali Peek
Many will look at Carey's numbers and say he had (or has had as he's still active) a decent career with the franchise. What is not seen is his longevity and his contributions that don't necessarily appear in the box scores. Carey has been hailed as the person who has maintained cohesion on the team despite many changes that the franchise has undergone. He is the second longest tenured player who is still active playing for the same franchise that drafted him (only Mark Caguioa of Barangay Ginebra beats him) and Alapag himself openly lobbied for Carey's inclusion on this list.
Peek only spent three seasons with TNT, but was a vital cog in five of its six championships in the early portion of the last decade. The case can be made that Peek won most of his career accolades before joining the team, but undeniable contributions made him a tough cut.