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.
Though the past decades haven't been the most illustrious for the Alaska Aces, there's no doubt that the franchise carries a lot of weight in the hearts and minds of many PBA fans.
After all, several of today's up and coming star guards are still being compared to Alaska's legendary Johnny Abarrientos, while a team's success is measured against what Alaska was able to achieve in the 90's.
That being said, trimming down the four best Alaska players in franchise history is a tough task. After all, the Aces had a "we not me" mantra which has been the secret to their success throughout different eras.
But it had to be done. Here is the Mt. Rushmore for the Alaska Milkmen/Aces.
When you talk about the Alaska franchise, it begins and ends with arguably the greatest point guard in Philippine basketball history, Johnny Abarrientos.
Drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the 1993 PBA Draft, The Flying A wasted no time putting himself on the map with his razzle-dazzle moves, fearless drives to the basket, and relentless Doberman-like defense that forced opposing guards into turnovers even before they were able to cross halfcourt.
The Aces knew they had their franchise player in Abarrientos, so they went about building a team around him. With Abarrientos at the helm, and critical pieces like Jojo Lastimosa, Bong Hawkins, Poch Juinio and Jeff Cariaso, Alaska shot right to the top and won a rare Grand Slam during the 1996 season. That magical season concluded with Abarrientos running away with the MVP trophy, in one of the most dominant single-season runs in league history.
Along the way, Abarrientos helped Alaska win 9 PBA titles, and was named Finals MVP in two of those. He's also a 6-time Mythical team member and one of the PBA's 25 Greatest Players. One of the most exciting players to watch in his prime, Abarrientos is a shoo-in for this list.
There may have been better shooters or more athletic guards in the PBA, but very few of them can come close to replicating what Jojo Lastimosa was able to do when the stakes were unimaginably high.
Dubbed "The Fourth Quarter Man", Lastimosa had the ability to hit big shots in the clutch, regardless of whether or not he was in a scoring groove prior to that. There were several times Lastimosa would struggle from the field during the first three quarters of the contest. But when the stakes were high, teams were deathly afraid of Jolas as he would let shots fly with supreme confidence. Thus, he helped transition the Milkmen into its golden years, and extended it way beyond the team's Grand Slam run. It's a wonder then that the 1988 Rookie of the Year actually arrived on the Alaska scene via a trade with the Purefoods franchise.
Lastimosa was a critical part of 9 titles with the PBA, and was also named Finals MVP for the All Filipino Cup in 1996, the team's Grand Slam year. He's a four-time Mythical Team selection, and also a member of the PBA's 25 Greatest Players.
It's crazy to look back at this now, but there was a time that Kenneth Duremdes was playing in the shadow of another PBA legend, Vergel "The Aerial Voyager" Meneses. Though the two were able to help the Sunkist Orange Juicers win two titles in the 1995 season and come achingly close to a Grand Slam, everyone knew that Duremdes' talent was far too talented to be buried on the bench.
So when Sunkist made the shocking move of trading Duremdes for a package that included Dwight Lago and Boyet Fernandez, everyone expected his career to take off. Several decades later, it's now looked upon as one of the biggest heists in PBA trade history.
Duremdes may not have had the lengthiest career with Alaska, but it was definitely one of the most fruitful partnerships in league history. Beginning in 1998, Duremdes went on a torrid stretch that included leading Alaska to championships in the All-Filipino and Commissioner's Cup, culminating in being named league MVP at the end of the season. In fact, Duremdes could have easily led the Aces to its second Grand Slam in two years, if he and several teammates weren't called to be part of the Centennial Team in the 1998 Asian Games.
In total, "Captain Marbel" helped Alaska to four titles. Along the way, he was also two-time Best Player of the Conference, and a member of the PBA's 25 Greatest Players. Duremdes helped Alaska put a stamp on its title as Team of the Decade in the 90s, and is regarded as one of the greatest and most versatile swingmen in PBA history.
While Duremdes' illustrious stint with Alaska blazed relatively quickly and brightly, Thoss brought stability and reliability to the Aces in a career that has spanned over 16 years. Consider this: he was drafted in the 2004 Draft as the 5th overall pick, and he's still going strong alongside batchmates like James Yap and Marc Pingris.
Thoss has never had a sexy game, and has rarely been seen on highlight reels, but that doesn't discount how impactful his game has been on the different versions of Alaska squads. While several of his teammates have come and gone, Thoss has been there through it all.
Thoss is a three-time PBA champion with Alaska, and was Finals MVP in the 2013 Commissioner's Cup title run. He's also a six-time Mythical Team member.
"The Boss" is rumored to be hanging up the jersey at the end of the 2020 Philippine Cup. If that is so, it will be the end of the era for one of the most loyal players in PBA history. Thoss has been with Alaska for so long, giving his all in the most business-like and professional manner. The greatest center in Alaska history will definitely be missed when he steps away from the game.
Tony dela Cruz