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.
Founded in 1988, the Magnolia Hotshots franchise hit the ground running and turned into one of the most successful and most popular teams in the the PBA. With 14 championships under its belt, the team more popularly referred to as Purefoods was a stop for many superstars in the league.
Led by playing coach Ramon Fernandez in 1988, their inaugural roster had outstanding talent such as Glenn Capacio, Jojo Lastimosa, Al Solis, and Jack Tanuan. Throughout its history, great players arrived and great players left under the auspices of outstanding coaches such as Baby Dalupan, Chot Reyes, Eric Altamirano, Ryan Gregorio, and Tim Cone, but there have been four distinct superstars who have left an indelible mark on the Purefoods franchise.
The managers of the franchise knew very early on that they had something special in their hands in Alvin Patrimonio. It is often discussed why the trio of Patrimonio, Lastimosa, and Jerry Codinera was broken up since it looked like a group that could have won multiple championships together.
However, they decided that Patrimonio was going to be the top dog of the team and they were not mistaken. After Robert Jaworski with Ginebra, there is no other player more synonymous to a franchise than Patrimonio with Purefoods. His connection with the fans from the day he entered the league up until today serving as a team manager has been unbroken.
A four-time Most Valuable Player, a 10-time Mythical First Team member, a 12-time All-Star, and a member of the 25 Greatest Players in PBA history, Patrimonio is one of the most respected and beloved members of the Philippine basketball community because of his skill and, more importantly, his heart. Known simply as The Captain, Patrimonio was a beaming example of what a PBA ambassador should be.
Patrimonio played for the Purefoods franchise from 1988 to 2004 and no one is allowed to wear his #16 ever again.
Codiñera could have been a superstar if he landed on any other team. The Defense Minister could have chosen a different path, outside of Patrimonio's shadow, and he could have easily been a rival, maybe even compete for some of the MVPs that Patrimonio ended up winning. However, he knew early on the path he wanted to take. Personal glory was welcome, but winning championships was the ultimate goal.
Few players in the history of the league put in more hours honing their defensive craft as much as Codiñera. He was not the tallest at 6-foot-5, but he was a real student of the game. He studied the tendencies of his opponents to figure out the best way to stop them.
While Patrimonio mostly showed his leadership through action, Codiñera knew there was also a need to be vocal about it, so that's what he did.
It's actually a bit difficult to believe that he only won Defensive Player of the Year once (1994) when defense was part of his monicker, but he was a constant member of the All-Defensive Team (nine times).
Ask any Purefoods fan about what they think the franchise's darkest moment is and they won't pick a tough loss to Ginebra or falling short in the Finals against Alaska or San Miguel Beer -- they would all tell you that it was when Codiñera was traded away and this just shows his imprint on the squad.
Like Patrimonio, Codiñera's #44 was also retired by the franchise.
With Patrimonio's playing days already numbered, Purefoods needed a future superstar who would carry the franchise for the next several years. They found one during the 2004 PBA Rookie Draft when they selected James Yap.
The team was stuck in a rut before his arrival as they were coming off their worst season ever with only nine wins against 27 losses, failing to enter the quarterfinals in all the three PBA conferences. However, when they selected Yap, it was clear that the franchise was going to turn a corner.
A seven-time PBA champion, including the Grand Slam in 2014, Yap defied all expectations to become one of the all-time greats in the PBA. A two-time MVP, a four-time Finals MVP, and a 16-time PBA All-Star, the Escalante native was expected to follow the footsteps of Patrimonio and play for only one franchise.
However, this storybook ending was cut short when he was traded to Rain or Shine for Paul Lee. Still, Yap's contributions to the franchise remain incomparable. It was not easy being the bridge from the Patrimonio years to the new era, but he managed to do it.
Sometimes, it's funny how things work out. A Purefoods legend ended up being a mentor to a future Purefoods legend, but they were both wearing purple and white when it happened. After Codiñera was traded away, he ultimately landed with FedEx where he was teamed up with an energetic and athletic but raw Marc Pingris.
Codiñera, perhaps seeing Pingris' potential, spent time passing his knowledge, which unknowingly became an important contribution for Purefoods' future.
A nine-time PBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and 15-time All Star, Pinoy Sakuragi is another member of the Magnolia franchise who made it into the PBA's 40 Greatest Players.
There were a lot of tough cuts such as Rey Evangelista who also had his #7 retired by the franchise. The quiet and often unassuming forward was an integral part of the squad as he altered his game from a high-scoring asset in college to a scrappy defender in the PBA.
Kerby Raymundo, another member of the PBA's 40 Greatest Players, is perhaps the toughest cut. The only thing that worked against him was that he did not play for the Purefoods franchise as long as the other four did.
Still in the team right now are two more difficult cuts in PJ Simon and Mark Barroca, but Patrimonio, Codinera, Yap, and Pingris are simply on a different level when it comes to what they did for the franchise.