PBA fans and players alike often wonder what could have happened if their teams took a different route at the forks in the road littered throughout the league's history.
What if we remembered Danny Ildefonso as a Tanduay legend instead of a Beerman? What if Tim Cone never left the Alaska franchise? What if Terrence Romeo was picked by Barangay Ginebra instead of Jason Forrester?
As we near the 45th anniversary of the PBA, let's explore some alternate realities from the 2000s and 2010s.
DANNY ILDEFONSO MOVES TO TANDUAY
There was a time when Danny Ildefonso was the best of the best among Filipino basketball players and his success was synonymous with his time with the San Miguel Beermen.
At the turn of the century, Ildefonso was at the peak of his powers and guiding a contending Beermen team. Individually, Ildefonso copped back-to-back MVP plums, was crowned Finals MVP of the 2000 Commissioner's Cup, and racked up five Best Player of the Conferences Awards in the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
In that same span, the Beermen featured in the Finals for five straight conferences behind Ildefonso, Danny Siegle, and Olsen Racela. Import Lamont Strothers also played a big role in ensuring San Miguel were always in contention.
But what if Danny I's tenure with the Beermen was cut short?
In 2001, Ildefonso got an eye-popping offer sheet from the Tanduay Franchise that could have changed the very composition of the league. Tanduay management offered the reigning MVP a whopping P96 million, 16-year contract to jump ship.
The PBA board eventually ruled that the offer sheet violated the league's salary structure, and the deal fell through. Ildefonso stayed with the Beermen where he eventually nabbed all eight of his championships as a player.
It is tantalizing to think of what Ildefonso's impact would have been with the Tanduay franchise of the early 2000s. Ildefonso would have led the charge alongside Erik Menk, Dondon Hontiveros, Jeffrey Cariaso, Bong Hawkins, and Noli Locsin.
History tells us that the despite a lot of investment and a good roster on paper, Tanduay failed to reach the Finals in 2001 before selling the franchise to FedEx at the end of the year. But if they had Ildefonso, that could have been a different story.
Ildefonso was a difference maker, and could have ensured that Tanduay would figure in deep playoff runs in 2001. After all, 'The Demolition Man' was so good that year that he swept all three Best Player of the Conference nods that season.
Had the deal pushed through, Tanduay wouldn't have sold their franchise at the end of the year. Instead, they would have been happy to see all their pieces finally click into place and win the franchise's first championship since the 1987 Open Conference.
Ildefonso would have easily been the face of that franchise given his price tag, and his time with the Beermen would probably just be a footnote in his career. Other teams that would have been affected are the Coca-Cola Tigers and Barangay Ginebra, who probably wouldn't have acquired the services Cariaso and Menk, respectively.
Who knows? Ildefonso could have been the key who would've given Tanduay the instant success they craved for in the early 2000s.
JIMMY ALAPAG DOES NOT BREAK HAND
Jimmy Alapag had a storied career in the PBA, finishing with six PBA titles, an MVP nod, two Finals MVP awards, and 11 All-Star call-ups. For most of his PBA career, he was one of the league's most dynamic guards, dishing out assists, scoring a lot, and even rebounding at a high clip.
Given Alapag's excellence in his first year, which saw him claim Rookie of the Year honors, it is no surprise that he was a vital cog in Talk 'N Text's most successful period in the 2000s and 2010s. So how is it that someone so obviously talented early in his career fall to 10th in the 2003 PBA Draft?
The story goes that Alapag tried out for the 2002 Asian Games squad headed by coach Jong Uichico. The Mighty Mouse failed to make the cut, with a broken hand hampering his ability. With the memory of a less than sterling performance in the national team pool still fresh, the 5'9" Alapag's draft stock plummeted.
Mike Cortez, Rommel Adducul, Eddie Laure, Harvey Carey, Brandon Cablay, Billy Mamaril, Enrico Villanueva, Marlon Legaspi, and Reynel Hugnatan were all taken before Alapag. To rub salt into the wound, the Alaska Aces ended up with two picks in the top nine and didn't use either on the diminutive guard.
With all due respect to the players selected before Alapag, it is safe to say that the "Mighty Mouse" had the most impactful career during his time in the PBA.
If he didn't injure his hand, Alapag would have made the national team and played in the 2002 Asian Games. The Philippines might have beaten South Korea in the semi-finals of that tournament. Who knows? The Philippines could have beaten China for the gold.
With an Asian Games medal around his neck, Alapag definitely wouldn't fall to 10th in the 2003 PBA Draft and could have been picked in the top three.
If Alapag was selected by Alaska with the first pick, head coach Tim Cone would have filled a position of need for the long term. Alapag would instantly draw comparisons to another Alaska great in Johnny Abarrientos, who left the team in 2001.
Alapag would have spent most of his career with Alaska, and probably retired with numerous rings playing under Cone.
Another scenario could have seen Alapag join Barangay Ginebra as the second pick. Interestingly, 2003 was the year that Ginebra missed out on the services of Jayjay Helterbrand after failing to negotiate a new contract, so there was a spot for Alapag to fit in the Ginebra guard rotation had they picked him.
Alapag could have challenged veterans Bal David and Elmer Lago for minutes alongside a young Mark Caguioa in his rookie year. If Alapag was given time, then maybe he could have fit in so nicely that management would start to dream of a guard rotation that involved Alapag and Helterbrand in 2004.
That would have been years of "The Fast, The Furious", and the "Mighty Mouse" for Ginebra fans to enjoy.
But of course, Shell could have signed Alapag with the third overall pick. While it would be unrealistic to say that Alapag would have salvaged the last season of the Shell franchise in the league, he probably would have still put up the numbers.
Shell folded at the end of 2003, trading their players in a fire sale. Tony Dela Cruz and Rich Alvarez were both shipped to Alaska, while Ronald Tubid moved to Air21 as a result. Who knows where Alapag could have gone then?
TIM CONE STAYS WITH ALASKA
The year 2011 marked a period of change for the Alaska franchise. After 22 seasons, head coach Tim Cone decided to part ways with the team that he helped give 13 championships in search for a new challenge.
A few weeks later, Cone found himself in charge of the Purefoods franchise and reinvigorated his winning ways underneath the SMC umbrella. Cone went on to win nine championships, including an elusive Grand Slam, with the Purefoods and Barangay Ginebra franchises to solidify his legacy as the PBA's most winningest coach in history.
While Cone proved his winning pedigree with Purefoods and Ginebra anew, would that still have been the case had he stayed with Alaska?
Purefoods would have kept Richard del Rosario as the head coach after moving on from now-San Miguel assistant Jorge Gallent. It would have been the first assignment of del Rosario as a head coach in the PBA, and there would have been growing pains in the first season. Still, with a talented roster with a core of James Yap, Marc Pingris, PJ Simon, Purefoods would have contended for trophies.
Cone's last triumph with Alaska came in the 2010 Fiesta Conference, when they beat San Miguel in six games in the Finals. Had Cone stayed in 2011 he would have known that the team wasn't too far away from another run at a championship, but probably needed an injection of talent to compete again.
Cone would have kept Alaska in the playoffs, which means they avoid their disastrous slide in the 2011-12 season. Unfortunately, that means they would miss out on who turned out to be the second overall pick of the 2012 draft, Calvin Abueva.
Alaska would have kept LA Tenorio away from Barangay Ginebra, while still making a move to acquire Dondon Hontiveros in 2012. Cone typically shines in import-laden conferences, and probably would have won a few more Commissioner's and Governors' Cups for Alaska.
There wouldn't be a second Grand Slam for Cone though, especially with the talent that B-Meg, Talk 'N Text, and the San Miguel Beermen had on their rosters in the early to mid 2010s. But still, there was little doubt that Cone would have surpassed Baby Dalupan's record PBA title haul of 15 had he stayed with the Alaska franchise.
PAUL HARRIS DOESN'T GET INJURED, BROWNLEE DOES NOT JOIN GINEBRA
The 2016 PBA Governors' Cup signaled the end of the trophy draught for the Barangay Ginebra franchise. After eight years without a trophy, a dramatic Justin Brownlee buzzer beater against the Meralco Bolts ushered in a new era of success for Ginebra.
It's hard to imagine that Brownlee's chance with the team came at the expense of veteran import Paul Harris, who injured his thumb in the first game of the conference. Things could have been so different for Ginebra had Harris stayed healthy and completed his stint with the team.
Harris was no pushover -- in his first stint in the PBA he helped Talk 'N Text to a championship in 2011. Harris made such a good impression that he came back two more times for Talk 'N Text and featured in the semifinals both times.
While not the offensive powerhouse Brownlee turned out to be, Tim Cone was happy with Paul Harris in the lead-up to the conference opener. The then-29 year-old forward would have helped the crowd favorite ball club into a deep playoff run. The key question is whether or not Harris could have got one over "The Hulk" Allen Durham in a best-of-seven Finals series.
It would be no surprise to see Meralco taking home a Governors' Cup in Durham's dominant three-year run with the Bolts.
Harris would get a shot at being Ginebra's first resident import of the Tim Cone-era, and probably would have ended up with a couple of rings in the process. But history showed that European teams would hire him throughout the years, limiting Harris to only three conferences at most for Ginebra. The Kings would continue to look for a new import that Cone would call up regularly.
As for Brownlee? With the late Sheryl Reyes responsible for bringing him to the country, he found another PBA team to call home. Brownlee could have easily ended up with Phoenix or the San Miguel Beermen, who eventually signed two of Reyes' players in Eugene Phelps and Elijah Millsap, respectively.
Maybe Brownlee would have been a perfect fit for either San Miguel or Phoenix that he still ends up hitting a buzzer-beater for a crown in his time in the Philippines.
GINEBRA PICKS ROMEO OVER FORRESTER
Drafts picks are typically hit or miss, and Barangay Ginebra would be disappointed on missing out on what turned out to be one the league's most dynamic scorers by a single pick back in 2013.
Terrence Romeo, who eventually goes on to be a three-time PBA scoring champ, was selected fifth overall in 2013 after Ginebra passed on him in favor of Arellano-product James Forrester. The lesser-known Forrester barely saw time on the floor for Ginebra's then-head coach Ato Agustin. Romeo, on the other hand, dropped 34 points in his second pro game and eventually became a known as a bucket-getter in the league.
Had Ginebra drafted Romeo, there was no guarantee that he would have had the same impact as he did in GlobalPort early on in his career. While there is little doubt that Romeo would eventually shine in Ginebra, he would do so after earning his spot in what was a crowded guard rotation at the time.
It would have been clear to Ginebra management that they had a potential star in their hands after a few conferences, and would not trade him like they did Forrester after just two seasons. But that would mean Ginebra would miss out on Scottie Thompson in 2015.
Romeo would have shined, as most Ginebra players did, under Tim Cone. Cone's first season saw him clear out the guard rotation and dealt away Emman Monfort and Josh Urbiztondo, which would have allowed Romeo more time to shine alongside LA Tenorio.
Romeo would win championships with Cone as the franchise entered another period of sustained success. The Kings would have all the scoring punch they need with a tandem of both Tenorio and Romeo in the guard spots, and would eventually have a good problem of fitting in late acquisition Stanley Pringle in as well.
An attacking small-ball triumvirate of Romeo, Pringle, and Tenorio would frustrate most opposition, with Ginebra contending for championships in every conference up until the early 2020s.