Some PBA coaches could easily name their personal top five players of all-time, but Barangay Ginebra mentor Tim Cone isn't really too keen on coming up with his own list.
"There's always someone you're leaving out. I've been in the league for 30 years -- how many players have I coached and been involved with in 34 finals appearances? There's a lot of players that have been involved," he said on An Eternity of Basketball by ESPN5.com's Charlie Cuna, Sid Ventura and Noel Zarate. "It's a tough question for me. It really is."
One star from his first Grand Slam, however, stood out from the rest of the pack.
"Ultimately, I will say Johnny Abarrientos deserves to be there. But beyond Johnny, I don't want to say anymore. I really don't want to say," he laughed. "It's easy to say Johnny, it's hard to say everybody else."
"How do you compare Bong Hawkins to Marc Pingris? How do you compare James Yap with Jojo Lastimosa? You can go through all these things all the way through, but ultimately, Johnny was the best."
Cone perhaps trusted Abarrientos like no other player he has ever come across in his coaching career, and for good reason. Armed with a lethal offensive repertoire and timely instincts on defense that negated any disadvantage posed by his height, the cerebral point guard was the ultimate stabilizing force in the backcourt for the Alaska Milkmen for eight fruitful years.
Those years included nine titles in between and a rare Grand Slam -- only the league's fourth at the time -- in 1996, when Abarrientos also won his lone Most Valuable Player award.
"I'm sorry for the other guys, but I would I think Johnny deserves that mantle of being the best that I've ever coached. And I know Hector Calma very well, and I always apologize to him. But I say, 'Hector, Johnny was the best point guard ever.' And now I have to apologize to Jayson Castro as well. But Jayson was more of a 'points' guard," explained Cone.
Abarrientos, a two-time Finals MVP and eight-time PBA All-Star, would go on to win three more titles as a player and retired as the league's all-time leader in steals in 2010.
Cone would go on to say that Abarrientos also belonged in the greatest of all-time conversations and said that his size may perhaps be the reason he's not mentioned there as often.
"Johnny, I think was the greatest point guard ever and maybe one of the greatest players of all time," he raved. "I just think that he was small so it doesn't get included with Fajardo and Ramon Fernandez and all those guys. But he was truly special. And to be around him, like I was, I knew how special he was."
Sean Chambers or Justin Brownlee
Tim Cone is put on the spot when asked about arguably the two best imports he's ever coached.
Brownlee vs. Chambers
Cone was also hard-pressed to pick between Alaska's Sean Chambers and Ginebra's Justin Brownlee, two imports who distinguished themselves from the rest with their electric play and winning pedigree.
"They're two peas in a pod. They are both so incredibly likable, but for different reasons," said Cone.
The two share a penchant for steering Cone's teams to multiple titles, but the coach said the comparison ends there.
Cone credits Chambers for being the catalyst of success in his first decade of coaching in the PBA.
"You gotta remember, Sean came to me when I was really, really young. And I needed that kind of support from a guy like him. Without him, I wouldn't be here talking to you now. Sean was everything," he said.
"Remember, he was the only guy that was incumbent that I had that made that Grand Slam team. We built that Grand Slam team, you know, Fred (Uytengsu, Alaska owner) and (team manager) Joaqui Trillo and myself, over the years through trades and draft picks. But Sean was the constant through all those years," he added. "And we won six championships with him. He's still the winningiest import of all time. He was incredibly special."
Chambers' extroverted personality was also infectious and helped break the ice in tense situations.
"Sean is much more boisterous and talkative. He's so much fun to be around. He'll crack jokes and he'll be with anybody," Cone described. "He would talk to anybody, anywhere, and he would be your best friend in a moment. And he had such an infectious personality and that went over the whole team.
"And I never worried about chemistry, anything that had problems with chemistry when Sean came in, because I knew that he would take care of it, he would figure it out. He would go over smooth the feathers of Jojo (Lastimosa), or Bong (Hawkins) would be mad at me for two-a-days (practices) and he'd go, 'Bong, come on, you can do two-a-days.' We would never have a chemistry problem with Sean around."
Brownlee, on the other hand, was a more pacified presence that regaled himself in the joy of others before letting his work do the talking.
"Justin is also an incredibly nice person in a very, very different way. He's extremely quiet, you know. He doesn't talk a lot, but he is a giggler. He giggles all the time. And he giggles and laughs at any joke -- I don't care how dumb it is, how bad it is or whatever, he would laugh. He loves to laugh. And that just makes him so fun to be around all the time," said Cone. "And he's such an incredible player and he's so incredibly humble. He just doesn't know how good he is as a basketball player, you know, and he is that good. And he's that good of a person."
Cone also credited the four-time champion Brownlee for making him be more innovative with his offense instead of always relying on the famed triangle offense.
"It's been really nice to have a Justin this late in my career, and you know, he actually was the one that brought me out of the triangle a little because he was such a special talent. We wanted to do a couple other things with him," he said.
Blakely and Simpkins
In between experiences with Chambers and Blakely, two more imports left their marks on Cone. The two-time Grand Slam coach also named Marqus Blakely as one of his favorites, as the cerebral 2013 Best Import awardee proved his worth by anchoring San Mig Coffee in two of four straight titles that was punctuated by a Triple Crown in the 2014 Governors' Cup.
"Marqus Blakely was an incredible guy to have around as well. Marqus won two championships with us in that Grand Slam year. In that streak of four championships, two of them were his. And he was an incredible guy also, for another different reason. Different personality completely from the other two, but also very nice," he said.
Former Chicago Bull and Michael Jordan teammate Dickie Simpkins was up there even if the import failed to deliver a title for the Alaska Aces in 2005.
"He played with the Chicago Bulls and was part of that Last Dance. I've seen him on a couple of videos in The Last Dance, and he was the only import I ever had that knew the triangle when he came in. He knew the triangle as well as I did, maybe even better than I did when he came in as an import. And that was a real special time," he said.
"He told us stories, and it was a lot of fun having him on the team. Too bad he hurt his back in the quarterfinals. He could barely stand up, but he fought through it and tried to win for us but we got knocked out by Red Bull."
Simpkins playing under Phil Jackson's triangle offense meant that he fit in like a glove with the Aces, which ran a "carbon copy" of the famed system under Cone.
"He stepped in and it was like a piece of cake for him. He was surprised at how we ran it," shared Cone. "The thing is, it was just such a seamless entry as opposed to other imports, where they had to come in and go through the herky-jerkyness of learning it and we had to show them video and had to go through all the steps. It was always a learning curve.
"But for Dickie, it was so similar. He came in as a replacement import, and we had lost like our first three games, or we were like 1-4 or something like that when he came in and then really stepped in and we went on a winning streak. And, again, he was just so seamless."