As hard as it may be to picture today, there was actually a time when Marc Pingris -- one of coach Tim Cone's staunchest supporters ever -- almost gave up on the two-time Grand Slam mentor.
In An Eternity of Basketball by ESPN5.com's Charlie Cuna, Sid Ventura and Noel Zarate, Cone revealed how the spirited big man privately asked Purefoods management for a trade as he struggled early on to learn the triangle.
"At the time, he didn't come to me obviously. He wouldn't come to me to say, 'Coach, I wanna get out of here.' But he went to our team [governor], Mr. Rene Pardo. He went over to Mr. Pardo and told him that he wants to be traded because he felt he would never learn the triangle. And he just didn't think he could learn it," he shared.
Cone said Pardo eventually dissuaded Pingris from his request and advised him to continue conquering the learning curve.
"Apparently he was really bothered by the fact that he didn't feel he could learn, and he might be better off moving to another team, and Mr. Pardo told me that he said, 'Give coach Tim a chance, just keep working at it and let's see where we can go," he continued.
Of course, the results of Pingris willingly taking on the challenge of understanding the complexities of the famed system are etched in the league's annals.
With Pingris serving as the emotional leader of Cone's teams, San Mig Coffee emerged as the team of the first half of the 2010s after clinching a Grand Slam in 2014 -- becoming only the fifth team in history to do so, and making Cone the first and only coach so far to win two Triple Crowns.
Pingris also eventually distinguished himself in Cone's eyes as one of three players to really understand the triangle offense, just behind former teammate Joe Devance and former Alaska star Bong Hawkins.
"He got to a point where he understood the triangle better than anybody," he said. "And the great thing about Ping and Bong both is if you weren't running a triangle, if you were doing something on your own, they would let you know.
"They weren't afraid to tell you, 'Hey, no, get back to what we're doing'. And that was really crucial to our success, those two guys with that incredible buy-in and understanding, and then making sure that everybody else toed the line and did their best in trying to stay with it. That was really crucial to our winning."
Cone said he never got to discuss the request with Pingris and only learned about it after the Coffee Mixers won the Grand Slam.
"I never really talked to Marc about it, because this is the story that was told to me through Mr. Pardo," he said. "By the time I heard this, we'd already won the Grand Slam, so there was no reason to talk to Marc about it anymore."
Jolas had his gripes, too
Eighteen years before Cone's second Grand Slam, it also took winning for one of his stars in Jojo Lastimosa to buy in to the triangle offense.
"First and foremost, Jojo is a winner. I mean it. That's all he cares about -- winning. He doesn't care about numbers and points and whatever. He wants to win," said Cone.
Much like Michael Jordan -- and later, the late Kobe Bryant -- under Phil Jackson, Lastimosa was initially apprehensive about the triangle offense, its sustainability and the way it took the ball out of his hands in favor of a more equal shot distribution among teammates.
"He was like Michael," Cone said of Lastimosa. "When MJ was with Doug Collins, every play was run through Michael Jordan. So, when you come in with an equal sharing offense, it's like, 'Hey, I'm used to getting 30-50 touches a game, and now it might be 20,' and your immediate reaction is 'Hey, you should put the ball in my hands, I'm the best player. Why would you let that guy shoot it when he's only going to shoot 30 percent and when I'm going to shoot at 60 percent?'"
Continued Cone: "Jojo complained. Jojo had that personality. But even Michael Jordan complained. Kobe complained a lot. In the beginning, he was really angry that everything was running through Shaq (O'Neal) and not to him in the beginning. And he was happy when Phil Jackson left, and he was able to play for Rudy Tomjanovich. And then they were terrible, and he goes, 'Oh no, I need Phil back, I want to run the triangle again.' So he asked for Phil back."
Tim Cone's devotion to the triangle
"If you're not running Tex Winter's triangle, then you are not running the triangle," says Tim Cone.
When Alaska was able to add more viable options on the offensive end and when Lastimosa eventually figured out that something needed to change in order for the Aces to start winning, only then did he relent and fully embrace the triangle's egalitarian approach.
"The whole game plan was about stopping Jojo. We didn't get it done. So it became harder and harder and harder for him to play. So when we got Johnny (Abarrientos) and when we got Bong (Hawkins) and we started getting the pieces, and we started doing the sharing and the triangle, suddenly the game got easier and we started winning. And that's what convinced Jojo," noted Cone. "And I can tell you that's exactly the same thing happened to Michael. Michael started to see that, 'Hey, we can win this way'."
"The thing that you have to make them realize is -- and I love this expression -- one is too small of a number for greatness. You don't do things on your own. You can't achieve greatness on your own."
When all was said and done, Cone said almost every player that played under the triangle loved the system and cherished the unimpeachable winning results it provided.
"I tell you at the end, every player I can think of -- and I'm sure there might be an exception here or there -- but every player I can think of that ran the triangle with us, every import that ran the triangle with us, when it was all done and over, when they were finished with us, when they moved on to another team, when they retired, they loved the triangle. They loved to play in the triangle. They really did. I can honestly say that," he said.
"You hear about Michael and Scottie (Pippen) and all those guys talking about the triangle now. It's a fantastic thing," Cone continued. "The thing it brings, I think, most of all, is it brings great camaraderie and it brings great chemistry. Because everybody's involved, every moment of the play. And so you don't feel left out. You don't feel like, 'Oh, I'm being overshadowed by Michael' or, 'I'm being overshadowed by Jojo or overshadowed by Johnny.' There's a sharing that goes on. Because of that sharing, there's a chemistry and a camaraderie that develops. And I think that really helps the team."
James Yap never complained
While Pingris and Lastimosa disliked the triangle at some point in their careers, Cone said Yap proved to be the unlikely outlier.
Yap had to make a massive adjustment from being the focal point of the offense in the years before Cone arrived, but the two-time MVP apparently never expressed any contempt when he went through his own learning struggles.
"Imagine James Yap. When he was with Ryan (Gregorio), Ryan would run every play through James and James would get all these touches. But James was such a nice guy. He never complained. Never complained. It was amazing," raved Cone.
"Even if he wanted to leave, he would never say it. I mean he just too nice of a guy. He would never say it. He probably did want to leave at some point, but he was just too nice. I mean, James is like the nicest guy you'll ever, ever meet. So pleasant to be around."