A brief look at Tim Cone's early life with basketball would provide little clues of him showing signs of being anything close to a coaching prodigy. In fact, Cone himself envisioned being a luminary in a completely different field.
"Generally, no, it was never really a goal of mine to be a coach," Cone said on An Eternity of Basketball by ESPN5.com's Charlie Cuna, Sid Ventura and Noel Zarate. "I wanted to be a writer. That was my big thing. I said, 'Mom, I want to be a writer. I want to be the next (Ernest) Hemingway or William Faulkner."
His affinity for the sport, however, had been there all along, starting from his "huge history" of watching Meralco in the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) from 1968 to 1972 and eventually, Toyota from 1975 onward.
"I was a huge, huge Toyota fan. I was a huge Meralco fan before that. I hated Crispa -- oh I hated Crispa with a passion -- although I became close to Baby Dalupan later on. He was like my nemesis; I hated Baby Dalupan because he always beat our Toyota or Meralco teams," he laughed. "I was just like everybody. I was a huge (Sonny) Jaworski fan, but my real guy was Mon Fernandez. Mon was my big hero."
A chance to watch Meralco and his heroes' practices up close came knocking one day through his best friend, whose sister apparently dated former Toyota player and coach Fort Acuña.
"(Fort) would come over to the girlfriend's house all the time, so we got to know Fort really well. I was always over there -- we we're living in San Lorenzo Village in Makati at the time, and he lived like five houses down and I used to be over there all the time."
"He just started inviting us to practices," he continued. "So we got to see a bunch of Meralco practices. We actually went to a movie at the Meralco Theater with the Meralco team with Francis Arnaiz, Jimmy Mariano, Big Boy Reynoso. Mon and Francis were the young kids, and even Jaworski was a young kid at the time. They were the new kids on the block at that time with Meralco."
A chance encounter with Fred Uytengsu
Cone credits Alaska team owner Fred Uytengsu for opening many doors throughout his PBA career, but the two actually go way back -- even before the two involved themselves in anything related to Philippine basketball.
"We went to high school together (at International School) and when I was in college, believe it or not, he was in the boarding school in the same campus going to high school. He had left Manila to go to a boarding school, and it just happened that I went to college at the same high school that he was at. We saw each other there as well," he explained.
The two didn't develop a close relationship growing up, though, even as Uytengsu went on to have a splendid career as a renowned swimmer with the University of Southern California.
"There's like a five to six years difference in age (between us), and he was a little pipsqueak, running around (International School)" Cone joked. "And then he became this incredibly big-time swimmer and USC, which was the number one program in the whole country. He had an amazing, amazing career in swimming and so became the real stud. We couldn't kick him around anymore."
When Cone started living in Manila, he happened to attend a certain US ambassador's party -- "I've never been to one before, I've never been to one since, but for some reason, I got into that party," he said -- and bumped into Uytengsu, who was also there.
The partnership between the two only thrived after that point.
As Cone landed a job as head coach of one of International School's teams, Uytengsu also watched intently and openly provided support.
"I just did it because I had a lot of time on my hands and they needed a coach and I knew the athletic director. I took over one of the teams," Cone recalled. "I lost my first seven games as a coach. Then we ended up winning six of our next eight, and made it to the playoffs just barely, and then we did well in the playoffs, won the semifinals.
"Fred came to watch the semifinal game. He actually came in and talked to the players before the game, and he had an incredible speech and we were the underdogs going into that game," the coach continued. "I think Fred watched that game and said, 'Hey, maybe this guy could coach.'"
Uytengsu also referred Cone to Vintage Sports, the official broadcaster of the PBA in the '80s, giving the future coach a chance to work with some famed voices on the air like Sev Sarmenta, Joe Cantada, Pinggoy Pengson and a handful others.
"I went through a tryout and they decided to put me on. I think it was the worst decision they ever made. I mean, I was terrible. I knew the game but I didn't know how to say it. But it was a lot of fun and I had a chance to work with all the greats," he quipped.
His involvement with the league through broadcasting later paved the way for opportunities with Uytengsu's Alaska, who later hired Cone to the post that he would hold for 22 years.
"There was a carousel going on. It's really a long story," he recounted. "But bottom line is I started consulting first. They moved away from (former head coach) Bogs (Adornado) and they hired the general manager to be the interim coach, and he wasn't really a basketball guy, so they asked me to help him out. Fred asked me to help him out, so I did. And then over about half a conference I became an assistant coach. And then after about another conference, I became the head coach.
"And my import when I took over the team, lo and behold, was Sean Chambers. He had come in as a replacement. And then about after his third or fourth game, I was hired as the head coach."
Before nearly getting fired in 1993 for his early trials with the triangle offense, a greenhorn Cone also had to manage being around the likes of winning veterans, both coaches and players alike, in order to start trekking down the path to success.
"Norman Black actually was winning the Grand Slam (with San Miguel) that year in 1989, the year I joined," said the coach. "So he was like the guy at that moment that was setting the bar by winning that Grand Slam at that time."
Added Cone: "It was very intimidating because the team I took over also had like five guys that were older than me at the time. Abet Guidaben was there, Yoyoy Villamin, Ricky Relosa. It was a veteran team."
Fortunately, Uytengsu backing him up all the way made things easier.
"He was really in my corner," he said of Uytengsu. "The first thing he said to me is, 'Tim, we want you to run this team like a business. We want it to be professional.' And that has been the way that he has run it from day one up to yesterday. It's always been about us being professionals and doing it the right way and doing it with integrity. That was his message from the very beginning."
Losing Jaworski's respect
Growing up, Cone held Jaworski in high regard and said the Hall of Famer guard "was one of my heroes." So when he earned the ire of Jaworski on accident in one game, he understandably felt awful.
The two-time Grand Slam coach narrated the experience, which happened after a loss to Ginebra. At some point in the game, Cone ordered his Alaska players to "freeze the ball" and take a shot clock violation to protest against the referees.
"I was protesting the referees. It had nothing to do with Sonny," he explained. "And in the Cuneta Astrodome, as I was leaving, I went by Sonny Jaworski to congratulate him for the win and to tell him I'm sorry about what I did, that it wasn't about him, it wasn't about Ginebra, but it was really a protest about the referees. But before I could even say anything, he turned to me and said, 'I have lost all my respect for you as a coach.' And then he turned away."
"I was crushed. I was broken. Really, really hurt. I slunk my way out of the coliseum and found my way to the car," he described. "I remember that because it was so painful for him to say that to me."
The two were able to put the incident behind them after some time, according to Cone.
"It didn't last. Over the years, we've made up and we're -- I wouldn't say we're best friends -- but were very good friends," he said.
Tim Cone's coaching nemesis
Tim Cone identifies the PBA coach against whom he's had the least success.
Cone's toughest match-up
In his path to a record 22 championships, Cone figured in countless chess matches against coaches that, at some point, gave him sleepless nights.
But when asked to name his toughest matchup, Cone based his choice on the one coach whom he had the least success against.
"Ryan (Gregorio) beat me up all the time. Beat me up," he said.
Gregorio was a thorn on Cone's side in the 2006 Philippine Cup semifinals, where the Alaska Aces squandered a 3-1 lead in the semifinals and were booted out by the Purefoods Chunkee Giants, who would go on to win the title that conference.
Four years later, Gregorio gave Cone fits again as the Aces, riding the high of a four-game sweep against Barangay Ginebra in the semifinals, failed to win a single game against the Tender Juicy Giants in the 2009-10 All-Filipino finals.
"I mean, all the toughest moments -- and I also remember, we had a 32-point lead against Ryan Gregorio, and he came back and beat us in that 32-point game -- he just had my number. He's my kontrapelo," admitted Cone.
"I've actually said to him before that he gave me more problems than any other coach. I had bad success against Yeng and Chot and Norman and all those other guys, but not like the hurting, really painful ones by Ryan."