The Purefoods franchise won its first Grand Slam feat in 2014 with the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers. Key members of that squad, including Tim Cone, Marc Pingris, Mark Barroca and Rafi Reavis took part in a lively discussion on the 2OT podcast on Saturday and shared some stories about that special year.
Cone is the only coach in league history to have won two Grand Slams -- one with Alaska and another with San Mig Super Coffee. But when asked how he'd differentiate the two, Cone offered contrasting observations.
"People always ask me, what's the difference between the Grand Slam of the old Alaska team (of 1996) and the Grand Slam of this (San Mig) team? The old Alaska team in the third conference, they just kind of breezed through," Cone said. "They had a 13-game win streak. They had a 3-0 lead in the Finals. They lost one game, and then won the next so it was like a piece of cake in the third conference. And they also won four straight championships."
Cone said San Mig Coffee had to go through numerous anxious moments throughout the course of the 2014 season before they achieved the rare feat.
"But this team, what they had to go through to win each championship was absolutely heart wrenching. There was no feeling of, 'Oh yeah, we got this one!' So it was always that sense, that perseverance, the character of having to win those games every time," said Cone, who also mentioned how the team had a slow start in each of the three conferences of that season.
Reavis, one of the team's senior players, praised Cone for changing the culture of the squad since taking the reins in 2011.
"He made it fun. Practice was fun because you wanna go to practice. You know you're gonna have a good time," recalled Reavis. "We'd been watching John Maxwell, (Coach Tim talked about) some excerpt from a book or something like that, always something challenging, challenging our minds that would help us not only in the court, but in life, and everybody just bought in."
But Cone was quick to deflect the credit, saying it was the players who put in the work in their drive to win the Grand Slam.
In the 2014 Commissioner's Cup, the Mixers joined the playoffs as the sixth seed. They beat Alaska and Air 21 in the semifinals to set up a finals date with Talk 'N Text, which was undefeated heading into the championship series. But with James May leading the team's defensive effort, and James Yap, Peter June Simon, Marc Pingris and Mark Barroca providing heroic moments, San Mig stunned Talk 'N Text in four games to win the title.
"Just like the second conference where we had to go through the length with Alaska, and the length of FedEx (Air21). And then go play the undefeated team TNT (in the playoffs). The character this team showed and go through what we did, it's unheard of," he said on beating the Richard Howell-led Talk 'N Text squad.
"To me, it was in many ways more satisfying. What they say, the harder it is, the more satisfying it is, for us it was so hard, every moment, every time we're on the brink of not doing it so that when we finally did it, it was so satisfying. But it's also a relief we had it all done."
Grand Slam finish
Allein Maliksi, who spent time recovering from a torn ACL in 2014, admitted that when the Mixers finally won the Commissioner's Cup, there was already talk circling around about winning the Grand Slam.
"Of course, as in every team, that (winning Grand Slam) became the subject of conversation. And that was putting the pressure on us as a team, but then I felt the confidence inside because of our chemistry," shared Maliksi. "Players from other team like Jayson Castro (of Talk 'N Text) said San Mig was the definition of a team because we were a solid bunch, from the starting five to the bench players and even the third group."
Maliksi, who recovered from the knee injury and contributed to the team's title drive in the 2014 Governors' Cup, stressed they succeeded because everyone understood their roles.
"Whoever Coach Tim sends into the game, they know what to do. They all understood their own roles and the coaches made it so easy for us to adjust, especially in the game," Maliksi said.
For Cone, the idea that everyone made certain sacrifices for the greater good of the team, including James Yap's unselfishness, was a huge factor in their 2014 success story.
"It was really so tough for James. I feel like it was tougher on him than anybody because I had to manage so much sacrifices from him. If he had a different kind of personality, he could have totally wrecked us if wanted to be selfish about things. But he was so nice, so malleable, willing to sacrifice," shared Cone.
"To me, what I remember is the sacrifice he went through. We all know he went through a lot of personal stuff about that year as well as he was going to court cases stuff and coming back to practice. Having to go through that, that had to be really, really hard. But to his credit, he battled through it and I think we all recognized what he was going through. (The players) understood it and let him go through it and supported him. So I think that's another special part, the compassion they showed each other."
Yap improved on defense and was key in San Mig Super Coffee's success, earning back-to-back Finals MVP awards in the 2014 Commissioner's Cup and Governors' Cup.
"James made an effort to get focused on defense. He was never really a great defensive player. But we all knew that he made the effort to try to be a contributing defender and that was important to what we did," said Cone. "And then he was Big Game James because he was the MVP, living up to expectations, making big shots during big moments all through those championships because when we really needed him, he really showed up and made those shots," he added.
San Mig went on to complete its Grand Slam mission by beating Rain or Shine in the Governors' Cup finals. With three titles in the 2014 season, Cone surpassed Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan as the all-time winningest coach.