As the confetti fell in celebration of Barangay Ginebra's 2019 PBA Governors' Cup title reign, LA Tenorio approached his head coach Tim Cone. Before sharing a hug or exchanging congratulations, Tenorio bared the next goal, which for him was the ultimate challenge; the trophy that has eluded him his entire career.
"Coach, we have to win the all-Filipino next."
The last time Barangay Ginebra won the Philippine Cup championship, LA Tenorio was a rookie playing for the other team. Selected fourth overall in the 2006 PBA Rookie Draft by the San Miguel Beermen, it did not take long for the former Ateneo skipper to show what he's capable of doing in the PBA.
Playing his first PBA Finals game, Tenorio was shoved into the spotlight by then SMB head coach Chot Reyes as he was given the starting spot, which had belonged to Olsen Racela for the longest time. The gamble paid off with Tenorio scoring 12 points in that game and playing great defense against Jayjay Helterbrand.
The Beermen won the first two games of that series but would lose the next four to give Tenorio his first Philippine Cup Finals loss. Unfortunately for him, it would take almost 14 years before he'd finally claim that trophy.
For Tenorio, this Philippine Cup trophy is the last piece to the puzzle that completes his legendary career.
"Asa sa import (rely on the import)" is a phrase often thrown around by some disgruntled fans to dilute championship reigns in the Commissioner's and Governors' Cups. Now Tenorio won't have to hear any of that.
Tenorio has, once and for all, proven that he can lead his team without the help of a Diamon Simpson or a Justin Brownlee.
"The all-Filipino was my only target," he said after Barangay Ginebra defeated TNT Tropang Giga in Game 5 of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup Finals. "Now, I even got a bonus," he added clutching his Finals MVP trophy.
For Tenorio, it was hard to imagine being in this situation from where he was right before the PBA Bubble. Coming off an appendectomy that erased all of the work and preparation that he put into the pre-season on his own, he had second thoughts about even entering the bubble. Ultimately, Tenorio and his family decided that he'd be joining his team in Clark even though he accepted he won't be in great shape to start the conference.
Tenorio worked himself back into shape. When he pushed too hard, his body would remind him to slow it down a bit. However, as the conference went on, the Tenorio of old started to show up. And in the Finals, whenever Barangay Ginebra needed something big, he was always there to provide it.
He converted game-sealing free throws, dished out crucial assists, and swished cold-blooded triples to help the Kings keep the Tropang Giga at bay.
In Game 5, Tenorio had his big moments against with two gorgeous passes to Japeth Aguilar and Joe Devance that sealed their championship.
After 2007, Tenorio had three more tries to finally win the all-Filipino. His Alaska Aces lost 4-3 to TNT in 2009 and were swept by Purefoods in 2010. It took him seven years just to get back into the Philippine Cup Finals where Ginebra fell short to San Miguel Beer, 4-1.
Tenorio has learned a lot throughout the years since he lost his first crack at a Philippine Cup title and, although he endured his fair share of losses in the Philippine Cup Finals, every stint prepared him for the next opportunity.
"You know, right after the game we hugged and he came up to me and said, 'Finally! I told you we can get this all-Filipino.' As we hugged, I said the last time we hugged was in the (2019 Governors' Cup) championship, and he said to me when we hugged that, 'This was nice, coach, but we have to win the All-Filipino,'" shared Ginebra head coach Tim Cone after celebrating with his team.
"He was the driving force through this whole bubble. Even though he came in not a hundred percent from his surgery -- I think he came in maybe 30%, I mean when he first arrived he was about 30% of his game -- he still figured out a way to battle through it. But even at that moment, he was immediately talking up the fact that this was the all-Filipino, he hadn't won one, we hadn't won one in a long time, and it was special," Cone added.
"He drove us motivationally throughout this whole tournament. And that's why more than just the points, the shots or whatever, to me that's why he was our MVP of this bubble. Stanley (Pringle) was great but LA really was our driving force, the leader that was really pushing for this championship the whole way."
Three other members of Barangay Ginebra could have been in the conversation for Finals MVP in Pringle, Scottie Thompson, and Japeth Aguilar, who was the Best Player of the Game in their championship-winning contest. Even Tenorio might have been pulling for one of them to win as he already has three Finals MVP plaques at home. However, his value for this team translated beyond numbers. The whole idea was that if Tenorio willed himself post-surgery to rejoin his team before the wounds even healed, the rest of the squad also needed to give it their 100% in whatever role they needed to fill.
Beyond his team, Tenorio also acted like an MVP to the rest of the PBA Bubble. The point guard would share his "ayuda" from his sponsors to his fellow players and the rest of the staff. Boxes and boxes of snacks would be given away all courtesy of Tenorio. He was also one of the more active voices in the planning of the PBA Bubble as he pushed for improvements that benefitted not just his teammates but all the other players who'd sacrificed their time to fulfill their roles as professional basketball players.
Tenorio has been nothing but a true professional and his fourth Finals MVP trophy is only a testament to the undeniable truth that he has always been the Most Valuable Teammate to anyone wearing a Barangay Ginebra jersey.