Tim Cone has added one more thing to his legacy with San Mig Coffee’s historic title-clinching win last night — he’s surpassed Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan as the Philippine Basketball Association as its winningest coach with 16 conference championships.
Like one of his coaching ‘idols’ in Phil Jackson, he’s won all his championships with two teams — Alaska and B-Meg/San Mig Coffee. Jackson of course won six NBA championships with Chicago and five with the Los Angeles Lakers.
When I first saw Tim Cone, he was a part of the broadcast panel and my first reaction was, “Who is this guy?” He seemed to have come out of nowhere and he did sound awkward in those first few broadcasts. But then again who doesn’t have the butterflies in one’s first time in front of a camera? I sure did get them in my first stint.
Tim got better at it.
And I believe that is the key to it all – he just got better at his craft.
In one of our long conversations while at Camarines Sur enjoying some time off from hoops and watching a triathlon, coach told me how he didn’t know anything about the triangle offense. All he did was endlessly study those games of the Chicago Bulls. “I rewound tape again and again. I pretty much wore out all those tapes that I memorized everything,” he told me back then. “On the court, it was altogether another matter. It was also trial and error.”
He wrote to Tex Winter who is considered the father of the triple post offense or triangle offense as it is more popularly known. In his trips to the United States, he made it a point to not only sit down with Winter but to discuss his ideas and innovations with the triangle. And Winter did commend him for making it even better.
Then he started winning with Alaska. And Tim got better as a coach that he’s become a great teacher of the game.
When he was with Alaska (I haven’t been inside San Mig’s locker room because they are lot more private), I was able to catch a lot of their practices. Even inside the locker room, I saw his dedication to his craft. Having been inside almost every dugout in the league and then some, none approach his mania for detail. None.
In the Coach’s Convention of the National Basketball Training Center that is run by Eric Altamirano and Alex Compton, I have immensely enjoyed his clinics in front of 300 coaches from all over the country.
I have also been impressed with his respect for the game. Perhaps it was an offshoot of his former boss Fred Uytengsu’s consummate professionalism but Cone always wore neckties to the games. His coaching staff did too. In fact, while writing about him and his teams, I began to refer to the staffs on both Alaska and B-Meg/San Mig Coffee as the “necktie brigades”.
He told me one time, “If you respect the game then the game will reward you.”
This season, San Mig Coffee got off to a 1-5 start. Whether it was because of a championship hangover or not having enough recovery time between seasons, the Coffee Mixers didn’t look too sharp. But then they went on a win streak and finished fifth in the league after the elimination round.
They were playing the best basketball in the league and they weren’t the foe anyone wanted to face. And look at the teams they knocked out – three-time defending champion Talk ‘N Text in the quarterfinals, league elimination round leader Barangay Ginebra in the semifinals and then tough Rain or Shine in the finals.
San Mig Coffee was the lowest seed (fifth) to win a title since Ginebra pulled the trick during the 2004 Fiesta Conference.
The Coffee Mixers, like their coach, simply got better along the way.
And that has always been the secret – it’s cliché-ish but it’s all true – hard work, dedication, focus, and respect. Now coach is celebrating his 16th championship.
Honestly, I don’t think that Tim Cone is done at all.
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