Why I cheer for the PBA: Coach Tim Cone continues to teach and win

The PBA is one big roller coaster ride. Just last season, the league has experienced highs (record-breaking attendance numbers in the Governor’s Cup Finals) and lows.

Even with all the controversies and issues, the fact still remains: the PBA is our ride, it’s our league.

To hype up the start of the 43rd season of the league, the SLAM PH writers have teamed up to write about how why they’re cheering for the PBA.

From Danny I and SMB to Johnny A to Manila Clasico and this year’s rookies. These are the reasons why we got started. These are the reasons why we’re still here.

Tim Cone doesn’t need you to tell him it’s his birthday. The winningest coach in the PBA, he of 20 championships, the man at the helm of the Philippines’ most beloved basketball team, has been making jokes about his 60th birthday all month.

“What else do I want to achieve? People have been asking me that for the past year or two, and it’s because I’m getting old. I wish I was 35 again!” he laughs. We were hanging out before Ginebra practice, and I was still in disbelief that he had agreed to take time out of his schedule to guest on our podcast “12 Minutes With.” Didn’t he have more important things to do? But Coach Tim, it turns out, is the kind of guy who loves teaching—whether it’s giving leadership tips to basketball players or dispensing life advice to twentysomething writers—and always carries a story in his back pocket.

Here are the best lessons Coach Tim shared that day.

PBA - Ginebra vs Star Hotshots - Feb. 22 2017 - PRT - 6

1. Defense describes the character of a team.

Despite being labeled as The System Coach for most of his career, Coach Tim would rather be defined by his attitude towards defense. “If you play really hard defense, I feel like you’re gonna be a really high-character team,” he explains. “Because it takes character to wanna play defense. Everyone wants to score, shoot, dribble. But it takes a lot of discipline to run back on defense, to get low and the little details.”

He adds, “if your team is defense-driven, your team ends up character-driven and discipline-driven. And I think those two things equate to championships. You might win a championship, but you won’t win championships.”

PBA - NLEX vs Ginebra - February 12, 2016 - PRT - 1

2. Coaching gets easier with age—and success.

Coach Tim has worked with big personalities and PBA stars, but he admits it wasn’t always easy. “The regular players, you can do what you want. They have a job and they’ll do what it takes to keep it. But stars know ‘between you and me, it’s probably you who’s gonna leave because I’m a superstar,’” he says. “And I talk to Erik Spoelstra and he says that’s the biggest problem in the NBA. Players go around with their big posses and their agent and it’s hard to deal with those kind of guys because they have so much power. He knows because he’s coached LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and he says that’s the most difficult part of coaching in the NBA.”

“I carry more weight now, but it was much harder for me when I was younger,” he adds. “In fact, when I started coaching with Alaska, I was 32 and I think six players on the team were older than me. After about a month or two of practices, a group of players went to the owner and said they didn’t want to play for me anymore. The owner asked why and they said, ‘he makes us work too hard.’ The owner said, ‘I got the right coach. Go back and work harder.’ Players will buy into your ways if you’ve had success before. That’s why it’s hard for young coaches to step in and do it. It takes a while to make your mark and get that buy-in, especially from superstars.”

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3. NSD is a legacy.

After years of battling Ginebra, Coach Tim joined the Barangay in 2015 and understood just how deep NSD ran.

“There was this one game where I really experienced the NSD, and that was Game 4 when we played in the finals [in 2016]. Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand came off the bench,” he recalls. “We were down 19, 20 points and they came back. The crowd went crazy, they hit a couple of shots, and we roared back into the game and won that game. For me again, it was just this feeling of being with the Ginebra crowd and really seeing it for the first time with Mark and Jayjay. Mark and Jayjay spearheading it was a real transcendent moment in my career.”

When Coach Tim thinks of Ginebra’s success and enduring appeal among PBA fans, he sees the current era as the latest chapter in a long story—one which he and his team have a responsibility to protect. “At the thanksgiving event after our latest championship, there was nobody over 25 in that crowd. It struck us, it’s the new generation. Millennials are still cheering for Ginebra. And that’s the legacy that we’re trying to live up to at this point. That legacy that Senator Jaworski brought to the team.”

“It may not be the same style, since the game has evolved. But I think the key for Ginebra fans is they wanna win. If they see good basketball, and they see the guys dying out there on the floor, NSD will live on.”

PBA - Star Hotshots vs Ginebra - February 17, 2017 - PRT - 2

4. Winning is about more than championships.

“To me, it’s not really winning the championship. It’s the day-to-day watching the growth of players, and not just as basketball players but as people—changing, evolving, learning to be caring about your teammate,” he says. “Discipline, wanting to be disciplined, to come in and do the work. Watching how guys changed with being around players who do those things. That’s where the greatest fulfilment comes from. Championships are just a measurement of that going on.”

READ: PBA 43rd Season hype articles

My favorite PBA memories

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