Kingsâ win: A triumph of spirit
Finals MVP awardee LA Tenorio takes a selfie with his teammates after they ruled the PBA Philippine Cup Wednesday at the AUF Sports Center in Angeles, Pampanga.
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Kings’ win: A triumph of spirit

Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2020 - 12:00am

SMART CLARK GIGA CITY, Philippines — It’s as if they were meant to capture the ultimate prize in these trying times.

Barangay Ginebra, a squad famous for its “never-say-die” attitude, reigned supreme in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, a bubble tournament aimed at lifting Filipinos’ spirits amid the pandemic.

“It’s been a rough year and we hope we helped ease the hardships for a lot of people through basketball,” Ginebra assistant coach Richard del Rosario said after their Game 5 clincher, 82-78.

The country’s most popular ballclub beat injury-plagued TNT Tropang Giga for bubble glory, 4-1.

Their throng of supporters couldn’t physically join them in the celebrations – and throughout the two-and-a-half-month hostilities for that matter – but the Gin Kings felt their love.

“We’re thankful to the fans. Even though they’re not here with us at the venue, we knew they’ve been supporting us,” said Scottie Thompson, one of the key players in coach Tim Cone’s crew.

The Gin Kings won their first all-Filipino title in 13 years and their first in the centerpiece conference under Cone.

The veteran mentor also became the winningest coach in Ginebra’s franchise history with five titles, hiking his career collection to a record-extending 23.

Cone counts this among the sweetest.

“It’s a little surreal because the experience is so different from the other championships we had. It’s so unique,” he said.

“When we get back to Manila and we look back on this one, I think that we’ll just be amazed at how this all evolved and how it all came together and how we actually ended up winning that championship,” he added.

The road to the bubble crown was challenging, to say the least.

Initially, Ginebra stalwarts LA Tenorio (appendix ailment) and Japeth Aguilar (injury) weren’t 100 percent fit but worked their way through to reach optimal form for the crucial stages.

And like the other teams in the bubble, Cone’s squad needed to manage playing times and training regimens well to survive the thinly-spaced matches from the elims all the way to the playoffs.

Everyone hopes the health situation improves so much that by 2021, the PBA games can return to the old Metro Manila setup, with fans.

“Hopefully there’s only going to be one bubble championship,” said Cone.

“And if there’s only one bubble championship, we got it. And that’s so cool. Twenty to 30 years from now, maybe when they look back and they say, ‘You know that bubble championship?’ They’ll remember our team because we had the most unique championship in the history of the PBA.”

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