Manila Clasico is derived from the “El Clasico” of Spanish football, the match-up between Spain’s two most popular football clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The rivalry traces its roots not only in sports but also has a political flavor as Real Madrid leans towards supporting Spanish Nationalism while FC Barcelona supports Catalan Nationalism.
In Philippine Basketball, the two most popular ball clubs in the land, Ginebra San Miguel and Star Hotshots (Originally Pure Foods Hotdog), headline our version of that “clasico”, the Manila Clasico.
The rivalry of the two teams dates back during the time of then young stars Alvin Patrimonio, Jerry Codiñera and Jojo Lastimosa. That Purefoods team was regarded as the “glamour” team of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) cheered by colegialas, white collar workers and the middle class. While on the other hand, Ginebra San Miguel bannered by the charismatic living legend Robert Jaworski, Sr, Chito Loyzaga and Don Don Ampalayo were the team of the masses, the blue collars, the macho Filipino. And that rivalry was passed on to the next generations of fans of those kind until the present time.
But what has happened to the present generation of Star Hotshots and Ginebra San Miguel. Two seasons ago, Star Hotshots then known as San Mig Coffee won a grandslam making Tim Cone the winningest coach is PBA history. The next two conference saw the team spiraling down due to injuries of key players. And before the start of the new PBA season this year, a coaching change was made by the management transferring Tim Cone to rival Ginebra San Miguel and hiring erstwhile rookie assistant coach Jason Webb to call the shots for the team.
Barangay Ginebra is not that lucky as its rival. The team is still searching for a title since 2008 enduring an 8-year title drought. It has been also criticized recently for frequently changing head coaches with the reversal of its fortune in the mind of the management.
But was has been causing the underperformance of these two storied ball clubs despite a strong line-up on paper? Here are some factors:
Having a good coach does not and will not always guarantee a good performance for the team. A coach may have the right materials but his system will not be fit for the materials that he has. For Star, Jason Webb maybe a good coach, but his system may not be fit for his materials. Watching their recent games, the players seemed confused on what to do on both ends of the court. It seemed that players have not yet embraced what their coach wants them to do.
Over at Ginebra, it’s the same thing. Tim Cone is the most decorated coach in PBA history and his version of the triangle offense has produced numerous championships including two grandslams. He has the materials, they are big but there were reports that the players are slow in embracing and subscribing to the triangle offense and would still want to stick to the run and gun type of offense. It is ironic if they stick to the former because the two most popular veterans and leaders of that team can’t run anymore. Remember, their former coach, another Tim Cone disciple Jeffrey Cariaso also ran the triangle when he was still with Ginebra.
Why was Tim Cone successful at Star? Because he had the right materials fit for his system. Aside from that, he was able to let his players buy into his system.
Star’s line up during the grandslam run is similar to his line up over at Alaska for his first grandslam in 1996. Barroca was his Johnny Abarrientos, James Yap took Jojo Lastimosa’s place, Peter June Simon replicated Jeffery Cariaso, Pingris revived Bong Hawkins and Ian Sanggalang was their better version of Poch Juinio. I just wonder if Gerwin Gaco fits to be the Cris Bolado of this grandslam batch. His triangle with this bunch of players were wreaking havoc during that run because it was Tim Cone’s kind of a team.
A team that was willing to accept roles within a system. A team that was patient to study the system and grow with it through the years and lastly, a team the first of all embraced and respected the system.
Also, Tim Cone went to the Star Hotshots as Tim Cone. He was already accomplished that is why there was already an air of respect for the players. For the case of Jason Webb he came in with a lot to prove. Number one on the list will be having to be respected by his players and secondly having his players buy into his system. It is not an easy task because the players are grown up millionaires and not high schoolers who you can just shout your way around to instill some kind of discipline to.
At the end of the day, it will boil down to having the right players, and those players buying into your system. And most of all in the first place, it is the players embracing what the coach wants to do for the team, taking one direction all together with one goal in mind, which is to win a championship not only for the club, not only for themselves but for the fans who are the life of the league. Take the case of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, but that is another story. For now, we still await to see the CLASICO in the coming Manila Clasico matches.