Alaska Aces celebrate 25th anniversary; retire two jersey numbers
by rick olivares
The Alaska Aces celebrated their 25th year in the Philippine Basketball Association with a lavish celebration at the Dusit Thani Manila last Tuesday, September 28, 2010. The PBA’s second most-winning franchise with 13 titles (behind San Miguel Beer’s record 18 crowns) handed out championship rings to the players who helped annex the club’s 13th crown during the Fiesta Conference over the more-fancied Beermen.
The team also used to occasion to retire two more numbers – Rene Hawkins #16 and Johnny Abarrientos’ #14 after a stellar career by both who were an integral part of Alaska’s dynasty in the 1990’s when they won nine championships including the league’s fourth ever Grand Slam in 1996. The team previously retired four jersey numbers of six former players including Jojo Lastimosa (#6), Sean Chambers (#20), Bogs Adornado (#33), and Jeffrey Cariaso (#22).
“It seems only yesterday when I was negotiating to put up a franchise in the PBA,” related Alaska Corporation CEO Wilfred Uytengsu Jr. “I learned a lot from former Deputy Commissioner Tommy Manotoc who imparted some very important advice – ‘always ask for more.’” That was quite a bit of advice for me as I was only 23 years old back in 1985. And it was tough to swallow all that losing early on. But you don’t build champions overnight and I am pleased to know that we have won 13 championships in 25 finals appearances. And we’re not yet done. With the system and culture that we have in place, we hope to be the winningest ballclub in the PBA.”
The culture that Uytengsu speaks of is the “family atmosphere” that was imbued on every member of the organization in the beginning. “We encouraged everyone to bring their families not just to our games but to our events,” said head coach Tim Cone who has presided on all of Alaska’s titles. “That’s why we have many former players coming back to work with the organization is some capacity.”
And many of those former players were on hand. From the first ever Alaska squad that competed in 1986, forward Dennis Abbatuan, who flew in from London, England where he now resides and oversees his real estate business, was the only one present. But other players from those early years were also in attendance including Woodrow Balani, Hernani Demigilio who recently retired from working with Sta. Lucia, and Elmer Cabahug who currently coaches the University of Visayas Lancers. Former Best Import and Mr. 100% Awardee Sean Chambers came all the way down from Sacramento where he is currently a vice principal for a middle school.
“It’s a very good organization,” added Isabelo “Jojo” Lastimosa who was a vital member of the 90’s squad. “I am proud to be associated with it. It’s not just a winning attitude but also innovation. Alaska is the first to hand out championship rings to its players and to retire the individual numbers of players. We take care of our own.”
“We weren’t named after the 49th state of America,” said the CEO. “’Alaska’ is actually an amalgam of two words – ‘alas’ meaning ‘ace’ and ‘ka’ meaning ‘you.’ And when you put that together, it’s saying, ‘You are an ace.’ That essentially what it is to be on our team.”
In the team’s 25 years of existence, so far a total of 117 local players and 35 imports have suited up for the team.
“I like to always tell our players that to enjoy what they are doing now,” beamed a proud Uytengsu. “Not every player is blessed with a long career and when they play for us, we’d like to think that we give them all the support they will need to win a title. It makes for a great story to tell their grandchildren, don’t you think?”