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Tim Cone on Grand Slams, growth and defending the crowns
Tim Cone on Grand Slams, growth and defending the crowns
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio
We caught up with Tim Cone just as the re-branded Purefoods Star Hotshots were preparing for their defense of the Grand Slam. The eloquent and loquacious coach had much to say about the past season and the one to come.
After spending more than two decades with Alaska where he won 13 championships, Cone departed for B-Meg/San Mig Coffee where he has once more brought his winning ways to arguably what is the country’s most popular pro ball club today. Five titles and a Grand Slam (his second) with his new team later, he is aiming to keep this streak, this title run going for as long as it can.
If you talk to Cone, you will constantly hear the word “growth.”
At first he was goal-oriented but that subsequently morphed into being “growth-oriented.” The coach explained, “When you try to achieve a goal, if you accomplish that then you have a tendency to sit back and relax and say, ‘Well, it’s done.’ So you take it easy and the hunger isn’t there anymore. Growth? I can honestly say that I think I am a better coach than I was three years ago.”
With not much left to conquer with Alaska, Cone chose to leave and try his luck with a new club. “Maybe that is why it is considered shocking because there was no reason for me to leave.”
The path is just a tad similar to Phil Jackson’s, one of Cone’s coaching idols. “With Phil and the Chicago Bulls, there was a lot of acrimony headed into that 1998 season. There were major disagreements with Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause (the owner and general manager respectively). As for my case, there was none. I wanted to see if I could bring the culture that I developed to another team and be just as successful,” explained Cone.
However, like Jackson who was just as successful in Los Angeles, Cone found out that he could replicate that winning culture with another club.
“Did I think we’d win all this? No. To win one championship can sometimes be accidental. But multiple titles? That’s like a quest; it is very difficult. It’s special. The key word here is ‘culture.’ And that includes attitudes, ethics, the way we dress and the way we think.”
“The Grand Slam achieved with Alaska in 1996 is was very different from the one won with San Mig Super Coffee,” said Cone. “The mechanics of the first grand slam were very different. Primarily because of the scheduling was very different. Remember, it was a very conventional time. We had a conference then a first break. The second conference and then a break and so on. We were coming off a championship and some very successful years that were leading to 1996. We had normal rest. We beat Purefoods then Shell in a very tough series for the second title. In the third we won 13 games in a row and went on to win 4-1 over Ginebra. There was a sense of inevitability. We were so dominant. The only thing we had to overcome was the specter of expectations. The previous season before that we lost the third conference so when we had the opportunity to do it again we knew that we weren’t going to step off that gas pedal.”
“Eighteen years later, the difference is we were preparing for the Gilas tournament. We had the draft, the practice and then we were already playing. There was no chance to sit down and immerse everyone in the system and the culture. We were the underdogs in every conference. In the first conference, Rain or Shine has won 13 games going into the finals and we were struggling and barely got through. But we beat them in six games. Then we played TNT that swept the eliminations. In the last conference, we ended up being the sixth seed even if RoS was the second seed. By that time, people were thinking we could do it again. My thinking was that throughout the whole year we were not the dominant team. We just happened to win what he had at the right time. The only similarity perhaps is that once we got in the Finals of that third conference, there was that feeling that we could do it.”
However, the “GS” word was taboo in Cone’s camp.
“No one was ever allowed to talk or mention the term “Grand Slam in all our meetings, practices, film sessions etc. I said, ‘Don’t talk about it. Let others do it for us but let us not encourage it because it adds to the pressure. We don’t even want to think about it so we can concentrate on the here and now.’ The one time we began to talk about it was after it was all done.”
With the 40th Season of the PBA a day away from tip off, Cone is pretty much done talking about the year before. “Can’t rest on our laurels,” he reasoned. “Whether the club wins or loses, we have this saying, ‘Yesterday ended last night.’”
“I used to say that my two goals were send all my kids to college in the US, and number two, to beat Baby Dalupan’s record. Two of my three children are in the US (Nikki is in law school in Washington while Kevin is at Santa Clara). I have my youngest son, Trevor, who is only nine years old and is still at home. So I’m not yet done with that. Regarding the second goal, Baby Dalupan was always my idol. I have much respect for what he achieved. And even breaking the record, I that level of respect has not dissipated one iota. Ultimately you want to be growth oriented. Yesterday ended last night. You want to keep going. Winning is not finite. You never want to say, ‘I never want to win again.’ Now the losing -- that gets tiring in a hurry.”
“Right now we’re in a good place. Every conference last year was a struggle but we ended up winning. We want to see how long we can keep this going. My idea is right now is to get Justin (Melton), Ian (Sangalang) and Alex (Mallari) to be better because when that happens, what more can they bring to the table and the system?”
“Yeah, that’s the idea,” laughed Cone.