By Alex P. Vidal
“History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.’”—Eduardo Galeano
I USED to “dislike” Alaska Air Force/Alaska Milkmen/Alaska Aces.
But not as a team. One of the two reasons was Tim Cone.
I’m not racist but I thought Cone, who was 32 when first offered to coach Alaska Air Force-turned-Milkmen in 1989, evoked the grim image of Adolf Hitler’s deadliest general, Otto Skorzeny.
Back in the 80s and early 90s when I was still following some of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) games, I couldn’t recall seeing Cone smile, not once despite giving Alaska Aces 13 championships.
Interestingly, we missed in the hardcourt that grumpy face of the American coach from Oregon for 18 months in 1991 when he was barred from coaching in the 1991 All-Filipino Conference.
This came when the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines (BCAP) filed a case in February 1990 questioning the alien employment permit given to him by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Cone’s corporate employer, General Milling Corporation, fought all the way to the Supreme Court of the Philippines and lost in April 1991, or fourteen months later.
It was only when Cone gained permanent resident status after marrying a Filipina girlfriend Cristina Viaplana in August 1991 that he was able to return to PBA coaching.
Did I misread him as a sportswriter? Was my judgment too harsh?
I have no idea; I have stopped following some of the PBA games since 1993, when the league moved to the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City (I started flying to Manila to officiate as boxing referee in the Cuneta Astrodome and the Rizal Memorial Coliseum a year earlier).
I wasn’t privy anymore when the Alaska Milkmen thereafter won the 1996 grand slam and nine titles in the decade after PBA’s debut in the new arena. The Milkmen’s golden era.
Another reason was team owner Wilfred Uytengsu Jr. I thought he was elite and didn’t connect with the hoi polloi, which constitutes the majority of PBA fans all over the archipelago.
Why must a promising and, in fact, a strong team since San Miguel Beer and Great Taste, be lorded over by “non-Filipinos”, was the nagging question that occupied my mind then.
Back then, however, Cone, proved to be an outstanding coach as he led the Philippine men’s national basketball team as head coach and guided the Philippine Centennial Team to a bronze medal at the 1998 Asian Games.
Under his watch, the national team won the 1998 William Jones Cup. Cone was appointed head coach of the national team again in September 2018 for at least the 2019 Southeast Asian Games following Yeng Guiao’s resignation due to a dismal performance by the RP Team in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Alaska Milk Corporation (AMC) shocked PBA fans, including those residing abroad, when it announced on February 16, 2022 that the Alaska Aces will leave the PBA at the end of the 2021 Governors’ Cup.
The decision was a directive by FrieslandCampina, parent company of AMC, Uytengsu tearfully explained on Philippine television news.
Many articles and feature stories in the social and mainstream media have been written and broadcast about Alaska’s forthcoming “sad” ending.
We think Alaska’s “goodbye” may not be forever. The Aces have been in the league for 35 years, and the rather abrupt decision to leave may not be permanent after all.
They might spring back just when everyone’s thinking they’re gone forever. After all, its “demise” has been attributed by some fans to pandemic, although the management didn’t specifically confirm the reason for the disbandment. Let’s wait and see.
In the meantime, let’s hear a line from The Bread’s 70s hit, “Goodbye Girl”:
So remember goodbye doesn’t mean forever
Let me tell you goodbye doesn’t mean we’ll never be together again
Though we may be so far apart you still will have my heart
So forget your past, my goodbye girl
‘Cause now you’re home at last
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)