MANILA, Philippines – The "greatest of all time" tag doesn't get thrown quite often.
In basketball, it is reserved for teams, players and coaches who have transcended time, hurdled over adversity and of course, proven they are head and shoulders above their competition.
GOATs have etched their mark in history, and Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone is bracing to face a team he considers one.
The Gin Kings look to do the improbable when they square off against the San Miguel Beermen – a team that has not lost in the last 6 finals they played in – in a best-of-7 affair for the 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup title.
"This might be the greatest team of all time – they very well could be the greatest team of all time. So the challenge is out there for us. I think our guys are going to embrace it," said Cone.
Cone has won a record 20 PBA championships with the 3 teams he mentored in a span of 29 years.
He had coached two grand slam teams – the Alaska Aces in 1996 and the San Mig Coffee Mixers in 2014 – and he has seen a myriad of impeccable squads come and go in the league.
But if there is one thing that makes the current San Miguel team the cream of the crop for Cone, it is their consistency in making the championship round – advancing to the finals of 7 of the last 11 conferences.
"If someone had to really hold me down, pin me down, I would say they are the greatest team of all time," Cone said.
"But I still want to respect Sonny Jaworski, Francis Arnaiz, Atoy Co and all of those guys. So it's hard to compare in different eras. But no doubt, right now, in our time right now, they are the best team and we're trying to get there."
While Cone's admiration and respect for the Beermen is evident, he has full trust in his wards.
In the last 4 series the two teams faced each other, Ginebra and San Miguel won two apiece. But there are certain asterisks there for the Gin Kings.
When it lost to San Miguel in 5 games of their best-of-7 clash for the 2017 Philippine Cup championship, Ginebra did not have the towering Greg Slaughter due to injury.
It was the same a few months ago when the Gin Kings bowed out to the Beermen in 5 games of their best-of-7 semifinals in the all-Filipino tourney – Slaughter was sidelined due to an injury.
The two series the Gin Kings won – a one-game victory in the 2017 Governors' Cup quarterfinals and a 3-2 triumph in a best-of-5 semifinals duel in the 2016 Governors' Cup – they had Slaughter and ultra-talented import Justin Brownlee.
With Brownlee reinforcing the team again and Slaughter healthy, Ginebra's chances of tarnishing San Miguel's finals streak and winning its 11th title have become a little less bleaker.
"I don't see this going like the way of the Warriors and the Cavs was, I don't think either of us are quite that good," Cone said, referring to the last NBA Finals series that saw the Golden State Warriors sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"But no doubt, I think San Miguel has the edge and experience and confidence and knowing what it takes to win at this level."
"But like I said, I think we match up to them on a man-for-man basis very well. So you know, I think it's just gonna be a really tough series. And usually a really tough series end up being a long series."
Confidence is also key for Ginebra, Cone added.
"We're going to have to be a confident group out there and use our poise to make big plays. And if we can do that, I think we can matchup. Easier said than done."
Game 1 is on Friday, July 27, at the Araneta Coliseum. – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.