Old friends clash once again in PBA finals

TNT's Chot Reyes and B-Meg's Tim Cone shake hands before going to war. (Photo courtesy of the PBA)

Tim Cone and Chot Reyes, two of the winningest coaches in Philippine Basketball Association history, go head to head once again in a PBA finals series, and while the teams and players they coach have changed over the 18 years that they have battled, one thing remains constant: they still want to beat each other badly.

Cone's B-Meg Llamados and Reyes's Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters dispute the Commissioner's Cup title starting Monday, the sixth time the two will face each other on local pro basketball's biggest stage.

"Tim and I go a long way," said Reyes, who started his PBA career as Cone's assistant on the Alaska bench in 1990. "He has a different set of pieces now."

"I always want to go up against Chot," Cone said of his former apprentice whose Texters are the defending champions of this conference and have their sights set on a rare grand slam, something Cone achieved in 1996 with Alaska. In fact, that was the last team to have grand slammed, and if Reyes pulls off the trick this season, it would not only allow him to duplicate Cone's achievement, it will also help him move into the top three on the all-time list of coaches with the most championships in league history.

Right now the top three positions are occupied by the legendary Baby Dalupan (15 titles), Cone (13) and Norman Black (10), with Reyes in fourth spot with eight. Since Cone is just two off the all-time mark, this championship series is also important for him to further close in on Dalupan.

But climbing up the all-time list takes a back seat to the two coaches' friendly rivalry. They love coaching against each other, especially at the highest level, and their friendship in the cutthroat business of PBA coaching is unique.

When Cone was appointed coach of the national team in 1998, dubbed the Centennial Team and tasked to bring home the Asian Games gold, his first choice for assistant was Reyes. Normally that wouldn't have been a problem, except that at the time Reyes was executive director of the PBA's rival league Metropolitan Basketball Association. Cone stood by his decision, though, even when Reyes arrived very late for an exhibition match between the Philippines and China at the Araneta Coliseum after attending an out-of-town MBA game and running into a traffic jam on the way back. Together they guided the Philippines to a bronze medal.

In their head-to-head finals meetings, Reyes holds a 3-2 edge. He won their first duel way back in 1994, when he led Purefoods to a 4-1 Commissioner's Cup victory. Cone exacted revenge two years later with a similar 4-1 win in the All-Filipino Conference. The two didn't meet again in the finals until the 2002 AFC, where Reyes prevailed, this time as coach of the Coca-Cola Tigers, 3-1. A year later, it was Cone's turn, winning the Invitational Conference 2-1. In their most recent finals clash, Reyes led TNT to a thrilling 4-3 Philippine Cup win over Cone's Aces.

This title series is a little different, though, for it marks the first time Cone will be coaching a team other than Alaska in a PBA finals. And it's not just any other team; it's an SMC team, making this another potentially explosive SMC vs. MVP championship series.

The two probably wouldn't have it any other way.

E-mail: sid_ventura@yahoo.com. Twitter: @Sid_Ventura

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