THEIR rivalry during La Salle-Ateneo days is a thing of the past. Now together under one team, Mike Cortez and LA Tenorio are both driven by a common goal – win a championship for Barangay Ginebra.
A decade since squaring off in the most celebrated rivalry ever in Philippine basketball, Cortez and Tenorio unexpectedly found themselves wearing the same red-and-white jersey of Ginebra, and sharing the backcourt chores for the Gin Kings this 38th season of the PBA.
Cortez welcomed the entry of Tenorio to the team, unmindful of the fact that they were once adversaries as college basketball’s two best point guards.
“Of course not,” said Cortez with a laugh when asked if there would be problem playing alongside Tenorio, who was acquired by the team in a three-team, multi-player trade during the offseason.
“Iba kasi pag professional. You have to be professional also when it comes to our team. It’s actually good for our team na pumasok si LA. ”
That the two will be teammates at this stage of their pro careers seemed unimaginable 10 years ago when they played on opposite ends of a heated rivalry - Tenorio as the backcourt stabilizer for the Blue Eagles, and Cortez the high-profile scoring guard of the Green Archers known as the `Cool Cat.’
Cortez and the Archers initially beat the Eagles during Tenorio's rookie year in the 2001 UAAP men’s basketball finals that went the full route. But Ateneo returned the compliment the following season by beating La Salle in three games, denying the Archers a fifth successive championship.
They were young and passionate back then, deeply engulfed in the heated rivalry between their alma mater.
Time has definitely changed the two.
“No. Definitely not,” stressed Cortez, again breaking out into a hearty laugh when asked if there is still bad blood from those memorable clashes in college.
The top rookie pick of the 2003 Draft is actually happy with what Tenorio brings to the table at Ginebra, whose backcourt has become even deadlier with the presence of him and the MVP combo of Mark Caguioa and JayJay Helterbrand.
“Now other teams will not only get ready for me, Mark, and JayJay, but also they have to get ready for LA,” said the Fil-Am guard from San Jose, California. “He (LA) brings a different dimension to the team. Meron din siyang experience sa mga big games, talagang malaking bagay siya sa Ginebra.”
Cortez, who has previously won championships with Alaska and San Miguel, has always been the subject of trade rumors, and he found himself in the same situation during the dealings for Tenorio.
He and Enrico Villanueva were supposed to be shipped to Global Port for Jvee Casio, who in turn was shipped to Alaska for Tenorio. Cortez ended up staying at Ginebra when Global Port asked for Barako Bull's Willie Miller instead.
A former All-Star, Cortez said he has long accepted trades as part of a player’s career.
“Not at all (bothered by trade rumors). I’m 31-years-old and this is my 10th year in the PBA. Before it used to affect me, kasi siyempre iba yung tingin ng tao kung lagi kang nate-trade,” he said.
Incidentally, it was also him and Tenorio who were involved in a direct 2008 deal between Alaska and San Miguel, which likewise involved Ken Bono and Larry Fonacier.
Cortez just recently signed a new, two-year contract with the league’s most popular ballclub. And given the chance, he definitely wants to end his career with Ginebra.
“I really want to, but it’s all up to management on what they want to do,” said the `Cool Cat.’ “I’m just happy playing for Ginebra, and I wish to retire as a Ginebra player.”
And most definitely, win a championship together with LA.