EVERYONE knows who 'Boss Danding' the basketball godfather was.
But only a few know who the San Miguel Corporation chairman is as a person.
Danny Ildefonso feels lucky to have known that facet of the late tycoon during his playing days in San Miguel.
And the thing that made him get to know 'Boss ECJ' more is their roots.
"Kaya ako ganoon ka-close kay boss kasi parehas kaming Ilokano," he told SPIN.ph as he paid tribute to Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr., who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 85.
"Parang ang hirap siya i-describe kasi parang perpekto si boss. Pag siya kasi ang nag-handle ng players, ibang klase talaga siya mag-alaga. Napakabait."
Being the face of the crown jewel franchise in the 2000s, Ildefonso bonded with Cojuangco over the years as the Beermen achieved an impeccable run of success under coach Jong Uichico.
That stretch saw Ildefonso win the MVP awards in 2000 and 2001, while also capturing PBA crowns together with the likes of Danny Seigle, Olsen Racela, and Dondon Hontiveros.
As decorated as that owner-player dynamics was, their pasts certainly forged that personal connection with Ildefonso coming from Urdaneta, Pangasinan, while the Tarlac-born Cojuangco is proficient with the Ilocano language with his mother being born in Baguio.
Ildefonso even reminisced on that one time where Cojuangco approached him and told him of his plans of bringing in a fellow Pangasinense in San Miguel.
"Sinabi niya sa akin, 'Lakay, tutulungan ko yung kaparehas natin na Ilokano sa kabila. Gusto ko siyang tulungan.' Alam mo kung sino yun? Si Marc Pingris. Gustong gusto niya kami pagsamahin," he shared.
In March 2008, Pingris found his way from Purefoods to San Miguel (then-Magnolia Beverage Masters) in exchange for Enrico Villanueva.
That stint did bear fruit with the Beermen capturing the 2009 Fiesta Conference crown -- much to the delight of Cojuangco -- before Pingris went back to the Giants after a year-and-a-half stint.
"Napag-usapan lang namin na gusto niya tulungan si Ping. Ganoon siya ka-close sa amin. Iba yung treatment ni boss Danding lalo na kung Ilokano ka," said Ildefonso, with other Ilocano players like Lordy Tugade suiting up for SMB.
"The Demolition Man" also shared tales of Cojuangco's well-known generosity, something that the Beermen experienced first hand back then.
"Mid-2000s yun, laging may dinner every after the game sa bahay nila sa Bougainvillea sa New Manila. Grabe siya pag natuwa. Kahit talo kami, binibigyan pa rin niya kami. Sasabihin niya, 'Lakay, dahil maganda naman ang nilaro ninyo...' Talo kami noon pero binigyan pa rin niya kami, pang-Juicy Fruit," he recounted with a chuckle.
"Basta sa ikagaganda ng players niya, talagang all out siya."
Even when Ildefonso was already on his decline, Cojuangco never failed to extend a helping hand to his old franchise player.
"Yung huling punta ko sa Amerika, pinagamot niya ako," said the 6-foot-6 center. "Wala akong dalawang salita sa kanya pag humingi ako ng pabor. Talagang oo agad kasi lagi niyang iniisip ang kinabukasan ng players. Naniniwala siya na pag healthy yung players, ibibigay nila lahat ng kakayanan nila."
"The best talaga siya."