CHOT Reyes and TnT Tropang Giga are looking to duplicate what one great franchise achieved in the PBA playoffs two decades ago.
The Tropang Giga battle the Magnolia Hotshots in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup Finals, hoping to hurdle the final stumbling block out of the three SMC franchises that stood in their path to a first league championship in six seasons.
The flagship team of the MVP franchise dethroned Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinals then slammed the door on San Miguel Beer’s bid to regain the crown it won five times in the last six years by winning Game Seven last Sunday.
Special as the feat maybe, it will not go down as a first for TNT if ever. Red Bull and coach Yeng Guiao was the first to do the coup back in the 2001 Commissioner’s Cup.
It was a formidable but memorable experience that then sophomore Bernard Tanpua considered it the most unforgettable event of his brief pro career.
“Unang-unang championship ng Red Bull yun kaya memorable kahit mahirap,” told Tanpua to SPIN.ph, who was one of six amateur players the George Chua-owned franchise elevated from their amateur ballclub.
With former NBA player Tony Lang as import, and featuring players young, rising stars such as Willie Miller, Kerby Raymundo, Jimwell Torion, Junthy Valenzuela, Davon Harp, Mick Pennisi, Lordy Tugade, and the comebacking Ato Agustin, the Thunder finished third in the eliminations with a 6-3 record and enjoyed a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals against No. 6 seed and Jerald Honeycutt-reinforced Barangay Ginebra.
Red Bull made short work of the Kings, 82-70, to advance to the semis against No. 2 Purefoods in a best-of-five series.
The Hotdogs had David Wood, another ex-NBA player, for import and took the Thunder to the limit, before losing in the deciding game, 87-77.
That set up Red Bull to a title showdown with top seed San Miguel Beer in its first finals appearance.
The Thunder raced to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, but the Beermen, behind the trio of Danny Ildefonso, Danny Seigle, and Olsen Racela, along with import Nate Johnson, bounced back to tie it at 2-2.
It was a physical and bruising series that saw Valenzuela fined P40,000 for a flagrant foul on Johnson, Raymundo suspended for one game, and a near free-for-all in Game 2 sparked by the hacking foul of Nic Belasco on Lang.
But the Thunder weren’t to be denied as they proceeded to win the next two games to close out the series and win their first-ever PBA championship.
Lang was named Best Import and Harp the Finals MVP.
“Lahat kami sa champion team na yun close at maganda ang samahan,” Tanpua, now based in Los Angeles, said of what was the secret of the team’s early success in the PBA.
So will history repeat itself 20 years after?
It’s all up to the Tropang Giga to complete their own saga.
We are now on Quento! Download the app to enjoy more articles and videos from SPIN.ph and other Summit Media websites.