DESPITE its relatively short stay in the PBA, the Coca-Cola/Powerade franchise had a relatively successful run, winning two championships in eight years. After purchasing the RFM franchise, Coca-Cola began its PBA campaign in 2002 and promptly won championships in their first two seasons in the league.
The Tigers were unable to replicate their success in their last few conferences in the league, but still had one more title bid before the Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines sold the franchise to NorthPort in 2012.
Here are some of the memorable moments and personalities in the history of the Tigers:
Tigers crowned as champions on Christmas Day
In only their first All-Filipino campaign in 2002, the Tigers captured the PBA crown by defeating Alaska in four games of a best-of-five finals to become one of the few teams in league history to capture a championship in their first season in the league.
The Tigers had veterans in 1996 Alaska grand slam winners Jeff Cariaso, Johnny Abarrientos, and Poch Juinio, and Freddie Abuda, as well as young players in Rudy Hatfield, Rafi Reavis, and Ato Morano. Coca-Cola finished third in the eliminations, and defeated Sta. Lucia and San Miguel in the playoffs.
After losing Game 1, Coca-Cola recovered to win the next two matches which both went into overtime. The Tigers claimed the title with a 78-63 victory on Christmas Day despite playing without injured players Cariaso and Abarrientos. Hatfield led the team in scoring with 20 points.
Coca-Cola nabs second crown
It didn’t take long for Coca-Cola to win another crown in the 2003 Reinforced Conference finals at the expense of San Miguel in seven games. The team was mostly intact from the year before, with Tee McClary as import. The Tigers overcame Ginebra in the quarterfinals, then swept Talk ‘N Text in the semifinals.
Coca-Cola then overcame a grueling seven-game series against San Miguel, winning Game 7, 92-84, behind McClary’s 25 points. Morano and Cariaso also backed McClary in the victory despite injuries to a host of players including Hatfield and Rob Wainwright.
Cariaso, Hatfield win individual awards for the Tigers
He may be the head coach of Alaska because of his history with the team, but Cariaso’s career also flourished at Coca-Cola. After suiting up for Tanduay briefly before it disbanded, Cariaso moved to Coca-Cola in 2002 where he won his only Best Player of the Conference and Finals MVP trophies with the ballclub.
Before he became one of the most popular players of Ginebra, Hatfield was one of the stars of Coca-Cola where his career grew. Known for his hard-nosed style of play, Hatfield became a vital cog in the Tigers’ title run. He actually won most of his individual awards during his stay with Coca-Cola including the 2002 Finals MVP and 2003 Best Player of the Conference crown.
Chot Reyes steers Coca-Cola to championships
The winningest coach in terms of championships for TNT also has that same distinction with Coca-Cola , which Reyes led the to two championships. The 2002 crown was Reyes’ first since he led Purefoods to a 1994 title. The following year, Reyes propelled Coca-Cola to championship appearances in all three conferences, winning the 2003 Reinforced Conference.
Gary David torches B-Meg
The final years of the now-Powerade franchise was no longer as successful as during its Coca-Cola days but one of their most memorable conferences came in the 2012 Philippine Cup where it reached the finals as the eighth seed.
Gary David steered the Tigers to the finals following that memorable knockout quarterfinals match against B-Meg where he torched the Llamados with 37 points in the famous 131-123 overtime win.