YENG Guiao and Jong Uichico stand no more than a dozen paces away from each other when they patrol the sidelines in the Commissioner's Cup finals but are so far apart in terms of allegiance, leading two teams which have come to hate each other in one of the most physical, violent finales seen in the PBA in years.
The gap between the rival coaches is even bigger when it comes to personality.
Jong is the quiet type, a soft-spoken coach who rarely leaves his seat on the bench and mumbles tame lines during post-game interviews; Yeng gnaws at players, referees, officials, coaches and opposing players at a moment's notice and sends headline writers rushing to their laptops with a single, butane-filled quote.
But as wide as the gap seemed to be between them, the two coaches are closer than a lot of people think. They in fact grew up in the same neighborhood, no more than three streets apart. The Guiaos' old home stand at Kennedy and the Uichico's at Van Buren in the affluent North Greenhills community where streets are named after former US presidents.
"We used to be neighbors, ang lapit lang ng mga bahay namin," said the Rain or Shine coach, chuckling at the recollection, "and we've known each other since we were kids."
The bond between the two families is also deep. Yeng's father, the late former Pampanga governor Bren Guiao, and Tony Uichico are close pals, the reason their kids became good friends almost naturally.
Yeng said he remains close to Jong's brothers and Jong is friends with his sibilings. Those ties have now extended to the next generation since Yeng's son counts one of Jong's nephews among his best friends.
Interestingly, two veteran coaches with a total of 14 PBA championships between them - and 15 by the end of this controversy-filled title series - used to play in the same neighborhood team.
"Magkakampi kami sa North Greenhills noon," Uichico, whose mother by the way is the sister of legendary Crispa owner and manager Danny Floro, told Spin.ph. "Kalaban namin ibang teams sa Greenhills."
The two even ended up in the same high school team, with Yeng a senior in La Salle-Greenhills' varsity team when Uichico came in as a freshman.
Guiao went on to play for the University of the Philippines Maroons in college and Uichico for the La Salle Green Archers and Ron Jacobs' famed Northern Consolidated-backed national teams, but it wasn't long before their paths crossed again as coaches in the pro league.
That's the reason why no matter what happens in this wild, tumultuous series that has seen players hit players and import bump coach and coach confront import and players challenge players to a fight and players' wives bicker with players' wives, the respect between the two coaches will remain intact.
"It's not between him (Uichico) and me naman," said Guiao, who, true to his on-court persona, is frugal with affectionate words for rival coaches while in the middle of a 'war.'
Uichico, who lost to Yeng in their first meeting in the finals in 2001 back in their days with San Miguel and Red Bull, respectively, and served in an unofficial capacity as one of the scouts for the Guiao-coached national team in 2007, is more open.
The Talk 'N Text coach said regardless of what happens between him and Guiao or their respective teams on the court, he is certain nothing much has changed with the fellow he has known since they were kids.
"He's a very intense coach," said Uichico, "but off the court, he's a very different person."