In Tim Cone’s list, Johnny A still reigns supreme

In Tim Cone’s list, Johnny A still reigns supreme: ‘Unequivocally’

By: - Reporter / @MusongINQ
/ 05:25 AM March 08, 2024

Tim Cone talks to the InquirerSports staff during an awards dinner in his honor.

Tim Cone talks to the Inquirer Sports staff during an awards dinner in his honor. —MARLO CUETO/

Tim Cone spent a lot of time chatting with members of the Inquirer sports staff earlier this week, talking of how “adventurous” his flight to the Philippines was as a 9-year-old back in 1966.

He talked about how he and Alaska owner Fred Uytengsu got together and created a PBA dynasty.


He talked about Gilas Pilipinas, about the gold medal they won in China more than five months ago to end a 61-year Asian Games (Asiad) drought. He even talked about golf for a while and how great San Miguel Beer coach Jorge Gallent is at the game.


READ: Gilas won’t win all the time but team will make PH proud, says Tim Cone

And then he talked about players—in the PBA, past and present—and the new generation of players who are either in the league or playing elsewhere.

And then the Inquirer popped the question, to which he had an answer quicker than the player he admired the most.

“Unequivocally,” he said, “Johnny Abarrientos is the best player I ever coached.”

READ: Tim Cone has no PBA ‘GOAT,’ says Sonny Jaworski ‘most important player of all time’

Alaska was Cone’s first home in the PBA, and the defunct Aces ruled the league with the proverbial iron hand in the 1990s, highlighted by a Grand Slam in 1996 when Abarrientos became the smallest player at 5-feet-7 and loose change to win the Most Valuable Player award.


“He’s just a guy that literally checked all the boxes all the time,” Cone said before he received the award for the Best Performance of a Coach for that title run in the Hangzhou Asiad during the third Inquirer Sports Awards Night at Casa Buenas in Newport Hotel.

“His work ethic: He never got tired, never got injured, except for the time when he was hit in the face that broke his orbital socket,” Cone added. “He was incredibly coachable.”

Plane in flames

Johnny Abarrientos Alaska Tim Cone

Alaska built a dynasty around the likes of Johnny Abarrientos and Bong Hawkins. —BETOY JOHNSON

Ever since the flight from Waikiki where the right engine of the plane his family was in burst into flames, Cone—who that time told his parents that the engine incident was quite an adventure—has coached for a total of 34 years in the PBA and, safe to say, has seen it all.

There’s also this one thing he regrets doing the most in his career.

“Hindsight sometimes is the best sight,” Cone said. “Worst thing I ever did at the back of my career (at Alaska) was that I traded him too early. Johnny deserved more than that.”

READ: Tim Cone gets to do a little ‘writing’ for Philippine basketball

Abarrientos and Poch Juinio were traded to Pop Cola at the start of the 2001 Season for Ali Peek and Jon Ordonio. And though both teams still thrived with their new recruits, Cone said that he could have squeezed some more years out of his point guard.

“The thing was, [I saw that] we reached our peak at Alaska [after the decade and eight titles together],” he explained. “We had just played Tanduay and all the Fil-Ams and they just ripped us apart.

“[Our] veterans were getting old and we needed something of value (in exchange),” he said, also admitting that he was part of that decision to break up the Grand Slam core. “We made that difficult decision early.”

READ: Tim Cone-coached Gilas lifts PH back to Asian Games glory

Time heals all wounds, as the old cliche goes. And Cone and Abarrientos found themselves together again at Purefoods/San Mig Coffee where they won another Grand Slam as parts of the coaching staff.

Cone can count 34 more years and, from the way he talked, sees no equal of Abarrientos ever again.

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That seems to be a safe bet.

TAGS: Johnny Abarrientos, PBA, Tim Cone

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