One of the most decorated ballclubs in the PBA announced it is bidding adieu.
The Alaska Aces stated the 2021-22 Governors’ Cup will be its last conference, leaving a ton of memories accumulated during its three-and-a-half decade participation.
The Uytengsu family owned franchise began their participation in 1986 with lots of promise. In just its second season, the organization quickly established itself as a team with competent ownership by parading the “Bruise Brothers” pair of Elpidio Villamin and Ricky Relosa. The duo led Hills Bros. Coffee to a couple of finals, although fell short to bring home a title both times.
After 35 years, the hype was proven to be real as they will end up the winningest independent team, appearing in 31 finals and winning 14 championships, including the fourth grand slam in PBA history. Their 14 titles are tied for 2nd most in PBA history.
The Aces, also carrying at one time team monikers “Air Force” and “Milkmen”, stamped indelible marks during their run. Whenever Alaska is mentioned in Philippine basketball, Aces and opposing fans will always remember this team because of these major reasons:
1996 Grand Slam
Alaska was frustrated in all three previous trips to the All-Filipino/Philippine Cup finals but not only a fourth attempt proved to be the charm, their victory against Purefoods ushered a magical season for the team.
The Milkmen were considered the underdogs in the series but ousted the TJ Hotdogs in just five games.
Jojo Lastimosa played the best series of his career to power the team. His Fourth Quarter Man moniker was solidified in this series as he bailed out the Aces in several instances during crunch time of different games. Voted as Finals MVP, Alaska’s first long-term resident superstar was fittingly the man to hand Alaska its first All-Filipino title.
The next two conferences belonged to another resident star, import Sean Chambers.
Chambers, the Aces’ resident import for the Governors’ Cup, had be planed in earlier than expected when original import Derrick Hamilton was sent packing during the last stages of the semifinals when traces of marijuana was found in his urine.
Chambers went on to led the Milkmen to their seventh straight finals appearance and finish the job by overcame his taller counterpart, Kenny Redfield, and Formula Shell for the Commissioner’s Cup title. The finals series went full-route, seven games.
Alaska practically owned the Governor’s Cup during these times and it was no different this year. Faced with a third different opponent, Alaska ousted Ginebra in five games to complete the PBA’s fourth grandslam.
Chambers proved his domination of the Governors’ Cup by being the runaway winner of the best import award.
The Milkmen’s success also powered other team members to various year-end awards. Johnny Abarrientos was feted the MVP award, Lastimosa and Bong Hawkins were named to the Mythical, and Edward Juinio brought home a Most Improved Player award.
Lastimosa, Abarrientos, Hawkins: Aces version of a Big Three
Paul Alvarez, Jeffrey Cariaso, Kenneth Duremdes, Willie Miller, LA Tenorio, Sonny Thoss and Calvin Abueva were among the notable players to done the red and white Aces uniform but no player or set of players represented the Aces better than the triumvirate of Lastimosa, Abarrientos, and Hawkins.
The trio were the first of its kind in the PBA to buy in the team-first mentality and engineered one of the most successful runs in the PBA.
The Aces most successful era started in 1991, the year they traded for Lastimosa, who teamed up with Aces super import Sean Chambers to give the franchise its first title.
The arrival of Abarrientos and Hawkins a couple of years later was in perfect timing as the trio’s peak from 1995-1998 provided the golden era for the Aces. They reached the finals 10 of the 12 conferences and won seven of them during this stretch.
This will go down as one of the most successful short-term runs in PBA history, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the runs engineered by the likes of San Miguel, Crispa, Toyota, and Great Taste franchises.
The run lasted until 2000, a span of 10 years, the final productive year of Abarrientos and Hawkins as Milkmen.
They were able to reach the finals 15 times and win 10 championships during this stretch.
Tim Cone and the Triangle Offense
Cone was the person responsible for the team-first mentality by implementing a system that emphasizes ball sharing, the triangle offense.
The system forced the Alaska trio to share the ball but allowed them to maximize their strengths and made the Aces a dominant team.
It costed the Alaska superstars personal stats and individual awards but rewarded them with multiple championship hardware.
Cone and his system were responsible for 12 of the 13 championships of the Aces under his reign, the only exemption being the franchise’s first title where he was still employing the “Jolas and 11 Indians” offense.
Chambers made his mark by becoming one of the Top 4 imports to play in the PBA, alongside Norman Black, Bobby Parks, and Justin Brownlee.
This import who has a unique skill set became the standard bearer of the Third Conference/Governors’ Cup during his time.
The 6’1” American, who usually plays small forward, can’t shot triples but can post up and defend players much bigger his size, is another proof of the ingenuity the Aces front office in building a championship roster.
Chambers led the Aces to 7 Governors’ Cup finals during his 11-year stint, winning five of them.
Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, Jr.: Mark Cuban of the PBA
Uytengsu’s being actively involved in team affairs and constant presence during Alaska games is the Cuban trait referred here.
Uytengsu and his front office team are one of the most competent and competitive team builders. Their assembling the team from the Bruise Brothers to the Big Three eras were probably the best front office moves during that time.
There is no better evidence of how he can build a championship team than his bold sacrifice of the Aces’ probable second PBA Grand Slam by loaning the team’s best players to make the Philippine Team a better competitor in 1998 when the reigns and responsibility on the Centennial Team was handed to Cone.
They may not brought home the gold but Abbarientos and Duremdes were key cogs during the team’s run at the championship.
To top it all, the Centennial team would have been shutout from a podium appearance if not for Lastimosa’s clutch performance during the second half of the third place game that handed the Philippines a consolation bronze.
By Armando Bolislis
Photo lifted from Alaska Aces facebook page