They would walk out onto the court late in the fourth with the game on the line, a true “Death Five” before the phrase was even coined.
These were the Alaska Aces of the 1990s; their no-nonsense, businesslike approach to dismantling teams provided a perfect contrast to the din they often found themselves wrapped in every time they battled rival Barangay Ginebra.
Jojo Lastimosa can still recall that noise.
The boos. The jeers. The fans screaming at him every time he squares up for a clutch jumper with the outcome hanging in the balance.
He remembers how loud they can get.
“I told my players the noise from the crowd when you play against Ginebra pales in comparison to the noise and the crowd before,” he told the Inquirer on Wednesday.
He remembers, too, their silence.
Feared starting unit
Lastimosa was part of coach Tim Cone’s feared Alaska starting unit that engaged Barangay Ginebra in several heated battles in the 90s. That unit featured Johnny Abarrientos, Bong Hawkins, Poch Juinio, and either Jeffrey Cariaso or Kenneth Duremdes. It was Lastimosa, however, who had the penchant for draining those clutch fourth-quarter shots that would mute the Ginebra side of the arena.
“You never forget moments like those, when you hit big shots against Ginebra and the crowd goes silent,” Lastimosa said.
When he was there, at the moment, he relished the opportunity.
“There is nothing more fulfilling than to hit a big shot that quiets the crowd,” Lastimosa said. “My attitude toward Ginebra was you always have to be fearless and defiant.”
At their loudest, the Ginebra fans did not only fuel the Kings, but they also fed Lastimosa with much-needed equanimity.
“I always felt it was nice to hear the jeers. The boos calmed me,” Lastimosa revealed. “Once I start hearing them, I get more locked in, more focused.”
As much as the Ginebra crowd hated Lastimosa’s dream-shredding abilities, the current TNT coach said he never felt hostile toward those fans.
“I never wanted to make it personal. I just want to compete against them because playing against Ginebra was always tough. If you play against a team that isn’t as tough as Ginebra, a team you know you can beat, where’s the challenge?”
Now 59, Lastimosa is decades removed from those memorable matchups with the Gin Kings, and even with his wealth of experience in stepping up in that “significant clutch moment,” he tries not to go into detail about those duels.
“I try to communicate that defiance, that fearlessness, but I try also not to talk about myself too much. I just mention it in passing,” he said as his team prepares to battle Ginebra in Game 1 of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals on Easter Sunday.
And fate could not have scripted a better Finals debut for Lastimosa. Cone, his long-time coach with the Aces, will spearhead the Gin Kings this time.
“I feel nostalgic, but I try not to be too emotional about it, to be honest,” he said. “The Finals in itself is a big deal already. You don’t get to the Finals all the time. Not every team gets here.”
This is a new era now. Lastimosa isn’t going to be taking clutch jumpers anymore. This TNT squad is battling Ginebra with its own motivation.
“The players are ready. They deserve all the credit for us being here and they’re motivated because we didn’t perform well the last time around,” he said.
Still, he won’t be surprised if there will be a scatter of boos directed toward him. They will likely come from those who recall the dread and desperation that Lastimosa coaxed out of them with every big shot.
“Those fans [from before], they remember,” he said.
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