They first won the phenomenal feat in 1989 under Coach Norman Black and with players like Ramon Fernandez, Ricardo Brown, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, Yves Dignadice, Franz Pumaren, Elmer Reyes, Alvin Teng, among others.
A second triple crown would catapult the Beermen to the same hallowed ground occupied by the legendary Crispa Redmanizers, which accomplished the rare triple crown in 1976 and 1983.
SMB coach Leo Austria may not be saying it, but their collective eyes are dead set on accomplishing something special this year. And with a solid core bannered by reigning three-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, Commissioner's Cup Finals MVP Alex Cabagnot, Best Player of the Conference Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and Arwind Santos now teaming up with hardworking former Alaska and Rain or Shine import Wendell McKines, the Beermen undoubtedly are the solid favorite to win the Governors' Cup.
Austria, though, may want to pick up a lesson or two from some past teams which nearly won the Slam but lost in the third conference.
FHM lists down these “unfortunate” teams and find out how the Beermen can avoid the same landmines that had prevented them from achieving the PBA's most coveted feat.
Toyota Comets (1975)
Toyota won the first ever PBA conference when they had import Byron “Snake” Jones reinforcing them, beating bitter rival Crispa in four games of a best-of-five series. They won again in the second conference, winning also in the same number of games against the Redmanizers. In the All-Philippine Cup, Crispa surged to a 2-1 lead, but the Comets was able to tie the series, heading towards a sudden death. Game 5 saw the Redmanizers pull off an exciting 95-91 victory, preventing Toyota from winning the first Slam in the maiden season.
Crispa Redmanizers (1977)
The Redmanizers just won the Grand Slam the previous season and remained dominant the following year, winning the first two conferences and extending their championship run wiht six titles in a row. They replaced the ineffective Ricky Hicks with former 7/Up import Chris McMurray to partner with the dominant Cyrus Mann in their bid to secure an even rarer back-to-back Grand Slam.
Unfortunately, bad luck and lack of chemistry between McMurray and the locals hounded the Redmanizers from the get-go. They lost their first three games in the Invitational Conference that featured two foreign teams—the Emtex Sacronels of Brazil and the Ramrod Blocks from Australia. Toyota, powered by imports John "Dr. I" Irving and Bruce "Sky" King, annexed the third conference with a 3-0 sweep (the first in league history) of the Brazilians.
Great Taste Coffeemakers (1985)
The Great Taste Coffeemakers became the first dominant team after Crispa and Toyota exited the league. The Gokongwei franchise steamrolled their opponents in the last two conferences of the 1984 season and the first two of 1985.
They were at the cusp of achieving the monumental Slam led by Ricardo Brown, Abe King, Manny Victorino, Chito Loyzaga, Joel Banal, Willie Pearson, et al, when problems plagued the team in the Reinforced Conference.
The team had struggled to find the right import, replacing original import Wally Rank with Michael Britt, who in turn, was replaced by Corey Blackwell. In a playoff match against the National Team Northern Consolidated to determine which team would face the Manila Beer Brewmasters in the Finals, legendary coach Ron Jacobs came up with a massive defensive blanket over Brown, rendering him scoreless in this pivotal game, steering NCC to a 123-117 win.
Tanduay Rhum Makers (1986)
With Ramon Fernandez arriving at Tanduay from Manila Beer in a celebrated trade with Abet Guidaben, the Elizalde franchise instantly became title favorites. Boasting a deep lineup that included Freddie Hubalde, Jayvee Yango, Willie Generalao, Onchie Dela Cruz, Padim Israel, Ely Capacio, Vic Sanchez, and Abet Gutierrez, the Rhum Makers ran roughshod over Great Taste in the Open Conference and Ginebra San Miguel in the All-Filipino.
With Rob Williams back to reinforce them alongside his Phi Slamma Jamma teammate from University of Houston, Benny Anders, Tanduay had reason to be optimistic coming into final conference.
But Anders turned out to be a dud and management had to recall Williams’ co-import in the Reinforced, Andre McKoy, to restore their triple crown chances. The smaller McKoy was later replaced by Andy Thompson, and Tanduay’s chances lit up once more. However, they lost a virtually won game against Manila Beer courtesy of Michael Young’s last-second trey.
The Rhum Makers were eliminated by virtue of a 151-130 drubbing courtesy of the Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett-led Ginebra squad, 151-130.
Sunkist Orange Juicers (1995)
A celebrated coaching trade in the previous season brought former Pepsi coach Derrick Pumaren to the Concepcion-owned club in lieu of Yeng Guiao who went to then Lorenzo-led franchise. One of Pumaren best moves was unleashing Vergel Meneses—the Aerial Voyager became the league’s newest superstar.
With a solid core of veterans and young players like Nelson Asaytono, Al Solis, Rudy Distrito, Zaldy Realubit, Bonel Balingit, Kenneth Duremdes, Boybits Victoria playing beautiful music to support their star, the Juicers snagged the first two titles at the expense of the Alaska Aces.
In the third conference, Sunkist paraded Stevin Smith, a clutch shooter who loved to take the last shot. They dominated during the elimination round, winning eight of their 10 games. But they could not sustain their winning ways in the semis as they dropped five of their eight games, relegating them to the battle for third place against Formula Shell.
Alaska Aces (1998)
There was no doubt on everybody’s mind that the Aces were going to win their second Slam two years after achieving the feat in 1996. They just demolished the Jacobs-mentored San Miguel Beermen in the year's previous two Finals, and were practically invincible under the stewardship of the venerable Tim Cone.
But Cone was appointed head coach of the Centennial Team that competed at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games; key Aces Johnny Abbarientos, Jojo Lastimosa, and Kenneth Duremdes were part of said squad. Without their coach and superstars, the Aces stumbled, even with resident import Sean Chambers and Monty Buckley helping out, finishing with a 2-5 card in the Governors’ Cup elims and failing to reach the Final Four.
Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters (2010-11)
With the return of the three-conference format, TNT didn’t waste time establishing its dominance under coach Chot Reyes, winning the first two championships of the 2010-11 season against two teams from their corporate rivals—San Miguel Beermen and Barangay Ginebra Kings.
In the third conference, they clinched the first Finals berth with a 15-6 card. The Petron Blaze Boosters (formerly SMB), with a superior quotient against Ginebra and Alaska, earned the second.
The series between the two powerhouses was heated from start, even sparking a word war between Reyes and Petron coach Ato Agustin. After a couple of blowout wins from both sides, TNT need a lopsided win against the Boosters, 104-78, in Game 6 to set up a winner-take-all game.
Petron was ahead for most of Game 7. TNT tried in vain to catch up. But the superb performances of Petron import Nate Grundy and Finals MVP Arwind Santos helped prevent TNT from being the fourth team to win the Grand Slam at the time.
With the Grand Slam clearly on the minds of the Beermen, they can only hope that McKines—who averaged 30.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game in 16 appearances for the Elasto Painters, including a career-high 53-point outburst—turns out to be the ideal import to lead them to the championship. If things continue to go their way in the Governors’ Cup, then SMB should be a lock for that second triple crown.
Photos c/o Jay P. Mercado