Arwind Santos leaves lasting legacy as ex-MVP bids farewell to SMB

Arwind Santos (second from left) poses with Marcio Lassiter, June Mar Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross (PBA Images)

The trade that sent Arwind Santos to the NorthPort Batang Pier marked the end of an era for the San Miguel Beermen’s talented and successful starting five.

San Miguel’s decision to break one-fourth of the group known as the “Death Five” in order to complete the acquisition of Vic Manuel from NorthPort was met with sadness from longtime fans accustomed to seeing them win championship after championship.

Santos, June Mar Fajardo, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot led the Beermen to eight championships between 2015 to 2019, including a streak of five consecutive triumphs in the Philippine Cup.

It is still unknown as to who coined the group’s name, but it’s a perfect term for a team that has beaten some of the league’s best during that run, namely Barangay Ginebra, Magnolia, TNT and Alaska.

A coveted Grand Slam, however, eluded the group during that period, which can no longer be attained with Santos trading his familiar red SMB uniforms for an orange NorthPort jersey.

The deal also ended Santos’ SMB tenure that began after being traded from Burger King (Air21 franchise) in the 2009 offseason.

Santos tasted a championship even before the organic formation of the group when SMB changed its name to Petron and denied TNT a Grand Slam in the 2011 Governors’ Cup.

But “Petronovela,” a term describing the team’s failed title attempts marred the next three years, including an incident in March 2013 when Santos was choked by teammate Renaldo Balkman due to an on-court argument.

It was not until the arrival of Ross in 2014, the hiring of Leo Austria as coach, the return of Cabagnot from a brief stint with GlobalPort late in the year and the emergence of Fajardo as the PBA’s top star that SMB began to enjoy long-term success.

But good things don’t last forever and the failed title bids in the last two pandemic conferences prompted the Beermen to keep adding younger pieces in hopes of returning to the top.

The previous two seasons have witnessed the arrival of Terrence Romeo, Mo Tautuaa and CJ Perez without having to give up any member of the “Death Five.” That trend ended Monday, Nov. 8 when SMB gave up Santos for Manuel.

History will put this group among the best of all-time, right up there with the great Crispa and Toyota starting fives from the league’s infancy years, the young Purefoods teams of the late-80s and early-90s, Alaska’s glory years of the late-90s, among others.