Alaska bids farewell after 35 seasons

Photo from PBA

The Alaska Aces, one of the most successful franchises in the colorful history of the Philippine Basketball Association, are bidding goodbye after 35 seasons and memories that their loyal followers will remember for a lifetime.

A press release handed out to media outlets Wednesday morning Feb. 16 said Alaska will only complete its campaign in the ongoing PBA Governors’ Cup before ending a run that saw the franchise win most of its 14 championships during the 90s.

“We thought long and hard before making this final decision,” team owner Fred Uytengsu said as part of the statement.

Uytengsu later tried to battle back tears during a hastily-called press conference, saying the decision to end its PBA participation was inevitable after his family sold majority control of the company in 2012 to Royal FrieslandCampina, a Dutch-based firm.

“Once we sold the company, I knew at some point this would be an eventuality. And it's just come to a situation where the company wants to refocus their efforts,” he said.

Aces ownership and management had already informed league officials led by commissioner Willie Marcial and chairman Ricky Vargas of its decision earlier in the day.

Yet to be determined is the future of the franchise and its players, since Uytengsu said that they have yet to find prospective buyers. Another option is for Alaska to put players under contract to be placed in a dispersal draft which would take place before next season.

Under such scenarios, the league will distribute remnants of the Alaska squad to the remaining PBA ballclubs through a drafting system.

News of Alaska’s departure was met with sadness, especially those who felt nostalgic about its glory days when the team lived up to the company’s “Wala pa rin tatalo sa Alaska” slogan.

But success didn’t come easily after Alaska entered the league in 1986, having to deal with birth pains and heartbreak defeats even after Tim Cone was hired to call the shots.

Under Cone, the Milkmen became the “Team of the 90s” by winning nine championships during that decade, including the historic Grand Slam in 1996 with Johnny Abarrientos, Jojo Lastimosa, Bong Hawkins, Jeffrey Cariaso, Poch Juinio and import Sean Chambers.

Cariaso left the team the following year, but later in the 1997 campaign got Kenneth Duremdes, who took part in the latter part of Alaska’s success in that decade.

Championships became scarce after the 2000s, winning four titles until Cone left to join the San Miguel Corporation group in 2011. Alaska hasn’t captured a title since the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup under coach Luigi Trillo and led by a dynamic rookie in Calvin Abueva.

A 15th title eluded Alaska in recent years, including a string of finals defeats between 2015 to 2016, including the 3-0 meltdown against San Miguel Beer in the 2016 Philippine Cup.

“It's been an amazing journey, really, when you look at it,” Uytengsu said. “Thirty five years, 31 finals appearances, 14 championships, a Grand Slam. And those are nice things to have. 

“But I think what we treasure the most really are the relationships I built over the years, with our coaches and players. I've appreciated my partnership with the PBA and having served the PBA to help make it a better organization. 

“As I say all good things come to an end, and at the end of this season, it will be our 35th and final season in the PBA. Really tough,” added Uytengsu.