Alaska's 36-year PBA run comes to an end

Photo from PBA

The clock finally struck midnight on the Alaska Aces’ storied participation in the Philippine Basketball Association on Saturday, March 19 when hopes of a fairytale-like ending were dashed following their quarterfinal loss to the NLEX Road Warriors.

Attempts to extend the swan song described as the “AlasDance” for at least another week went futile as NLEX marched on to the semifinals with a convincing 96-80 win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

As the final buzzer sounded to officially draw to a close the franchise’s 36-year run, there were images of disappointment among the team, from Jeron Teng to coach Jeffrey Cariaso.

Some family members and diehard supporters couldn’t help but cry upon realizing that the end had finally come. All of them pale in comparison to the emotions of long-time team official CK Kanapi-Daniolco as she was among those called at center court for a short tribute put up by the league.

The popular Alaska mascot E-Cow — or the person tasked to do the role — may have also shed a tear or two.

Curiously, confetti, usually reserved for teams that end up winning the championship each conference, flew all over the court as part of the ceremony to make sure that the Aces were given a fitting sendoff.

Team governor Dickie Bachmann spoke briefly, thanking everyone who saw Alaska become one of the league’s fabled franchises with 14 championships. Bachmann, who had been with the team since his playing days as a seldom-used center, opted against saying goodbye.

“We would like to thank you for all your support for 36 years,” Bachmann said. “See you all soon!"

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial delivered a short message before pushing a button for another final buzzer in a symbolic gesture to mark an end of an era for the country’s top pro league.

A tune of the famous “Wala Pa Ring Tatalo sa Alaska” jingle was played immediately after as the Aces slowly walked back to the dressing room amid a rousing ovation from those who were still inside the Big Dome.

“Maraming, maraming salamat, Alaska!” Marcial said.

Like other great teams such as Crispa and Toyota, even those with lighter success such as the first Tanduay franchise, Great Taste, Pop Cola and Shell, basketball fans will only have memories to cherish now that Alaska is gone.

Some old timers will never forget the infant years when the great Bogs Adornado had his final stop and the duo of Yoyoy Villamin and Ricky Relosa, known as the “Bruise Brothers,” tried to bring the Alaska/Hills Bros. team to respectability.

Some could still recall the initial forays of Bong Alvarez and Boy Cabahug donning the Alaska jersey and Tim Cone beginning his legendary coaching career with early hardships.

A younger generation still remembers the golden era, when Johnny Abarrientos, Jojo Lastimosa, Sean Chambers, Bong Hawkins, for a brief part Cariaso and later Kenneth Duremdes savored the sweet taste of success under Cone’s guidance.

The supporting cast was almost as equally-popular as those in the starring roles, from shooter Rhoel Gomez to the late Cris Bolado to even Bachmann and guard Jun Reyes.

Then there was the transition from the post-90s dynasty with Ali Peek, John Arigo and Brandon Cablay before some success in the late-2000s with Sonny Thoss, Willie Miller, Joe Devance, LA Tenorio and Cyrus Baguio.

Long-time fans can still feel the heartbreak of Cone’s departure and the repeated finals defeats with Calvin Abueva, Jvee Casio, Vic Manuel and coach Alex Compton.

Cariaso went full circle as coach of the young squad for the final years of the Wilfred Uytengsu-owned franchise — a franchise that meant a lot to him.

“I didn’t want to think that this was a possibility, but it is here,” he said. “We all knew since Feb. 16 (Uytengsu’s announcement) that this day will come eventually, and it’s here now.”

There were plenty of thoughts around Cariaso’s mind, he said. One of those is that if there’s anything every PBA follower can agree with is that Alaska being talked in the past tense is a sad reality moving forward.

“I think everyone can attest to this, even if they were part of the organization or not, but they know that the PBA will miss Alaska.” said Cariaso. “And I think that just shows what kind of an organization Alaska is.”