Talk ‘N Text has now earned its fifth straight finals appearance, and even people who hate the Tropang Texters would grudgingly admit that the team is now the class of the PBA. For younger fans, it’s hard to believe that Talk ‘N Text was once the PBA’s doormat franchise, the league’s equivalent to the Charlotte Bobcats.
The team traces its roots to Pepsi, which joined the PBA in 1990 alongside RFM-owned squad Pop Cola. They were allowed by the PBA to pick players from other teams in the expansion draft. Sarsi selected the popular Joey Loyzaga from Ginebra, while Pepsi plucked veteran center Tonichi Yturri from San Miguel.
As expected, the two expansion teams finished at the bottom of the heap in their maiden season. Pepsi fared a bit worse, winning just two games all year. But while Pop Cola, then rechristened Sarsi, improved tremendously in 1991 by crashing the finals of the All-Filipino Conference, Pepsi remained in the cellar.
It certainly wasn’t for lack of support from management. From the very start, the team has shown willingness to open their wallets to try to acquire marquee players. In 1991, the team tendered a then-record five-year, P25.8-million offer sheet to Purefoods superstar Alvin Patrimonio. The move shocked jaded fans and observers; Patrimonio later admitted that he didn’t think the Hotdogs would match the offer.
But Purefoods ended up matching the offer and keeping Patrimonio, who ended up winning four Most Valuable Player awards. Pepsi, meanwhile, was left holding an empty bag.
It wouldn’t be the last time the franchise would tender a record-setting contract to try to acquire marquee superstars, only to have its offer matched by other teams. In 1995, Pepsi dangled five-year, P28.5 million to Jun Limpot, at the time the league’s most promising big man, only to see Sta. Lucia keep the big man. In 2001, the team — by then known as the Mobiline Phone Pals — tried to pry Kenneth Duremdes away from Alaska with a seven-year, P42-million contract, to no avail.
The franchise also brought in a steady stream of big names to coach the team. Ed Ocampo, Derrick Pumaren, Yeng Guiao, Norman Black, Tommy Manotoc, and Eric Altamirano — champion coaches from other teams — and Louie Alas, who was coming off a title run in the Metropolitan Basketball Association, all took a shot at the helm of the squad, but couldn’t lead it to a championship. The only hardware for the franchise came in 1998 when it won the Centennial Cup, a mini-tournament that was part of that season’s Governors’ Cup.
Later on, the franchise brought in American coaches Bill Bayno, now an assistant with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, and Paul Woolpert, but neither man was able to bring a championship to the franchise.
Things turned around in 2003 under coach Joel Banal. The team, now carrying the Talk ‘N Text banner, picked Harvey Carey fourth overall in the draft, and was surprised to find Jimmy Alapag available with the 10th pick. With star center Asi Taulava, they won the 2003 Philippine Cup, the franchise’s first official PBA championship after 13 long seasons. Taulava was named season MVP, while Alapag won Rookie of the Year honors.
But despite doing well over the next few tournaments, Talk ‘N Text could not win another championship. Banal was given the pink slip at the midway through the 2005-06 season, and Pumaren, who was working as team consultant, was tapped to take over the reins once more. Pumaren’s tenure was memorable for the trade that sent Asi Taulava to Coca-Cola, but he once again failed to lead the team to a title.
The key turnaround came halfway through the 2007-08 season, after the team hired Chot Reyes as coach. Fresh off a stint with the national team in the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship in Tokushima, Japan, Reyes predicted a championship for Talk ‘N Text within three conferences. It was a bold prediction, considering the franchise had only won one title over the course of more than 17 years in the PBA.
But true enough, on his third conference with the team, Talk ‘N Text defeated Alaska in seven games to win the 2009 Philippine Cup.
With his bold prophecy fulfilled, Reyes found job stability that the franchise’s former coaches didn’t seem to have. Management’s confidence in Reyes grew by leaps and bounds, and the coach rewarded them by nearly winning a Grand Slam last season.
Aside from Reyes’ expertise, it was also the team’s ability to sign talented players that completed the transformation of the franchise into a dominant force. The core of Alapag and Carey were bolstered in 2009 by rookies Jayson Castro (who was selected with a pick that came from San Miguel in exchange for Jay Washington) and Jared Dillinger. Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes were acquired from the outgoing Sta. Lucia franchise in a controversial deal. Larry Fonacier came via trade from Alaska. Unlike in the past, when the team seemingly couldn’t get the marquee players it wanted, Talk ‘N Text is now teeming with talent at all positions.
Reyes is leaving the team at the end of the season to concentrate on his national team coaching chores. It is no secret that the Tropang Texters want to give a fitting farewell to Reyes with a Grand Slam to cap his spectacular coaching career with the franchise, and the second step to their triple crown dream begins on Monday against the B-MEG Llamados.
But regardless of what will happen at the end of the season, Reyes will be leaving a team much better than the one he took over four years ago. Once the PBA’s paupers, the Tropang Texters figure to continue their princely run at the top of the heap.
Jay P. Mercado is a highly-regarded PBA amateur historian. He serves as a consultant for the PBA Greatest Games broadcast on Pinoy X-treme.
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