By Jonas Terrado
Bittersweet could be the best description of San Miguel Beer’s campaign in 2019 as the chance of completing a rare Grand Slam slipped away once again.
Talks of pulling off the sixth Triple Crown in the 44-year history of the pro loop began after the Beermen ruled the Philippine Cup for the fifth straight time and claiming victory in the Commissioner’s Cup.
Achieving such historic feat seemed ordained after SMB won the first four games of the season-ending conference behind prolific import Dez Wells, whose games of at least 30 or 40 points were a norm.
But the Beermen cooled off after the hot start with Wells suffering an ankle injury. The team brought in former NBA player John Holland but his arrival didn’t change the team’s fortunes.
Things took a downhill turn when Wells, Kelly Nabong, Arwind Santos and Ronald Tubid figured in a fight during practice, prompting SMB to send home the import while indefinitely suspending the three locals.
The final blow came in late-November when Barangay Ginebra San Miguel eliminated SMB in their quarterfinal series via a 100-97 decision at the Big Dome. It was deja vu for the Beermen, who were denied of the Grand Slam by the Kings in 2017.
“It’s unfortunate for us because everybody wanted to have that Grand Slam,” lamented coach Leo Austria. “But you know, you cannot win all games, especially all the teams now in the PBA are getting better and better and trying to prevent us from winning another championship.
“I hope these things that happened to us, along the way, could help us in the future.”
The Beermen can only hope for silver linings, given the difficulty they endured in winning the season’s first two conferences.
SMB’s status as the best All-Filipino team was threatened after falling behind 3-2 against a determined Magnolia side. But led by June Mar Fajardo and Terrence Romeo, the Beermen were able to emerge victorious after prevailing in Games 6 and 7.
Another title looked impossible after the Beermen dropped to 2-5 in the Commissioner’s Cup, forcing them to replace Charles Rhodes with ex-NBA cager Chris McCullough.
McCullough’s arrival resulted in a major turnaround for SMB, which overcame NorthPort’s twice-to-beat advantage in the quarters before bucking Marcio Lassiter’s knee injury to beat Rain or Shine in the semis and the Terrence Jones-led TNT KaTropa in the Finals.
Romeo, acquired from TNT before the start of the season, was named Finals MVP for his superb performance against his former team.
Then came the Governors’ Cup and Barangay Ginebra.