HANGZHOU, China — Tim Cone humbly deflected the credit for leading Gilas Pilipinas to the final of the men’s basketball tournament of the 19th Asian Games here.
Cone said they were motivated to win over China to somehow avenge the bitter setback suffered by the legendary Robert Jaworski and the national squad in the gold medal match of the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.
The charismatic Ginebra playing-coach served as the mentor of the national squad when it faced Ma Jian, Shan Tao, and other mighty Chinese in the final of the Asian Games in 1990.
Bannered by Philippine Basketball Association stars like Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Chito Loyzaga, Alvin Patrimonio and Benjie Paras, the Nationals bowed to the Chinese, 74-90, to settle for the silver medal.
Cone, who entered the PBA in 1989, said he was just a young coach and couldn’t help but admire the work that Jaworski did to lead the undersized Filipinos to the gold medal match.
Although basketball wasn’t as scientific back then, it was Jaworski’s great motivational skills that brought the fire into the eyes of the Filipinos, making them one of the most feared teams in Asia.
But China was simply too strong, too tall to be beaten in its territory.That’s why their thrilling 77-76 victory over the Chinese was very sweet as they managed to atone for that setback and regain the Filipino pride in Asia’s biggest basketball stage.
“To me it’s all about Sonny. It’s been 33 years that I’m still trying to live up to his legacy,” Cone said after putting the Filipinos on the brink of their first Asian Games gold medal since 1962.
Against China, naturalized player Justin Bronwlee was at his best as he delivered back-to-back three-pointers that turned a 71-76 deficit into a razor-thin 77-76 advantage.
Then, the Filipinos had a solid defensive stop in the final 23 seconds to seal what could be their biggest and most impressive wins in the international arena.
When sportswriters told Cone that he still has his “Big J” in Brownlee, Cone begged to disagree.
“I have a lot of Big Js in the team but my Big J will always be Sonny,” he chuckled.