Defying the odds

July 04, 2020

ONE of only nine players to win PBA MVP honors more than once, Benjie Paras snared his second and last in 1999 as renaissance man, foiling the Cinderella bid of then Fil-Am super rookies Eric Menk and Sonny Alvarado.

It's an epic tale for Paras he achieved with the help of key role players surrounding him plus the man in the saddle in Perry Ronquillo.

"Everyone had its own specialty; walang sapawan," said Ronquillo, in a recent ClutchPoint podcast, of the Paras-led team upsetting Tanduay in the 1999 Philippine Cup finals and thus handing the Shell franchise the last of its four championships before its foldup in 2005.

At the tail-end of his fabled career, Paras regained a second wind and defied the odds to win the all-Filipino crown for Shell and, later, earned his second MVP crown, 10 years after his previous celebrated Rookie of the Year/MVP season in 1989.

They snared a special feat while foiling what was highly anticipated as a Cinderella tale for the then comebacking Tanduay ball club brimming with the exuberance and ebullience of young good players.

"It's the year when the PBA allowed each team a Fil-Am direct hire and we had ours only on Dec. 30, 1999 in the person of Tony dela Cruz. And we we're saying we can be the league's laughing stock or we can be the miracle boys," said Ronquillo.

"That's the motivation. We're not dominating from the start. Dikit-dikit lang sa kalaban, and at endgame, we make the most of it. Kung baga sa boxer, pumupuntos lang," he added.

Paras and Co. piled up just enough points to make the playoffs. And then came their miraculous romp.

The Turbo Chargers were underdogs from the beginning, taking on San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals then Ginebra in the semifinals.

"When we made it past the semis, I remembered being asked whom I wanted to play in the finals. I said then it's like choosing between a Mike Tyson or a Muhammad Ali. Tanduay can knock you out in one punch while Alaska is like a Muhammad Ali with his clever tactic," Ronquillo recalled.

And it came down to a duel between an old team versus a young squad.   

Badly beaten in the series opener, the Turbo Chargers made a big tactic change from Game Two to turn things around.

"There's a saying in coaching that you don't change something that brought you that far. But after the first game where Tanduay dominated with their pace, I said 'it's coach's call now. I'm a coach who accepts suggestions but this time it's coach's call. I want this team (Tanduay) to get bored to death. Slow down the game,'" Ronquillo said.

"Be unpredictable because if we play the same as we did in Game One, it's a guarantee we gonna lose. If we're younger players, it would not work, but as experienced our players were then, it helped," he added.

"We had a perfect personnel for that abrupt change. Before we knew it, we're up 2-1.

They tied at 2-2 and we won Game Five and Six."

Though already battling Father Time, Paras reemerged as the force as he was as a Rookie/MVP.

And he was rewarded with his second MVP crown. (SB, PBA Website)