MANILA, Philippines -- Marc Pingris' retirement from the PBA was met by an outpouring of love from his fellow players as well as coaches who celebrated the remarkable career of "Pinoy Sakuragi."
Among those who paid tribute to Pingris was Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone, who coached Pingris in the Purefoods franchise from 2011 to 2015. Under Cone's guidance, San Mig Coffee won a Grand Slam in the 2014 season.
Reacting to Pingris' retirement, Cone tweeted: "End of an era. Certainly one of a kind. I loved, in every way, coaching Ping. Tough as nails on the court, gentle in spirit off it."
Cone, who has mentored the careers of several PBA All-Stars and MVPs, said that Pingris "will be the standard from which I coach future players."
It was a statement that made Pingris emotional.
"It's an honor na marinig sa isang coach na talagang napakagaling, napakabait. Iba si Coach Tim sa lahat, sorry to say, iba si Coach Tim sa lahat," said Pingris, who was the Finals Most Valuable Player when they won the 2013 PBA Governors' Cup.
Pingris recalled that his relationship with Cone didn't start off well. He was not pleased to have been benched by Cone early on, when the veteran mentor was tinkering with their lineup. Last year, Cone revealed that Pingris even asked for a trade when he initially struggled to grasp the intricacies of the triangle offense.
"May away pa talaga kami ni Coach Tim noong hindi niya ako ginamit," said Pingrgis. "Talagang nagsalita pa ako sa media dati na ayaw kong umupo, hindi ako binabayaran ng team para lang umupo, gusto ko maglaro."
"So, hindi ko akalain na may ine-experiment lang pala siya sa team," he added.
"And then, kinausap niya ako. Ang sabi niya sa akin is, kung hindi kita pinapansin, kung hindi kita sinisigawan, hindi kita pinapagalitan, hindi kita gusto, or wala akong pakialam sa 'yo. 'Pag hindi kita pinansin or hindi kita pinagalitan, doon ka matakot dahil wala akong pakialam sa 'yo."
"So sobrang blessed pala ako noon, noong time na 'yun na pinapagalitan niya ako lagi."
Once Cone explained what he was trying to do to Pingris, their relationship changed and the team flourished. They wound up winning five championships together, and their Grand Slam put them in the PBA's history books.
For Pingris, having Cone around helped him grow not just as a player, but also as a man.
"Marami talaga akong natutunan sa kanya. Mas naintindihan ko ang basketball. Hindi lang sa basketball, you know, maano ko rin sa buhay ko 'yun," he said. "Lagi niya kasi ako minsan kinakausap, kaming dalawa lang. After the game, lagi niya akong one-to-one. Talagang nag-uusap kami. After the game, kinakausap niya ako, after practice, kinakausap niya ako."
"Doon talaga ano eh, natutukan niya ako eh. So kaya every game, every time, kahit nasa Ginebra siya, pag nakikita ko siya, niyayakap ko siya. Lagi kong sinasabi na, salamat na naging part talaga ako ng Grand Slam. Salamat sa binigay niya sa akin," Pingris said.
Pingris was also touched to read the tributes of his former teammates, notably James Yap. They were the cornerstones of the San Mig Coffee team that won a Grand Slam, together with Peter June Simon. But they parted ways in 2016, when Yap left for Rain or Shine in a blockbuster trade that brought Paul Lee to the Purefoods franchise.
On Instagram, Yap said that Pingris was "one of the best teammates I've ever had."
"Our brotherhood and friendship started with basketball, pero alam ko that we go beyond that," Yap wrote. "Kahit 'di na tayo pareho naglalaro, 'di magbabago ang samahan natin."
Of Yap's tribute, Pingris said: "Sabi ko kay James, 'tol, mauna na ako sa 'yo at medyo ano na, marami akong gagawin at saka okay na ko. So 'yun."
"Andoon naman 'yung pagkakaibigan eh, kahit wala ka na sa basketball magkakaibigan pa rin kayo," he added.
Pingris also expressed his gratitude to the fans who reached out to congratulate him on his career, and assured them that he will remain approachable in retirement.
"Andito pa rin ako kahit hindi ako naglalaro ng basketball. Talagang you know, kung gusto niyong makipagkaibigan sakin, kaibigan akong tao. Open naman ako eh. Hindi ako 'yung suplado na player or ano," he said.
"Doon mo rin naman makikita 'yung isang fans na kahit wala ka sa basketball sumusuporta pa rin sa 'yo. 'Yan, mahal ka niyan, di ba. So 'yun, thank you sa kanila. Maraming salamat sa kanila. Sa lahat ng mga fans, ginawa ko lang naman 'yung trabaho ko, ginawa ko 'yung laro ko para sa kanila. 'Yun lang 'yung masasabi ko na magiging proud ako na sabihin sa kanila 'yon."