MANILA, Philippines -- Without their loyal fans to boost them at the Angeles University Foundation (AUF) Gym, the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings are instead relying on each other to be the team's biggest cheerleaders.
No fans are allowed inside the AUF Gym, where all games of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup will be held in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is part of the league's "bubble," which also includes the Quest Hotel -- the PBA teams' home for the entire conference.
It is a new experience for the Gin Kings, who are used to playing in front of the biggest crowds in the league. It's no secret that the Ginebra players draw energy and motivation from their passionate fans, and not having them around requires a bit of an adjustment.
"I mean, it's different," Ginebra coach Tim Cone said Sunday, after the Gin Kings' first game of the All-Filipino Cup against the NLEX Road Warriors. "There's no crowd, so we have to tell our bench to stay engaged and cheer."
"We're our own little crowd," he quipped.
Ginebra's campaign got off on the right start, with the Gin Kings fending off NLEX for a 102-92 win. They needed to hold off repeated rallies by the Road Warriors, who came to within three points early in the fourth quarter before Ginebra took control again.
Cone said that their victory is still dedicated to their fans, as they know that the "barangay" is watching them even though they cannot be physically present at the gym.
"Like Mark Caguioa always reminds us, there's still millions of fans out there that are watching us, and we have a responsibility to them to make sure we bring our best foot forward," said Cone. "Though we didn't play a pretty game, we played a hard game and we won it for the fans."
Without the fans to chant "Gi-Ne-Bra, Gi-Ne-Bra" during the game, the team will rely on each other to lift their spirits. Cone stressed that this is something that every player must do -- from their rookies to the veteran leaders to the All-Stars.
"I think that's the biggest adjustment for us right now -- just try and generate the enthusiasm and the encouragement while the game is ongoing. We're used to having it given to us. Now we gotta generate ourselves," he said.
"It's really about remembering that the bench itself has to be engaged, the guys who are not playing," he explained. "And we're talking about the leaders. The leaders have to do that."
This means that players like Japeth Aguilar, Stanley Pringle, and LA Tenorio must "stay engaged" and "make sure they're cheering on their teammates."
"We can't just rely on our three rookies being the cheerleaders, no. It really comes to the leadership. So those leaders gotta step up and play well and encourage their teammates when they're on the bench," said Cone.
"That's the way we hope to make up for not having fans. But like I said, it's a big adjustment, and I think we'll get better at it as we go along."
Ginebra fans may not have to wait long before they can make their presence felt, however, as the league plans to bring in "virtual fans" by October 19.