Sixth Man is the unsung hero, the one cheering from the bench and delivering quality minutes when needed. In this weekly series, BuhayBasket puts the spotlight on the men and women who contribute to the game in their own way, away from the limelight.Meralco’s long journey to the PBA Finals took six years to complete. One of the team’s biggest fans, Gene Andrew Tacan, has been on that same journey for much, much longer.
In their first ever PBA game in 2010, the Meralco Bolts fielded a roster that closely resembled chop suey–a healthy mix of meat, seafood, and vegetables that probably shouldn’t go together but somehow works. The young Bolts had Mark Cardona, Pong Escobal, Beau Belga, Chris Ross, Dennis Daa, Ogie Menor, Chris Pacana, and Nelbert Omolon. They also had then 37-year-olds Asi Taulava and Marlou Aquino.
Seen as underdogs, Meralco pulled off an upset thanks to Cardona’s staple running hook shot to give the Bolts the lead with 30 seconds left.
Meralco’s first win as a PBA franchise was at the expense of Barangay Ginebra.
Fast forward to six years later, and Meralco is again facing the same team, but the circumstances are different and the stakes are higher. Ginebra, the league’s most popular team, is due for a championship after an eight-year-drought. Their coach is Tim Cone–who, like The Rock, is in a grueling struggle to turn around the slumping Fast and Furious franchise.
After that first win against Ginebra, Meralco never really took off, and was always derailed by three-team trades, coaching changes, and early exits in the playoffs. This is their first PBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
“I was shocked that they made it to finals,” Tacan tells BuhayBasket.
Tacan, a helicopter pilot, has been a fan of Meralco since Day One; since Meralco wasn’t even Meralco. The name change happened in 2010 when the Sta. Lucia franchise was bought by tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan.
“Sta. Lucia Realtors had been my favorite team since 1998 because of Marlou Aquino. I love the underdog team. Since Meralco bought the franchise of Sta. Lucia, I became a Meralco fan,” he says.
Tacan remembers that first Meralco game, and he recalls the disappointment he felt when his Sta. Lucia heroes were let go to give way to the new orange and blue colors.
From the old team, Kelly Williams, Ryan Reyes, Joseph Yeo, and Dennis Espino all went. But Tacan stayed.
“Sinubukan ko mag-iba ng team pero Meralco talaga nasa puso ko,” he says.
Tacan is no longer the 8-year-old kid rooting for a Marlou skyhook. His team has a new name, a new coach, and new heroes. They have a chance to win the title for the first time. Tacan waited 18 years for this.
“Now I’m 26 years old and finally, Meralco is in the finals,” he says.
The Bolts will face their biggest challenge yet against a Ginebra team chasing its own history. Cone doesn’t know how to lose. This is Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand’s “last ride.” Scottie Thompson is Scottie Thompson. All it takes for Meralco to win, according to the fan who’s been through it all, is to match Barangay Ginebra’s physicality, intensity, and heart.
“Meralco can win the championship. They have the heart of a champion,” he says.
All storylines point to the end of a long Ginebra drought. Meralco, after beating the top-seed Talk ‘N Text to get to the finals, wasn’t even invited. Tacan chooses to stay.
“Kahit masakit na minamaliit nila ang Meralco, ayos lang…My prediction is Game 6, champs ang Meralco.”