In one poignant moment buried under the euphoria of celebration of the rest the San Miguel Beermen on the floor, coach Leo Austria unabashedly cried in the arms of his family.
Moments prior, Austria held back tears as he tried to remain composed and show humility and sportsmanship when he shook hands with the Alaska coaching staff after his Beermen re-wrote history to retain their Philippine Cup title.
It took him 16 years to bury the ghost of the past.
From being part of the erstwhile worst collapse in the PBA Finals history, Austria exorcised those demons and authored the greatest comeback that no team has done in the past, not even in the NBA.
Austria rose from the ashes of that defeat and waited for this moment every time his team enters the finals.
“I always imagine that kind of game that we had, losing to a desperation shot by Rudy Distrito at that time. I always keep telling the guys that we can do it especially when we were down 0-3 and down by 11 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4,” Austria told FOX Sports emerging from a locker room reeking of beer and champagne on Wednesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Austria was a few inches and a couple of seconds short from blocking that Distrito shot during the 1991 First Conference. He got his redemption on Wednesday night from a player who reminds him of himself.
“I told them during that stretch in Game 4 that we still have a lot of time and don’t give up. They refused to lose. Chris Ross was the one who led our comeback in that game,” recalled Austria, who like Ross, was all-time great Ronnie Magsanoc’s underrated back-up point guard at Shell.
Ross served as Alex Cabagnot’s reliever until his hustle and heart carried the Beermen back into the thick of the fight during the pivotal Game 4.
“After that win, we realized that we can beat them because in the first three games, all our losses happened in the last minute. So this Alaska team is beatable with or without June Mar (Fajardo),” he said.
“And what more if we have June Mar. His presence inspired the team and made an impact while Alaska was bothered,” Austria added.
Ross, the journeyman point guard who found a home at San Miguel, finished off what he started by pouring in a conference-high 21 points in the clincher.
The Aces paid dearly for not respecting Ross’s perimeter game.
He was 0-of-10 from the three-point zone in the 1st 6 games of the series. But in Game 7, he was like a man possessed as he connected on 4 of 6 tries, every one of each a telling blow to the Aces.
“It was never in our game plan to turn Chris Ross into a Marcio Lassiter. After the game, I hugged him and told him he’s a winner. When was the last time he went 4-for-6 (from the three-point land) in a PBA Finals,” Aces coach Alex Compton said.
“But in Game 7, a non-shooter stepped up and stroked the ball I mean, he looked like Marcio out there and with all the other things he brings,” he added. “It definitely wasn’t part of our game plan to stay home on Ross because he’s such a great shooter.”
“That was huge.”
Aside from his Lassiter-like sniping, Ross delivered his usual stuff by finishing with 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal that clinched him his 1st-ever Finals MVP trophy.
As Austria left the locker room, he looked at Ross being mobbed by reporters.
“Thank you,” Austria told Ross.