Coming off an offensive rebound, Terrence Romeo whipped a pass to Alex Cabagnot from the right wing for a potential catch and shoot three. There was less than nine minutes left in Game 6 of the 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals. A win by the San Miguel Beermen would have given them their second straight championship, a step away from a coveted Grand Slam. A loss would have put the Beermen in a precarious situation; a Game 7 versus a hungry TNT KaTropa team that had the Best Import and Best Player of the Conference both in their team. The score read 80-67 in that moment, with less than nine minutes left in the game. There was lots of time left on the clock, but a 16 point lead would have made things incredibly difficult for the KaTropa. Getting the ball off a rebound with just a 13 point lead would have been a lot better for their confidence.
As he landed on the floor, Alex Cabagnot smiled and hopped towards the way of Romeo. The shot had went in, giving the Beermen that 16 point lead TNT fans had feared. Both players leapt towards each other and afterwards were met by Chris Ross, who immediately shared an embrace with his backcourt mates. TNT fans were crushed, as their team called for time. SMB fans, on the other hand, were absolutely excited. A back to back looked a lot clearer after that three.
That moment — Ross, Romeo, and Cabagnot hugging each other — may seem like such a simple thing; three teammates celebrating a big shot as they approach a championship. But in reality, that image meant so much more. It was a perfect representation of the unbreakable culture the Beermen had created ever since 2015; and its continued success despite the challenge it faced in December 2018.
At that point, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to call Terrence Romeo a risky prospect. The TNT KaTropa had traded away the former UAAP Season 76 MVP to the San Miguel Beermen in exchange for Brian Heruela, David Semerad, and a 2021 first round pick. Various reports mentioned how the KaTropa did the deal to “preserve team chemistry”, and they felt like dealing away Romeo was their best shot at doing that. There weren’t any conclusive statements given by either side regarding the breakup, but the reports fit the narrative that had surrounded Romeo for most of his career. He was a ball-hog, someone who wasn’t built for winning because he was more concerned about racking up statistics.
Because of these issues, Beermen fans felt hesitant at first to welcome Romeo in the team. Yes, he was a proven, legitimate, individual talent who could theoretically shine in any team. There wasn’t any doubt he’d perform well on his own. But how would he do within the setting of a team? Would he be able to spread his light instead of hogging all on his own? The clock was ticking for Terrence. If he couldn’t figure it out with a team as esteemed as the San Miguel Beermen, then maybe he wouldn’t figure it out with anyone else.
The expectation from Terrence was simple: DON’T MESS THINGS UP. He was already coming into an amazing situation with SMB. He wasn’t expected to do much. In theory, it wasn’t complicated. All he had to do was not get in the way, contribute what he could, and pray the team continued its winning ways. This wasn’t Globalport or TNT where he had to be the star. For once, he just needed to be a spoke on the wheel, and keep that wheel as held on as possible. Any failure would have been blamed on him instantly.
But theory is always different from practice. That’s the thing, ever since Terrence has been accustomed to being THE guy in a team. It’s become a part of how he plays and to an extent who he is. He’s a flamboyant personality; from his crossovers, his stepbacks, and even how he dresses when he’s off the court. Others would go as far as to call him arrogant. A safer way of putting it is he was polarizing. Attention, whether good or bad, naturally found its way towards Terrence.
This would naturally change once he joined SMB given the magnitude of talent around him. But he also needed to embrace nature, because if he didn’t, then that’s just him seeking attention rather than it going his way involuntarily. He would lose headlines with San Miguel, but he could potentially gain championships. Was he willing to trade away personal glory for life-long joy?
From the get-go, Coach Leo Austria made his stance clear that Terrence would be just like any other player in his team. He would have a specific role in this San Miguel machine and the group would not bend over backwards to satisfy Terrence’s personal desires. The starting five was practically set; it was the Death 5. That meant Romeo would come off the bench for the first time since his rookie days with the FEU Tamaraws in the UAAP. This was unfamiliar territory for him.
From the outside looking in, it seems so rigid to put Romeo in that type of environment given his nature as a flamboyant player. You’re taking away the best parts of his game if you put him on bench duty, while forcing him to play in a system that revolves around a big man. Some fans felt it was unfair for him to have to take a step back. But Terrence’s actions said otherwise. He was enjoying this new home he was in.
During the Philippine Cup, the Beermen guards held shooting contests after every practice. It was a simple game with a simple prize: the winner brought home the WWE championship belt the players played for. Child’s play, really. But it is in this simplicity where competition is fostered and a team’s brotherhood is formed.
Samahang Walang Katulad.
Terrence could have easily brushed off this gimmick and left practices early to go on with his life. But the thing with Terrence was, he LOVED competition. Ever since High School, he had been a known hard worker, putting up hours of extra work after practices. Even in the PBA, that didn’t change. His work ethic continued to be sublime. His competitiveness never left him. He would try to aim for wins, even if it meant playing for a toy championship belt.
By taking part in these games, Terrence also had the opportunity to bond with his teammates better. Even weeks into the Philippine Cup, you could already notice the evident change in aura in Terrence. There was a joy to him that hadn’t been present in his past years in the PBA. For once, he felt like he had brothers he could lean on and just be himself. His flamboyance was never about satisfying his own ego. It was all about his desire to win, especially in a team setting. Terrence embraced his new team. The team was willing to take him for who he was. As a result, Terrence went beyond whatever boundaries had been placed around him and came out a better player than before. It’s the beauty of partaking in relationships; you learn new things about yourself you wouldn’t have if you kept things just on your own.
One of the transformations Terrence had to go through was the need to be more of a playmaker rather than a scorer. He said so himself, “Yung team, di naman na kailangan ng scorer, kumbaga loaded na kami sa scoring.” Learning from a coach could only do so much. Thankfully, he had a teammate to guide him as he learned how to be the quarterback of a championship team.
“The way na dalhin ni Kuya Chris Ross yung team, kakaiba. Talagang natural point guard,” said Terrence. “Sa kanya ako tumitingin sa kung paano maging natural point guard.”
The journeys of Terrence and Chris couldn’t have been more different from each other. For Chris, he went from overlooked backup point guard to championship quarterback. For Terrence, he needed to take a step back from being the main guy of a team into a component of a well-oiled machine. A scorer and play maker met. It looked like a recipe for disaster in practices, but thankfully, both players had a similarity so strong it would wipe off whatever differences they had: the hate for losing.
Both Chris and Terrence are passionate and competitive individuals and they used it to further better each other over the course of the Philippine Cup. Over time, we started to get a better idea of the development Terrence had gone through in just one conference with SMB. We’d get the best look in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Philippine Cup Finals. 12 minutes left to a five-peat for SMB, or the end of an era. Ironically, it was a newcomer who provided the spark for SMB’s picture perfect finish in that game.
The Finals makes players do extraordinary acts out of sheer will and desire to win. Jordan’s Flu Game. Kobe’s pass to Artest so he could nail a dagger three versus the Celtics. LeBron’s Block. Terrence had his own version of this in Game 7; his lockdown defense.
Terrence had never been known for his play on the other end of the court. He often reserved his energy to score, since that was what was expected of him on most teams he’s been in. But in San Miguel, he didn’t need to score. He could do anything, as long as it was for the betterment of the team.
In that fourth quarter, the Beermen needed someone to slow down the guards of the Magnolia Hotshots. All series long, the Magnolia guards had burned SMB off the pick and roll, exposing Junemar Fajardo’s questionable lateral speed when defending guards. They needed someone to help Junemar out.
Enter Terrence, who did his best “Kuya Chris” Ross impression and found lateral speed and quickness unlike never before. Aside from Junemar going berserk, Terrence also aided in SMB’s defense by forcing Magnolia to go to different actions before they could even setup a pick and roll. It was eye-opening to watch, as we’d never seen Terrence defend with such vigor before. With five minutes left, Coach Leo Austria subbed him out. While he walked to the bench, he was huffing and puffing, but complete with a smile on his face. Para sa samahan natin yun, was what he probably told his teammates in his head.
His effort was worth it. He was finally a champion by the end of that Game 7. But as mentioned, Terrence is competitive. One championship wouldn’t be enough. Winners always desire more. The evolution of Terrence wasn’t done just yet.
Quietly, Terrence had himself one of his better elimination rounds during the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup. While his averages of 10.8 PPG and 3.3 APG may seem pedestrian, what impressed was how he got these numbers. He was still a scorer at heart, but his transformation to play maker was on full display all conference long.
Coming back from injury, Terrence put more emphasis on setting his teammates up more than needing to rack up numbers. Being a good point guard isn’t always about getting the most assists. As long as you’d set your team’s offense properly, you’d be doing your job already as the quarterback. Terrence was starting to reach elite levels of this and it spilled over to the Finals where he faced his former team, the TNT KaTropa.
It could have been the perfect avenue for Terrence to exact revenge. The desire to put up 30 point games could have consumed Terrence. During Game 1, there were spurts of that as he forced the issue on multiple isolations. Game 1 was an adjustment game for the entire SMB team. Was Terrence willing to throw away his pride one more time and adjust with the team?
Competitiveness, not arrogance. That’s what Terrence is truly about and it showed after the first game of the Finals. To the surprise of many, Romeo actually emerged as the team’s most consistent force outside of Chris McCullough. With whatever he lacked in production, he made up for with timing and steady play making. Even in his worst game, Game 4 where he put up just 4 points, his baskets were timely as they helped SMB weather TNT’s comeback during the fourth quarter. The Finals are all about survival. Terrence was more than willing to step up and do what it took to help the team.
By the end of Game 6, SMB survived and won their second straight championship, a step closer to the Grand Slam. Most of the talking points of SMB’s win has revolved around that feat and deservingly so. But overlooked is Terrence’s feat as Finals MVP and what it meant.
Others will argue someone like Junemar Fajardo may have better deserved the award for putting up bigger numbers. But Romeo winning the award is only fitting to represent what San Miguel is all about. It’s cliche but it’s true: Terrence wouldn’t have won Finals MVP without his teammates.
Once Romeo received the award, everyone, from Arwind, to Alex, and even the bench players Paul and Louie, hugged Terrence with absolute sincerity. Just like how the entire SMB organization took in Terrence on December 2018. He didn’t have to completely change himself; he just needed to be open and take in the culture of selflessness embedded in San Miguel’s core. Fast forward to August 2019 and it’s safe to say he has. He’s a full-blooded Beermen, whether fans like that or not.
Talks about a Grand Slam for SMB will continue to surface as the Governor’s Cup draws near. It’s a challenge, but really, what hasn’t SMB faced at this point? If there’s a reason SMB completes the feat, don’t thank their talent. It’s their selflessness, more than anything else, that will aid them in the chase for everlasting glory. Just ask Terrence Romeo. Even he, perceived as difficult and toxic, was embraced by this samahan, for who he truly is.
Walang katulad talaga.