Mr. Clean is now among the Alaska Aces’ immortals.
The Aces on Sunday night retired Tony dela Cruz’s jersey number 35 in an emotional ceremony that marked the Aces 103-99 victory over the Magnolia Hotshots at the Araneta Coliseum.
He became only the seventh player to have his number officially retired by the Alaska franchise after the legendary William ‘Bogs’ Adornado, whose No. 33 was honored following his retirement in 1988.
While Adornado played for just a year for the franchise from 1987-1988, it took 12 years before another Filipino player was honored by the Alaska team, with many-time Milkmen import Sean Chambers filling the gap in 2001 when his No. 20 was hung in a ceremony.
Jojo Lastimosa, one of the most recognizable Alaska guards, had his No. 6 retired in 2003, while his able partner Johnny Abarrientos had his No. 14 retired in 2010 during the Aces 25th reunion, alongside the No. 16 of Bong Hawkins.
Jeffrey Cariaso’s No. 22 was retired by Alaska during the semifinals of 2010 PBA Fiesta Conference.
Erik Menk’s No. 30 was retired by the Aces last year.
What made Dela Cruz’s jersey retirement extra-special was his clean record.
Alaska owner Fred Uytengsu spearheaded Dela Cruz’s emotional jersey retirement.
“I was just super emotional. I was trying to contain it. But it’s cool to see the faces of Chris (Banchero), Rob (Wainwright), and Rich (Alvarez) and my other teammates. It was really moving,” said the 39-year old Dela Cruz.
He was also honored by then Turbo Chargers governor Bobby Kanapi.
A direct hire by Shell in 1999, the Filipino-American cager from California was then shipped to the Aces in 2006.
Winner of the Sportsmanship Award in 2006, Dela Cruz looked back at his career as a scratch-free ride other than a lone flagrant foul infraction in 18 years.
“I’m super proud of the way I carried myself each and every day on the court,” he said. “I am proud of how I played each and every day in practice.”
Dela Cruz, a UC Irvine standout in the US, never incurred a technical foul in his PBA career, making him the nicest cager to ever to play in the league.
“I had zero technical foul and just one flagrant foul. It was landing spot on Dennis Espino (of Sta. Lucia). I apologized to Dennis right after and said that there was no harm intended,” he added.
“So, that is the thing I can look back at in my career. I am super proud of it,” he said.
Dela Cruz retired last year and now serves as an assistant coach to Alaska.
“I just want to continue to learn. That’s the biggest transition for me (as an assistant coach). I want to be more knowledgeable on basketball (from a coaching standpoint),” he said.