There's a compelling reason why you shouldn't easily dismiss six-year-old PBA franchise Meralco Bolts in its upcoming Governors' Cup Finals match against Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on October 7: their illustrious pedigree.
These gritty and grinding Bolts happen to be—um, shall we say—the grandkids of one of the most esteemed basketball teams ever assembled in Pinoy hoops history: the 1971 Meralco Reddy Kilowatts, one-time rulers of the the prestigious Manila Industrial Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA)—established in 1938 as an athletic league for employees.
Now, in celebration of the Bolts' first-ever PBA Championship appearance, we bring you this gem of a read from the FHM archives about that one magical and bruising season when the Meralco Reddy Kilowatts finally conquered the nation's preeminent amateur hoops league and became basketball gods.
FHM gathered members of the legendary team, their rivals and basketball historians to talk about basketball pre-PBA, its mystique and unforgettable legacy...
Only the toughest survived
The Meralco Reddy Kilowatts only knew one way to play throughout its almost six-year MICAA run that started in 1967: hard. They bled for basketball and would risk their lives and careers if that was what it took to win. Robert Jaworski, one of the team’s main cogs and arguably the PBA's most popular player ever, was said to have almost died after a nasty fall following a heated rebounding sequence.
Freddie Webb: (Yco Painters, guard): Fans would flock to the Rizal Memorial and Araneta Coliseums to watch us play. I was only 21 when I entered the MICAA. Most of the players at the time weren’t really after money. We didn’t care. All we wanted was to play for the team that we liked and to play for the national team, which we considered the apex of one’s career in basketball.
Jimmy Mariano (Meralco Reddy Kilowatts, forward): The league itself wasn’t too commercialized at dahil purely amateur yung MICAA [in that sense], talagang puspusang laro lang ang mapapanood ng mga fans. Sobrang intense.
Ramon Lucindo (Meralco Reddy Kilowatts, center): Intimidation played a huge factor noon. Takutan talaga. And Filipino cagers we were good at that. That’s one of the reasons we were beating everybody in Asia at the time.
Webb: And pag sinahod ka, pumapalakpak pa ang tao. Gustung-gusto nila yun kaya naman yung ibang players were, shall we say, very accommodating. Usung-uso rin noon yung patid. Ilang beses na akong nakakita ng teammate nauuna sa akin pero pag tingin ko ulit gumugulong na lang.
Mariano: Actually, wala namang tirador na player. Kung tawagin namin yan nung araw “enforcer.” Kung wala kang enforcer, hindi matatakot yung mga players ng kabila.
William "Bogs" Adornado (Crispa-Floro Redmanizers, guard-forward): Take Tembong Melencio (of Yutivo Opels), for example. Isang beses pagpasok ko sa court sinalubong niya ako and said, “William, wag kang da-drive sa akin, titirahin kita.” Kabatian ko yun, pero pagdating sa court, talagang wala siyang sinasanto.
One of the founding members of the MICAA, Meralco left the league after Liberation to rehabilitate and reconstruct their facilities destroyed during World War II. The company returned in 1967, gathering the best available players from the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) to form the first Reddy Killowatts team. After finishing fifth in its first season back, the Meralco management decided to strengthen its lineup.
Mariano: Sabay-sabay kami nina (Orlando) Bauzon, (Alberto “Big Boy”) Reynoso, and (Robert) Jaworski na na-recruit in 1968. Bauzon, Reynoso, and I came from the Ysmael Steel. Jaworski came from Yco. Personally, I transferred because of security. I earned P250 as a regular employee and I was given a P200 playing allowance. Malaki na yun noong araw. We were also given “goodwill” gifts for transferring to Meralco.
Lucindo: I earned around the same amount. But I was there solely to play. Halos pumupunta lang ako office para kunin ang sweldo. Once the season started di na talaga ako pumapasok.
Lucindo: Then in early part of 1969 dumating na rin sa amin sina (Artemio “Boy”) Marquez and (Engracio) Arazas.
Adornado: Meralco had the talent. Kasi nga ang kinukuha nila mga big performers sa national team. Marquez was the Jerry West of the Philippines. Bauzon was named Mr. Basketball in 1967. Big Boy Reynoso was a very intelligent big man. He was the country’s top center at the time. In fact, they also had Francis Arnaiz, but he was still a benchwarmer.
Mariano: The first coach was Fely Fajardo, wala kaming napanalong championship. Then it was Tito Eduque, who won with us the 1969 National Seniors Tournament. After a year, Meralco hired Lauro Mumar, who brought with him his son Lawrence Mumar. Under him we won the 1970 National Invitational.
Lucindo: Although it felt great to win those titles, the main target has always been the MICAA championship. We spent months preparing for it and tournaments like the Invitational and the Seniors were just part of the preparation.
Adornado: In basketball, even if you get the best players in the country, it will take time before you get the right chemistry. Baka yung mga Meralco players wala pang chemistry when they were still losing. But you have to remember also that other contending teams had quality players.
Jay P. Mercado (Basketball forum Mypba.ph moderator): And one of those teams was Meralco’s rival and frequent tormentors, the Crispa Redmanizers. Meralco matched up with any other team, but they were more physical and aggressive when they were up against Crispa. Yung mga taga-Crispa ganun din.
Lucindo: Almost every Crispa player pwedeng gamitin. The players and their coach, Baby Dalupan, had also been together for a long time. Most of them were former UE players, where Dalupan also coached. Wala silang ginawa kundi maglaro, while some of us had to work. But that wasn’t the only reason we always lost to them. Siguro dahil na rin sa mas bata sila kaya mas aggressive sila maglaro.
Mariano: Mga magagaling sila: Rudy Soriano, Johnny Revilla, Danny Florencio, Adriano Papa, baguhan pa noon si Adornado.
Lucindo: When Crispa won the MICAA championship game against us in 1970, we were criticized by sportswriters. They called us incompetent. Even the Meralco management was worried. Some of the employees even called us failures. How could a team comprised of the best players who always gave their best on the court fail again and again to win the MICAA title? We wanted the title so badly.
A month before the 1971 MICAA season began, Mumar—known in basketball circles as “The Fox” for his array of basketball tricks and strategies—focused on his players’ conditioning from the get-go, ordering them to do roadwork and cross-country hiking.
The team finished third at the end of eliminations with 5-3 win-loss card to qualify for the second round with five other teams. The top two teams in the round-robin semifinals would slug it out in the championship, with the top-seeded team enjoying a twice-to-beat advantage.
Meralco, peaking at the right time, swept that round and earned the No. 1 seed. Standing in their way, as expected, was Crispa.
The championship game on July 11, 1971 was played in front of 28,000 spectators inside the Araneta Coliseum. Jaworski, Mariano, and import Bob Presley led Meralco’s charge in the first half, erecting a 24-11 advantage before heading into the halftime break with a 36-27 lead.
Crispa top guns Florencio and Papa struggled, but the Redmanizers rallied behind the tireless play of dimunitive guard Rey Franco, who shot two straight baskets near the end of the third quarter to pull Crispa to within two points at 42-40. His defense also forced early turnovers from Marquez and Jaworski, enabling Adornado to tie the count at 52-all in the fourth canto.
Meralco answered with two baskets from Marquez and a free throw from Jaworski. Back-up import 6'8" Carl Greenfield then teamed up with Jaworski and Mariano for one last push, finally subduing the Redmanizers and winning the coveted crown, 65-58.
Lucindo: When we were preparing na for the second round naka-quarters na kami. We ate, practiced and slept together. Mumar didn’t impose that para bantayan kami, it was for us to be united. We sacrificed not seeing our families for the sake of winning. Umuwi man kami noon, isa o dalawang oras lang tapos balik na sa quarters.
Mariano: Everybody cooperated. We also had the full support of the Meralco management. Kaya ang puso namin, yung loyalty namin, nasa kanila. Ipaglalaban naming itong kumpanyang ito.
Lucindo: Jaworski best exemplified that. He played hard to win. Muntik na nga siyang mamatay sa paglalaro for Meralco. Nasahod kasi and he fell shoulder first on the floor. Nangisay. Buti hindi tinamaan yung spinal column niya. Talagang madadala ka sa kanya kasi pag kasama mo siya sa loob ng court talagang bigay na bigay.
Mercado: Jaworski was at his peak in ’71, when he was just 25. And by this time Meralco had finally developed a team identity. This team never wanted to lose. It’s not only because of Jawo, it’s because of the passion the players had for the team.
Percival O. Flores (Basketball forum Mypba.ph moderator): Another reason they were winning was because they had a dominating import in 6’11” African-American Bob Presley.
Mercado: Presley was a defensive mastadon. But he wasn’t as mobile as other tall players.
Lucindo: To tell you the truth, nung dumating sa amin si Presley nalaman naming problema pala. Iba yung pag-iisip niya eh. Most of the imports back then magaling nga pero ang ugali di mo maabot. We had to adjust to him. He couldn’t run fast but we needed him to win the title so lahat kami nakisama. But there was one time during practice na muntik na namin siyang gulpihin. Kapag napapagod kasi yun sinusumpong. Whenever that happened Mumar would just say, “Showers na.” Kasi baka magkagulo. Pero di namin pinapahalata yung asar namin, pagdating sa laro kinakalimutan na namin.
Adornado: Presley dominated that game. Kasi ang import namin noon 6’8” lang, si Tom Cowart. He was the same import who led the team to the title a year before. It’s hard for a 6’8” player to stop a 6’11” [Presley blocked 10 of Cowart’s 15 shots while grabbing 26 rebounds]. Of course, the locals contributed, pero you have to remember that they had a dominating center.
Lucindo: It was the sweetest of victories. It took a long time for us to know each other and we went through a lot. Pinaghirapan at pinagsikapan namin yun. Finally, we were able to win it all. But after a few months, nagulat kami nang nag-disband na yung team.
BYE BYE REDDIES
The beginning of the end happened on December 19, 1971. It was the first meeting between Meralco and Crispa in MICAA All-Filipino tournament.
Ten thousand fans came to see the hotly contested match. Jaworski, Reynoso, and the rest of the squad were fuming over the officiating, which they felt was obviously pro-Redmanizers.
Lucindo: Before the game ang instruction sa amin, “Don’t think about the referees, just keep your heads on the game.” Ang feeling kasi namin noon every time we played versus Crispa, parang they always have an edge sa officiating. Pero di na namin sila napagpasensiyahan, naapektuhan na kami. Ang higpit ng refs sa amin, maluwag sa kanila.
Mercado: By halftime Jaworski already had three fouls. When referee Jose Obias called Jaworski a fourth foul in the second half, umangal si Jaworski. He followed Obias to the scorer’s table, raised his hand to acknowledge the foul but hit Obias with his elbow. Jaworski was called for a technical foul, which automatically disqualified him from the game. Then with 11 minutes left, and Crispa up 65-60, the other referee, Eriberto Cruz, called a charging foul on Reynoso.
Flores: Big Boy threw the ball at Cruz in disgust then sinugod niya. Si Jaworski naman, who was at the bench, sinugod si Obias. Then Reynoso went after Obias also. Suntok, sipa.
Mercado: A few days later, the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) suspended both players for life.
Lucindo: The management decided to finish the tournament kasi naroon pa naman ang team. Then one practice, nasa gym na kami nang biglang sinabi cancelled na ang practice and pinatataas kami sa opisina. That’s when we learned that the team was disbanding. We never practiced anymore pero sinabi nila na pwede kami maglaro for other teams. [On February 4, 1972, the Meralco Athletic Club cited financial reasons for pulling out of the MICAA] Ang basa ko roon it was more of a political decision. I felt it had a connection to Martial Law.
Mercado: A year later, in early February 1973, the BAP lifted the suspension of Jaworski and Reynoso. Manila was to host the Asian Basketball Cup (later known as the FIBA-Asia Tournament) in 1973 and the BAP felt they needed Jaworski and Reynoso on the team. So some strings had to be pulled. But before that, both players had already apologized to the referees and, allegedly, they settled off-court. Senator Ambrosio Padilla also interceded for the players.
Webb: The incident hurt the MICAA. I mean, out of 100-plus players, kaunti lang ang blue-chip players noon. [Their absence] affected the league, that’s why their suspension had to be cut short.
Adornado: Meralco basta kalaban yung Crispa kahit regular game lang yan parang championship na kaagad. Makikita mo sa body language ng mga players. It paved the way for the same kind of heated rivalry Crispa later had with Toyota (where Jaworski, Reynoso, Arnaiz and Bauzon played) in the PBA.
Mariano: Wala nang ganoong intensity sa basketball ngayon. I believe our legacy was starting yung never-say-die na laro, yung habang may gumugulong na bola riyan dina-dive.
Lucindo: After they were reinstated, Meralco gathered the team for an exhibition game against a commercial squad from Japan. That was the only time na nagkaroon ako ng goosebumps going inside a venue. Pagpasok namin punung-puno ang Rizal Memorial at “Meralco!” ang isinisigaw. Doon namin naramdaman na mahal pala talaga kami ng tao. They wanted to see the team play again. That was our last game together.
Special thanks to Arvi Kristine Simon and Kath Perocho of Meralco, Reli de Leon, Jasmine W. Payo, Ms. Beth Celis, and the National Library.
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