This week, we honor the 43rd year of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Since its inception on April 09, 1975, the first play-for-pay basketball league in Asia has become a regular part of the lives of millions of Filipinos, as the best source of sports entertainment in the country.
There's no denying the popularity of the league and its players. Among the countless cagers-turned-politicos, three have been elected as senators. Some have been featured in showbiz, appearing on TV and film, while others got married to (or involved with) the hottest female celebrities. Some have even dabbled in entrepreneurship.
Therefore, it's not surprising to see the PBA hog the headlines more than a few times. In celebration of its 43rd anniversary, FHM lists down, in no particular order, the biggest events that have shaped the PBA into what it is now.
1. The Crispa-Toyota rivalry
There was no bad blood worse than Crispa vs Toyota. Members of the majority rooted for either side, and the fandom was practically split. It was so intense that in 1977, smack in the middle of Martial Law, a rumble ensued that led to all 24 players from both teams getting jailed. They officially played 123 times, with the Redmanizers winning 63. In 2003, then-Commissioner Noli Eala organized a reunion game between the two squads that was well-received and saw the Toyota defeating Crispa, 65-61.
2. The Jaworski-Fernandez feud
Former Toyota teammates Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez, who both possessed strong personalities, had an ugly falling out that lasted for nearly six years. Their squad disbanded in 1983 and Beer Hausen secured the franchise rights, but Jaworski didn't want to take part of a sale described by his backcourt partner, Francis Arnaiz as "por kilo." The two went to the then-Palanca-owned Ginebra ballclub with "The Big J" becoming playing coach in 1985. Every game starring the two protagonists was anticipated closely by fans, making it a major sidelight. Jaworski and Fernandez eventually patched up after collaborating to give the Veterans team the victory in the 1989 All-Star Game, 132-130, against their young Rookies and Sophomores rivals. Curiously, the peacemaker was Baby Dalupan, head coach of Toyota arch rival, Crispa.
3. The birth of 'Never Say Die'
Ginebra has been the most popular basketball team in the country for over 32 years already. The "NSD" mantra was already loosely used to describe any team able to come from behind, but Ginebra began to own this on October 22, 1985, when Jaworski came back from the hospital with nine stitches in the lips to inspire his squad and mount a comeback, 99-96, against the NCC national team. From then on, the Barangay would live up to this moniker, establishing a reputation of roaring back after a poor start. Jaworski, who became a senator in 1998, was the league's icon during its peak years in the mid '80s.
4. The arrival 'Black Superman'
Regarded as the greatest import and player to ever suit up in any local tournament, Billy Ray Bates of the Crispa Redmanizers became a household name when he dazzled on his very first game (May 15, 1983) against the Norman Black-led Great Taste Coffee Makers, scoring 64 points en route to a 120-119 nail-biter. He brought in fans from everywhere, eager to watch his array of moves, highlighted by thundering dunks. Bates was so big here that he got his signature kicks called "The Balck Superman" with leading local rubber shoe brand Grosby. He led Crispa to its second Grand Slam that year and returned shortly to help Jaworski and Ginebra win their very first title as coach and franchise, respectively. Bates was so phenomenal that he is considered the gold standard among imports—the benchmark when selecting reinforcements.
5. The first RP team
When the governing FIBA went for "open basketball" in 1989, allowing professional players to suit up in sanctioned meets, the Philippines was the very first country to do so—the 1990 Asian Games held in Beijing, China. The RP team, coached by Jaworski, featured 12 of the best PBA players, but only had two weeks of practice. Out to prove that the nation remained one of the elites in the region, the squad captured the silver medal, bowing to the hosts, 90-76. The PBA continued lending its support in the quadrennial games until Eala became commissioner, when support shifted to the more prestigious and relevant FIBA Asia tournaments.
6. The fall of South Korea
No other country in Asia has given us so much pain in basketball than the Koreans. Since the establishment of the FIBA Asia tournament (then called the ABC) in 1960, these two teams have been bitter rivals until the opening of the PBA in 1975. From thereon, the Sokors have had our number, beating us in crucial duels (1986, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2009, and 2011). This is also why the 86-79 victory in front of thousands of cheering hometown fans stands out as one of the PH's most significant and emotional ever—first win vs SK after a series of losses gave us a slot in the 2014 FIBA World. PBA superstars Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Marc Pingris powered through, despite being handicapped earlier in the game by an injury to naturalized player Marcus Douthit.
7. The dawn of Fil-foreigners
The first Filipino-American to play in the PBA was a young Ricardo Brown from Pepperdine, once a third-round pick by the Houston Rockets in the 1979 NBA draft. He won the ROY in 1983 then MVP two years later. But the major Fil-foreigner invasion started in 1997, led by no less than the top two rookie selections that year, Andy Seigle and Nic Belasco. More half-Pinoys burst onto the scene as the PBA loosened up its eligibility requirements brought about by the emerging MBA league: Noy Castillo, Ali Peek, William Antonio, Tony Dela Cruz, Danny Seigle, Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Rudy Hatfield, Jon Ordonio, Dorian Peña, Rob Wainwright, and Mick Pennisi, to name a few. The PBA's popularity reached foreign shores, attracting players with Filipino descent to try their luck. Their advanced skill level and athleticism changed the dynamic for homegrown talents to keep up with. But as they say, the success of the Fil-Ams brought about a different set of dubious players, aptly described as...
8. The Fil-sham invasion
When word got around that playing in the Philippines equated to good money and instant superstardom, cagers who had no ounce of native blood took notice, using unscrupulous local agents to fake their citizenship and claim Filipino heritage. While guys like Sonny Alvarado, Rob Parker, and Al Segova brought excitement to the fans with their high-flying acts, it didn't take long for authorities to discover the papers they submitted to the PBA were falsified. The negativity triggered a massive backlash to the league's popularity and led to a Senate investigation by Robert Barbers. In Alvarado's case, PBA Executive Secretary Linda Vergara was sacked by Commissioner Jun Bernardino, as her name surfaced in the Bureau of Immigrations findings. They eventually left the country in virtual admission of their fake lineage.
9. The drug abuse charges
Controversy rocked the league in 2003 when the random drug testing initiated by then-Commissioner Eala among players led to the positive testing of major superstars, including unlikely ones. Big names like Asi Taulava, Dorian Peña, Davon Harp, Jun Limpot, Noli Locsin, Jimwell Torion, Angelo David, and Ryan Bernardo tested positive for substance abuse. Except for Torion, all denied any wrongdoing and claimed the test was flawed. Another Senate investigation led by Barbers and Jaworski was conducted. The latter was worried that the examination would have serious implications in players' lives, and that a better system to institute the program should be done instead. Coupled with the Fil-sham issue that happened within the same period, the PBA suffered record-breaking lows in gate attendance and fan support, generally regarded as the league's dark days.
10. The controversial SMB-Kia trade
The Commissioner's approval of a trade that involved Kia's first round pick for a bunch of San Miguel bench players rocked the problem-saddled administration. Not only did the fans express their disgust with the move, the PBA board became divided. With the impasse unresolved, many thought the league's 43rd season would not push through. Narvasa was put to task for practically handing SMB the monopoly for championships with their acquisition of Christian Standhardinger. True enough, even without the 6'8" Fil-German around, the Beermen romped away with the Philippine Cup in convincing fashion. Narvasa resigned a few days after the league opening, but many believe he was merely given a graceful exit for the damage he has done to the institution.