Inspired by an episode of NBA Open Court—in which NBA legends Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Isiah Thomas, and Brent Barry took turns putting together the best starting lineups for the different eras of the Association—FHM has taken the task of sorting out the PBA’s greatest cagers ever, according to basketball position and the time period of their dominance. We call them the PBA's All-Decade Starting Fives.
In our last installment, we picked the best from the '70s—you know, Jawo, El Presidente, and Bogs. Now, we move to the next decade, the 1980s. It was a decade known for ushering in many of the PBA’s most iconic moments such as the birth of the Ginebra franchise’s “Never Say Die” mantra, Ramon Fernandez’s otherworldly performances, and San Miguel Beermen’s historic Grand Slam.
The PBA was really rockin’ and rollin’ in this decade. Of course, all the credit for the league’s prosperity in the '80s should go to the short shorts, Kaypee basketball shoes, and the PBA legends who played and left their hearts on the hardwood.
There were many notable players that showcased their hardcourt skills during Dekada Otsenta, almost making it difficult for us to select the era’s best players. But then, these five stood out elite.
Center - Abet Guidaben
Maximizing his 6’5” frame and his extra-long limbs, Guidaben sucked in balls off the rim like a vacuum. On the offensive end, he was a specialist under the basket and even boasted a Tim Duncan-esque bank shot.
Except for shot-blocking, he did everything a center was supposed to do to a tee. The University of San Jose standout reaped two PBA MVP awards during the decade (1983, 1987). In terms of posting numbers, though, his best season didn’t come in any of his MVP runs. Instead, he had it in 1985 as he averaged 21 points, 11 boards, and three assists per game.
The runner-up: Fernandez, who would've been in this spot if he hadn't been so effective at the four spot as well—and the reason why Guidaben didn’t win the MVP in his best statistical year.
Power Forward - Ramon Fernandez
Sliding “El Presidente” to power forward posed no problem because he virtually played all five positions.
In 1984, he stuffed the stat sheet when he averaged a ludicrous 27.8 points, 10 assists, 11 boards, together with two blocks and almost two steals a game, making it the most impressive year he had statistically. This was also the decade when Fernandez popularized his patented “Elegant Shot”— a running floater performed while his body moves towards the opposite direction of his shooting arm. He nabbed a PBA record-setting four MVP diadems (1982, 1984, 1986, and 1988) during this era.
The runner-up: Veteran PBA broadcaster, Noel Zarate, on the other hand, selects the “Bicolano Superman,” Yoyoy Villamin, as the best power forward who suited up during the '80s.
Villamin (#13) together with Bruise Brother Ricky Relosa (#15)
“He was the most imposing individual in the paint. His team up with Ricky Relosa in the Bruise Brothers duo struck fear in the opposition and he got the job done as a blue collar worker with a take no prisoners attitude,” says Noel.
Small Forward - Bogs Adornado
After recovering from what appeared to be a career-ending knee injury in 1976 and getting traded to the U-Tex Wranglers, Adornado proved his doubters wrong when he tore up (pun not intended) the first half of the '80s like a man possessed. He once exploded for 64 points and 12 boards versus the San Miguel Beermen during the 1980s, announcing his return to form in boisterous fashion.
A rejuvenated Adornado nabbed his third MVP hardware in 1981, adding to the ones he won in 1975 and 1976. He also made it to the Mythical First team five times, from 1980 to 1983, and again in 1985 as a member of Great Taste.
The runner-up: The other guy we were considering to take this cake was Samboy Lim. "The Skywalker" was ahead of his time in terms of slashing through the basket, thanks to his freaky athleticism and inhumane hangtime. However, the San Miguel legend’s multiple injuries kept him off the court too much, prodding us to choose Adornado over him.
On the contrary, online basketball community Buhay Basket put their money on Ginebra San Miguel’s Chito Loyzaga. “He is basketball royalty because of his pops, the great Caloy Loyzaga, but Chito made a name for himself in the late '80s thanks to his never-say-die spirit, elite defense, and dagger 3s—like a tisoy Beau Belga,” states the local hoops website.
Even imports were not spared in Chito's menacing on-court hustle
Shooting Guard - Ricardo Brown
“The Quick Brown Fox” was listed as a point guard, but if the term had already existed back then, he would’ve been labeled as a combo guard.
He was originally drafted in the third round by the Houston Rockets in the 1979 NBA Draft but the Pepperdine University standout opted to play in the PBA in 1983, making him the first Filipino-American to see action in the local professional ranks.
He wasted no time in justifying his hype as his first of five Mythical first team selections came in his 1983 rookie season. Two years later, he was voted league MVP. He was that good.
Brown was a tremendous playmaker but it was his immense scoring prowess that made him lethal. The seven-time champ finished his career as the PBA’s all-time leader in scoring average at 23.1 points per game. He also still holds the record for the best free throw career percentage in league history (87.6 percent accuracy).
The runners-up: Atoy Co was still killing it while a young Allan Caidic was becoming a fast-rising assassin during the latter part of the '80s. In fact, during Game 2 of the 1987 PBA Open Conference Finals, the rookie Caidic scored a finals record 48 points.
Choosing the young Triggerman was tempting, but Brown’s well-rounded skillset and potent firepower nudge Caidic and the Fortune Cookie out of the frame.
Zarate, though, begs to differ with our decision, choosing the Triggerman over Brown. “Allan Caidic is the greatest Filipino marksman of all-time, period,” says the long-time sportscaster.
Point guard - Hector Calma
Because his younger years were devoted on dating the beautiful Christine Jacobs and serving the national team from 1980-1985, “The Director” didn’t play professional ball until 1986. He debuted in the pro ranks at the age of 26. When he finally did though, the former Adamson Falcons’ standout definitely made up for lost time.
As San Miguel Beermen’s chief playmaker, he directed his team to winning all but one conference title from 1987 to 1989. That’s a total of six championships, including SMB’s historic Grand Slam in 1989.
Unlike the other players mentioned in this list, Calma wasn’t known for putting the ball through the hoop. He was not an explosive scorer. So why is he on this list, you ask? It’s because he was the best in creating offensive opportunities for his teammates—a maestro playmaker.
During the years he was voted into the Mythical Five (1987-1989), Calma was only averaging 10.6 points (albeit at 50.3 percent shooting), and five assists per game. These figures however didn’t fully represent how much a terror Calma was on the court. The 1990 official PBA Annual echoes our sentiment: "Numbers just can't fully determine this little guy's true worth - he just creates so many offensive situations which most often draw the line between victory and defeat."
The runner-up: For the point guard position, Buhay Basket chose the "Living Legend," Sonny Jaworski. Here’s what they have to say: “Whether he was throwing full-court baseball passes or dishing no-looks to teammates young enough to be his pamangkins, the Big J—with his unique brand of toughness and charisma—was the point god of the '80s.”
Below are the complete All-80s starting five from Noel and Buhay Basket:
Noel Z’s starting five: C – Ramon Fernandez, PF – Yoyoy Villamin, SF – Samboy Lim, SG – Allan Caidic, PG – Ricky Brown
Buhay Basket’s starting five: C – Ramon Fernandez, PF – Philip Cezar, SF - Chito Loyzaga, SG – Bogs Adornado, PG – Robert Jaworski
Do you agree with these picks or do you have your own lineup?
And we’re done with PBA’s best five for the new-wave-and-hair-spray-decade! Next stop, the Eraserheads era—the '90s!
Hector Calma and Bruiser Brothers' photo via Interaksyon.com, Chito Loyzaga's photo via Sportyguy.info