There's no question San Miguel Beer is the most successful franchise in PBA history. With two dozen championships under its belt and going for No. 25 in the 2017-18 Philippine Cup, the SMC's flagship team and the last PBA original has dominated the league in at least three different eras.
June Mar Fajardo is undeniably the reason for the Beermen's recent success, a run that had them winning five of the last nine trophies at stake. For that same period of 2015 until 2017, Fajardo has been the undisputed best player of the league, winning Most Valuable Player (MVP) in all four consecutive seasons. On the cusp of surpassing the record, the Kraken is currently tied with the most number of awards held by ex-Beerman Ramon Fernandez and Purefoods legend Alvin Patrimonio.
The question now: Is this version of SMB the all-time best in franchise history? FHM ranks the Top 5 greatest SMB teams over their 43-year stint in the PBA.
5. The Tommy Manotoc era (1981–1982)
San Miguel plucked Tommy Manotoc from the U/Tex Wranglers when their previous head coach, Ed Ocampo, moved to Toyota at the start of the 1981 season. Manotoc slowly built the team, acquiring Manny Paner, Lim Eng Beng, Renato Lobo, and Tony Dasalla, while securing the services of rookies Marte Saldaña (eventual 1982 Rookie of the Year), Bambi Kabigting, and Kenneth Yap. In his first year with the franchise, Manotoc helped the Beermen become the fourth best team in the league, then suddenly jumped to second overall the season after, just behind the Toyota Super Corollas. In 1982, SMB won the Invitationals, placed second in the Reinforced conference, and third in the Open. The key move was the hiring of import Norman Black, who played in all three conferences, and winning the first of two Best Import awards in the second tournament. Similarly, it was management's move to hire Manotoc as head coach that catapulted the team to its first continued successful run in the PBA.
4. The changing of the guards (1987–1988)
San Miguel took a leave of absence in the first two conferences of the 1986 season and came back in the third conference with the nucleus of the disbanded NCC National Team under Derrick Pumaren. Then called the Magnolia Cheesemakers, the team floundered with a 2-10 card. Norman Black took over as playing coach at the start of the 1987 season and immediately proved why they were the team of the future, finishing third overall in the Open Conference. They also placed third in the All-Filipino Conference, behind eventual champions Great Taste and runner-up Hills Bros. The breakthrough came in the third Conference (Reinforced), when Black acquired the services of Bobby Parks as import. Parks led the team to the title and won the first of seven Best Import awards. The year after, the Beermen were more dominant, winning the Open and Reinforced crowns, while losing in a sudden-death game for the second Finals slot against the Añejo Rum 65ers, 102-100, courtesy of a nifty Joey Loyzaga feed to Romy Mamaril who converted a buzzer-beating, go-ahead lay-in. SMB could've easily won the Grand Slam in 1988, especially after acquiring Ramon Fernandez in a celebrated trade with Purefoods for Abet Guidaben.
3. The Two Danny's (1999–2007)
At a time when Alaska became the new PBA dynasty thanks to its 1996 Grand Slam run, San Miguel slowly built a new and young roster that was expected to dominate in the coming seasons. With the late Ron Jacobs in charge of personnel and top protégé Jong Uichico at the coaching helm, the first piece of the puzzle was Danny Ildefonso, whom they picked at the 1998 Rookie Draft after a trade with Formula Shell. In 1999, Jacobs pulled off a coup by getting Fil-Am Danny Seigle from Wagner College as their direct hire. Their third key acquisition was Dorian Peña, erstwhile a center in the MBA, giving them a formidable three-headed monster inside in 2001. This roster catapulted the Beermen as the next dominant team, winning five of nine championships from 1999 to 2001. They weren't done, and in 2002, they secured Dondon Hontiveros in a controversial trade with the Tanduay Rhum Masters. And with resident import Lamont Strothers around, plus a list of the finest ever imports in the fold (Terquin Mott, Stephen Howard, Art Long, Shea Seals, even former NBA star Cedric Ceballos), SMB was the most feared team in the league for nearly nine seasons.
2. The JMF/Leo Austria period (2014–present)
Just how good is this present version of San Miguel? Arguably, they have the best player of all time in Fajardo. Arguably, they have the best starting unit of all time in JMF, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, and Chris Ross. Arguably, they're the best managed team today. And while many continue to doubt how good Leo Austria is as a coach, consider this: he has remained unbeaten in five Finals stints and hopes to extend the run to six by beating the Magnolia Hotshots in the Philippine Cup this year. And before Austria stepped into the picture, the franchise, then known as Petron Blaze Boosters, was besieged with frequent coaching changes—from Siot Tanquincen, Ato Agustin (the only one who led SMB to a championship), Olsen Racela, Gee Abanilla, Todd Purves, to Biboy Ravanes, in what many described as "Petronovela," before locking in Coach Leo at the start of the 2014 season. When Austria took over, the Beermen had won the last three stagings of the Philippine Cup—the most successful All-Filipino run of any PBA squad. If the still-Christian Standhardinger-less SMB pulls off a major coup this season and end up winning the Grand Slam, they will have what it takes to become the greatest San Miguel team of all time, surpassing...
1. Don Ramon and the NCC guys (1989–1994)
The timing couldn't be more perfect. The young National Team cast assembled by Ron Jacobs that won the 1986 ABC crown was peaking, and they were able to acquire the services of Ato Agustin and Bobby Jose in the draft. Norman Black was already comfortable with his double duties as San Miguel playing coach, and Ramon Fernandez, then regarded as the greatest player, was extremely motivated. With Fernandez providing veteran smarts and leadership to a well-oiled Jacobs' Northern Consolidated Cement babies comprised of Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, Yves Dignadice, Elmer Reyes, Franz Pumaren, and Alfie Almario—plus Alvin Teng and 1985 MVP Ricardo Brown—San Miguel dominated their way to the 1989 Grand Slam, and then won three of six conferences from the second in 1992 until the first in 1994, both All-Filipino. The Beermen earned the right to represent the country in the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games.