The PBA Commissioner's Cup was conceptualized during the time of Commissioner Emilio "Jun" Bernardino back in 1993. It was one-third of the season, the other two being the All-Filipino (now called the Philippine Cup) and the Governors' Cup. The Commissioner's Cup was usually the second conference of the year featuring taller import reinforcements compared to the season-ending Governors'.
As this year’s edition is already more than a week old, FHM looks back at the 25-year history of the tournament by listing down the top Commish Cup imports of present PBA teams. Some franchises like Blackwater, Columbian Dyip, Global Port, Phoenix and NLEX would have a shorter list to select from, as these teams have been in existence for five years or less.
Alaska Aces – Devin Davis
Davis nosed out Rob Dozier for this citation. The monster 6'7" import was feared by all teams not just for his dreadlock hairdo and grim demeanor, but because of his physical strength, athleticism, and intimidating inside presence. Davis was a force, scoring almost at will in the paint, while taking care of the defensive end. He was so good that he became the yardstick among opposing imports. Hence, other teams paraded forwards who are capable of playing big like Terquin Mott, Stephen Howard and Art Long of San Miguel, Ira Clark of Tanduay, Ansu Sesay of Sta. Lucia, and Silas Mills of Mobiline (now TNT).
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel – Chris King
Believe it or not, the Ginebra franchise has only won one Commissioner's Cup title. In 1997, then-Gordon's Gin snared the title against Alaska, 4-2, with Robert Jaworski as playing coach. King came in prior to the start of the playoffs to replace Tyrone Hopkins, a decent import but someone Jaworski felt won't be able to take them all the way. With the NBA veteran suiting up and possessing a complete offensive game, the Boars cracked the Finals and upset the Aces, with King leading the charge until suffering a hamstring injury late in Game 2. More than anything, it was his ability to make his teammates better, as well as being extremely clutch that endeared him to the Ginebra faithful, while earning the tag as the all-time best Commissioner’s Cup import of the franchise.
Blackwater Elite – Greg Smith
The Elite hasn't done well in this particular conference, having won only eight of their 33 games in the franchise's four-year history. They're currently struggling (0-3) with Jarred Famous as their reinforcement. Last year, they were able to bring a solid import in Greg Smith who had 27 points and 21 rebounds per game, but still wasn't enough to carry the team past eliminations. Smith was even considered as a naturalization prospect for Gilas because of his past NBA experience with the Rockets, Raptors, and Timberwolves, as well as his solid post play that would be effective if surrounded with quality teammates.
Columbian Dyip – James White
White came to play for the then-Mahindra Floodbusters last season and averaged 30 and 18 in four games before being relieved. But no one would question White's ability to play, being a gifted and exciting player who can score from practically everywhere. But with the Floodbusters struggling with a weak local lineup, White can only give one win for the team. It's no surprise though that Coach Louie Alas and the Fuel Masters decided to secure his services this season, underscoring White's ability to take the franchise deep into the playoffs.
GlobalPort Batang Pier – Malcolm White
Another balik-import this season is White, who played for the same franchise last season and mustered a couple of wins in five games. The beefy, 225-lb, 6'9" forward first played for Franz Pumaren and the Batang Pier, putting up close to 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game before being replaced by Justin Harper. Coach Pido Jarencio obviously liked what White did last season, earning himself another tour of duty with the franchise. It remains to be seen if he is the right man for the job, but at this point, he's the franchise's best Commissioner's Cup import in its young five-season stint with the league.
Magnolia Hotshots – Kenny Redfield
Arguably the greatest Commissioner's Cup import of all time, the do-it-all 6'4" Redfield is a two-time winner of the Best Import plum in this conference while playing for two different teams. It was under then-coach Chot Reyes when he carried the Hotdogs to a 4-1 series victory and its fourth franchise title against the Marques Bragg-led Aces. Redfield was a triple-double waiting to happen, registering the highest percentage of such games ever registered by a reinforcement.
Meralco Bolts – Arinze Onuaku
Coach Norman Black has always been a big man's coach, preferring to focus his offensive patterns with a dominant big man in the middle. He brought in Malcolm Thomas in the 2016 Commissioner's Cup, but as fate would have it, the latter was struck with a knee injury and was replaced by Onuaku, a former NBA player who suited up for the Magic, Timberwolves, Pelicans, and Cavaliers. He averaged 20.5 markers, 18.6 caroms, and 1.3 swats, while leading the Bolts to a semifinal finish, losing 3-2 to the Aces. For his effort, Onuaku was named the Best Import and earned for himself another shot at the title with Meralco this season.
NLEX Road Warriors – Al Thornton
It's almost rare nowadays for teams to secure legitimate first-round picks from the NBA. But the Road Warriors were able to beat everyone when in 2015, they hired Thornton, the 14th overall selection in the 2007 Draft by the LA Clippers. Thornton normed 31 and 12 rebounds that year, including a 69-point performance, while powering NLEX to fifth place. He was rehired the season after, and led the team to the quarterfinals, losing to the Onuaku-led Bolts, 104-97. Thornton's level of play proved why he is a legitimate NBA veteran, scoring with ease and playing the leader role for the up-and-coming Road Warriors.
Phoenix Fuel Masters – Jameel McKay
The Fuel Masters are playing on their third Commissioner's Cup this season, after acquiring the second Barako Bull franchise in 2016. Last year, Phoenix was able to crack the playoffs, ending up seventh overall in the elimination round, courtesy of their 210-lb, 6'9" import who played college ball at Iowa State. A replacement for Eugene Phelps, who only played a single game that conference, McKay's numbers say it all: 23.8 ppg 17.3 rpg 2.6 apg 2.1 bpg. It was unfortunate for them, though, to face and lose to eventual champions San Miguel, 115-96, in the quarterfinals.
Rain or Shine Elasto Painters – Wayne Chism
The E-Painters may have found a gem of an import this season with Reggie Johnson, and how far the burly import can carry the franchise this conference remains to be seen. For now, ROS' best Commish Cup import is Chism, the recipient of the 2015 Best Import plum, after powering the Elasto Painters to a close runner-up finish against the then-TNT Tropang Texters. Chism, who debuted for the franchise the season before and also suited up for NLEX in 2017, averaged 32 and 14 in that year, showing his prowess on both ends of the court, while providing the maturity and clutch plays the team needed during close games.
San Miguel Beermen – Terquin Mott
San Miguel is one of only three teams (other than Alaska and Magnolia) to have captured three Commissioner's Cup titles. In those championships, they bannered three different imports, which would make the selection difficult. The 1999 Best Import awardee gets the nod for leading the Beermen to a 4-2 series victory against the John Best-led Formula Shell. Mott won the plum against an impressive roster of imports that included Davis, King, Best, Mills, Julius Nwosu, and Clark. Curiously, he first played for the MVP franchise in 1998 before joining the Beermen the next season. The 6'8" behemoth provided the muscle for the Beermen, kicking off SMB's dominance at the turn of the century.
TNT KaTropa – Paul Harris
This was another difficult choice to make, as Harris was selected over the mercurial Ivan Johnson for the distinction. The former was the complete opposite of Johnson in terms of temperament—cool and collected, Harris turned out to be the ideal reinforcement for Chot Reyes as the Texters scored an imposing six-game Finals victory against the Ginebra Gin Kings in the 2011 season. Harris had close to 25 points, 12 rebounds, and two assists per game for the Tropang Texters. He later came back to replace Rodney Carney in the 2014 Governors' Cup, and played one game for Ginebra in 2016, before being replaced by Justin Brownlee because of a hyperextended thumb open fracture.