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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Robert Jaworski, Sr.

I originally posted this in mypba.com.
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Robert "Bobby" Jaworski, Sr. was born on March 08, 1946 to a Polish American father and a Filipino mother in Baguio City. He began to gain the fame when he started playing basketball for the University of the East Red Warriors in the 1966 season and towed the Recto-based school to the UAAP championship in the 1966 and 1967 championships. Because of his outstanding accomplishment with UE, he was first labeled "Big Hands" by the late sportscaster Willie Hernandez describing the large palms he possessed and how easy it was for him to clutch the ball with a single hand.

In 1966, he was part of the national team that represented the country in the Asian Games held in Bangkok, Thailand. The year after, he was part of the champion ABC team that played in Seoul, South Korea, beating the host country led by the legendary shooting guard Shin Dong Pa. Jaworski and the late Edgardo Ocampo were responsible for stopping Shin in that finals game. Because of this victory, the Philippines earned the right to represent Asia in the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico. He was also part of the national team that won the 1973 staging of the ABC held at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila, thereby earning the right to play in the 1974 World Championships held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

He first played commercial ball with the Crispa Redmanizers under his UE coach Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan back in 1968. He then played for the Elizalde-owned Yco Painters franchise and continued his sterling play with the team. He eventually moved to play for the Meralco Reddywatts in 1970, a team considered as Crispa's arch rivals in the MICAA. However, a black spot was experienced in Jaworski's career when in 1971, he and teammate Alberto "Big Boy" Reynoso ganged up on referee Joe Obias while his Meralco team was behind 65-50 against the Redmanizers. This incident led to a lifetime ban imposed by the BAP to the two stalwarts. In 1973, this ban was eventually lifted owing to the immense talent that the two cagers possessed. They eventually went back to Meralco and later on teamed up in the national team for the 1973 ABC. Jaworski was the lead guard of that team alongside Francis Arnaiz, Ramon "Tito" Fernandez, Reynoso and William "Bogs" Adornado. Other players in that super team included Rogelio "Tembong" Melencio, David "Dave" Regullano, Rosalio "Yoyong" Martirez, Manuel "Manny" Paner, Alberto "Abet" Guidaben, Jaime "Jimmy" Mariano and Ricardo "Joy" Cleofas. 

From Meralco, Jaworski was taken in by the Silverio-owned company Komatsu Comets and was responsible for giving a couple of championships in the MICAA. It was also around this time when the coin "Big J" was given to him, resembling the "Big O" tag given to Oscar Robertson who Jaworski played alike. When the PBA was formed in 1975, Jaworski was part of the original core of Toyota players who donned the Comets uniform at the inception of the league. Jaworski had for his original teammates names like Arnaiz, Reynoso, Fernandez, Reynoso's younger brother Cristino (Tino), Rodolfo "Ompong" Segura, Oscar Rocha, Joaquin "Jake" Rojas, and Orlando "Orly" Bauzon. 

Jaworski was part of Toyota for 9 seasons, from 1975 until its disbandment at the end of the 1983 season. He was a major player in Toyota's 9 championships and was even named Most Valuable Player back in 1978. To date, Jaworski's MVP performance may arguably be considered as the most dominating ever in one season after he averaged 20 points, 12 assists and close to 9 rebounds per game. This was done despite the presence of hulking imports with no height limit - imports he played alongside and against with. The closest that would compete for domination would be Ramon Fernandez's scintillating 1984 season for Beer Hausen where "El Presidente" averaged 27 points, 15 boards and 9.9 assists per game. The difference though was that Jaworski led his Toyota team to two championships that season (the Open and the AFC) while Fernandez failed to bag a title in 1984.

When Toyota disbanded at the end of the 1983 season, the team was sold to Basic Holdings, Inc., the company that owns Asia Brewery. Jaworski balked at the idea of joining Beer Hausen, the brand name of Basic Holdings after describing what he felt was a sale done without giving due respect to the personalities involved. Jaworski described the sale as a 'farce,' and that players like him should not be sold "por kilo." At that time, Beer Hausen was intent on making Fernandez as the franchise player of the team with Jaworski relegated in the background. Eventually, then PBA president Carlos "Honeyboy" Palanca III made a decision that would probably hallmark as one of the most controversial and history-making moves in the PBA. Palanca, owner of La Tondena, Inc. who owns Gilbey's Gin (later Ginebra San Miguel) in the PBA, decided to take in Jaworski and best buddy Arnaiz to the team. This marked the cornerstone in making Ginebra arguably the most popular team in Philippine basketball history with Jaworski at the forefront.

Jaworski and Arnaiz turned the moribund franchise into a competitive one almost overnight when in the first conference of the 1984 season, the All Filipino, he led the team to a runnerup finish against powerhouse Crispa. Gilbey's Gin was then led by Arturo "Turo" Valenzona, a former nemesis of Jaworski from their MICAA days. A power struggle was already ensuing thereby leading to the breakup of the Valenzona-Jaworski partnership at the start of the 1985 season. Jaworski took over as playing coach of Ginebra San Miguel while Valenzona went on limbo before latching up with the Tanduay Rhum Makers in the 1986 season.

The Big J's first championship as a playing coach came in the 1986 Open Conference when he, alongside super imports Michael Hackett and Billy Ray Bates, dominated the entire conference to win the championship finals at the expense of the Manila Beer team, then led by former Crispa players Abet Guidaben (who was traded from Tanduay vice Fernandez) and Atoy Co, alongside equally super imports Michael Young and Harold Keeling. In Game 4 of that Best of Seven series, Jaworski played the entire game that needed two extra overtime periods to beat Manila Beer 145-135, thereby taking a commanding 3-1 lead. Jaworski was 40 years old at that time and yet became a PBA record holder for being the local who played the longest in one game. Jaworski's wedding godson, Zandro "Jun" Limpot eventually would break that record while playing for the Sta. Lucia Realtors as a rookie in 1993 by playing 60 minutes in a triple OT victory against SMB. Paradoxically, Jaworski owns the PBA record for playing the shortest time in a PBA game, at one second. In a game against the Alaska Milkmen in 1996 and behind by two points with one second in that game, the Big J fielded himself to handle the inbound. While the inbound was successful, the team failed to convert this into a basket and lost the game.

In 1988, Jaworski finally won his first and only All Filipino championship in a controversy-ridden championship at the expense of the rookie team Purefoods Hotdogs, led by its playing coach Ramon Fernandez. Jaworski and Fernandez were involved in a running feud dating back when Toyota disbanded in 1983 and this became the climax of their rift. In Game 1 of that finals, Anejo Rum 65 upended Purefoods to gain initial lead in the series. Purefoods owner Jaime Zobel De Ayala and president Renato Buhain publicly accused Fernandez of dropping Game 1 and took him out as head coach and player for the entire series. Because of this controversy, Anejo Rum went on to win the series, 3-1, including the deciding Game 4 where Jaworski became best player of the game - topscoring for his team with 28 points. 

In 1989, Jaworski and Fernandez eventually kissed and made up, ending a long feud. Paradoxically, it was Baby Dalupan, coach of their arch rival Crispa team that made it possible. Dalupan, then coaching the Veterans team of Jaworski and Fernandez in the 1989 All Star Game against the Rookies and Sophomore team, encouraged the two to shake hands after the game where both of them led to victory by two points, 132-130. In the final 4 seconds of that game, Jaworski inbounded the ball and gave the pass to Fernandez who streaked past Benjie Paras and made a twisting "elegant" shot for the two point win. 

The reconciliation didn't turn out to be for a show though as Jaworski, after being appointed national team coach by the BAP, selected Fernandez in the team to represent our country in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, China. Fernandez was among 12 players personally chosen by Jaworski to lead the charge for the team - others included Alvin Patrimonio, Allan Caidic, Avelino "Samboy" Lim, Yves Dignadice, Hector Calma, Venancio "Benjie" Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, Zaldy Realubit and the Big J's players with Anejo - Dante Gonzalgo, Chito Loyzaga and Rey Cuenco. This team salvaged the silver medal against host China but not after giving the Chinese a good fight in the finals, losing 90-76.

In 1991, Jaworski won his third title at the expense of Formula Shell in Game 7 of the Open Conference. In that deciding game, Jaworski inbounded from the endline to Rudy Distrito with 4 seconds remaining. Distrito made a difficult, twisting, off-balanced and falling shot over the outstretched arms of Paras to pull off a two point win and to the delight of millions of Ginebra fans watching the game. Jaworski ended up once more as the best player of that game with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 8 feeds in an all-around effort not common for a 45 year old man.

From 1992 to 1995, Ginebra suffered a drought owing to budgetary constraints experienced by the franchise. Jaworski belabored with marginal players and washed-up veterans in trying to earn respectability during this period. In 1995, a PBA record was established when the Big J took in his eldest son Robert, Jr., in the second round of the rookie draft, making this the only time when a father and son played for the same team. However, the two never got to play together as Jaworski contented himself coaching the team while Dodot got his few minutes as a starter.

It was in 1996 when the breakthrough came in for Ginebra, now called Ginebra Na! After years of savoring for super rookie Marlou Aquino, he finally got the 6'9 beanpole as top draft pick of 1996. He also got Bal David from the free agent ranks after the latter displayed uncanny capability as a point guard when he and Aquino led the national team to the gold medal in the 1995 SEA Games. David was also the celebrated point guard of the PBL, leading the Stag team to twin championships in 1995. But 1996 was Alaska's year - and the grandslam was accomplished with Gordon's Gin at the losing end in the 3rd and final conference. In 1997 though, Jaworski finally earned his 4th jewel, mentoring the team to the 1997 Governor's Cup championship at the expense of the Alaska Milkmen. The team won in 6 games, including a 126-94 rout in the final game. 

Jaworski remained as coach of the team until April of 1998 when he announced his intention of running for the Philippine Senate in May that year. Jaworski wounded up 8th overall in the Senate race, making him one of the few cagers to become a Senator of the Republic - following the footsteps of the late Ambrosio Padilla and Freddie Webb. Fernandez tried to run for the Senate in the 1992 elections but wounded up 19th overall.

After being proclaimed Senator, Jaworski turned over the coaching chores to his long-time assistant Quirino "Rino" Salazar while taking a leave of absence from the basketball scene. But in 1999, a controversy erupted when Ginebra owner Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, Jr. announced the promotion of Allan Caidic as playing assistant coach of Jaworski in Ginebra. The Big J didn't take this well and resigned from his position as head coach after feeling insulted of not being informed about it beforehand. Salazar took over and later on handed the reins to Caidic when he had to migrate to Alaska and join his family.

Jaworski's last game in the PBA was in March 1997 in a game held at Dumaguete City. He didn't play much in that game but owns the record for being the oldest player ever to play in the PBA at 50 years old. This on top of being acknowledged as the league's most popular player ever and the icon of Philippine basketball for several years.

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