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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Toyota, 1975 - 1983

I originally posted this in mypba.com.

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PROFILE & FRANCHISE NAMES:


Toyota is a Japanese brand that was exclusively distributed by Delta Motors Philippines, Inc., owned by now Bulacan governor Ricardo Silverio, Sr. The team was then known as the Komatsu Comets in the MICAA, one of the more successful teams of the amateur commercial league prior to the inception of the PBA. Sometime in January of 1975, five MICAA teams met together at the old Elizalde canteen to sign a pre-organizational agreement for the formation of what is now known as the Philippine Basketball Association. Dante Silverio, Ricardo Silverio’s nephew, was the official representative of Toyota who signed in the dotted line.

When the league started, Toyota was known to be the Comets, retaining its nick that they used when they were still branded as Komatsu. Sometime in 1977 or 1978, Toyota came out with a new fleet called the Tamaraw, a utility vehicle marketed specifically for small to medium businesses. Hence, they became the Toyota Tamaraws. They also had an amateur team at that time playing in the MICAA, known as MAN Diesel. MAN Diesel, like their professional counterparts, were likewise successful in the MICAA and was considered as one of 3 of the powerhouse teams of the amateur league, along with Solid Mills and Imperial Textile Mills. MAN Diesel also became known as Frigidaire, the refrigerator maker, since Silverio was the owner of the said company. Also in 1978, a sister team, Filmanbank, a bank also owned by Silverio, joined the league after buying the 7-Up Uncolas’ franchise. In the process, the Tamaraws were able to secure the biggest name of the Uncolas at that time, a 5’9 dynamo named Danny Florencio (who used to play for Crispa in the MICAA), since Filmanbank allowed their most prized player to be released to their sister team. Prior to that, Florencio sizzled with a league high 64 points in a game of 7-Up despite having two American import teammates in 7’0 Steve Stroud and 6’7 Chris MacMurrray playing alongside him. Florencio, who was just involved in the first ever player trade conducted by the league in 1977, came from U/Tex along with Jimmy Otazu in lieu of the Uncolas’ Tino Reynoso and Ulysses Rodriguez. 

In 1981, the company unfolded a new fleet of passenger vehicles that was called the Super Corolla. To further boost its marketing image, the team decided to carry the brand and was eventually called the Toyota Super Corollas. This eventually became their last name franchise name as they disbanded at the end of the 1983 season after suffering from huge losses brought about by the economic crunch triggered by the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr.

PLAYERS:

While Crispa was blessed with probably the best assembled talent ever in local cage history, they were also one of the more popular teams because they were able to identify themselves well with the masses. Toyota, on the other hand, was more preferred by the elite in the society, especially since they had better-looking players in mestizos Robert Jaworski, Francis Arnaiz, Ramon Fernandez, Orlando Bauzon, etc. These 4 players, along with Rodolfo “Ody” or “Ompong” Segura, Big Boy Reynoso, Tino Reynoso, Oscar Rocha, Joaquin “Jake” Rojas and Fortunato Acuña were the bulwark of the Comets’ initial run in the PBA. Notwithstanding, the difference between the two teams was very apparent that it virtually split the PBA fans in terms of support and fan base, collaring practically 95% of the total fan base of the league.

In 1976, a Pampangueño named Virgilio “Gil” Cortez was hired by the Comets and became the league’s first Rookie of the Year. Cortez, who became an integral part of Toyota’s offensive patterns especially when starting small forward Segura was debilitated with knee injuries, did well in his initial year, knocking down 15- 18 foot jumpers and able to cut through the lanes with gusto. However, similar to Segura, Cortez became injury-saddled as well and became the first ever to be tagged with the term “sophomore jinx” – a term described to a player who suffers the ignominy of bad luck in his second year after a successful rookie campaign. 

Toyota has been blessed with the securing of quality players. This allowed a smooth transition of old to new stars to come to their fold, a noted disparity from their arch-rivals who started and ended with Crispa. Players like Rojas, Reynoso, and Bauzon went on to play for other teams but the franchise didn’t suffer as they were able to secure quality replacements like Abe King and Nicanor Bulaong. King lost by a hairline to Jimmy Taguines of Tanduay in the 1977 Rookie of the Year awards. In 1978, four more quality rookies came in…Emerito Legaspi, Leopoldo Herrera, Pablo Javier (then bruited to be the second coming of Jaworski in terms of playing style and cerebral tactics) and Eduardo Merced. None however came close to eventual ROY winner Jaime Manansala of Tanduay in the awards and balloting. The same year, two superstars from different teams, Florencio and Estoy Estrada, joined the Tamaraws and made the franchise one of the most envied and feared teams back then.

It was however in 1979 when the first major coup of a rookie was achieved through Cebuano hotshot Arnulfo “Arnie” Tuadles. Tuadles filled up the weakest point of the Tamaraws’ starting unit made up of center Ramon Fernandez, power forward Abe King, off guard Francis Arnaiz and point guard Robert Jaworski. At that time, Toyota had to contend with the injury-plagued Cortez and Segura, and when both became a shadow of their old selves, tried out Legaspi, Acuña and Jess Sta. Maria to cover the #3 spot to no avail. Tuadles’ entry, so to speak, was heaven sent. He eventually made the biggest impact by a rookie at that time when he cracked the Mythical Five, the first rookie ever to do so and joining big names like Crispa’s Fortunato “Atoy” Co, Jr. (the eventual 1979 MVP) and Philip Cezar, and teammates Ramon Fernandez and Robert Jaworski. Quite an elite and accomplished group indeed.

In 1981, they were able to get the services of Joaquin “Chito” Loyzaga, the eldest son of Philippine basketball’s legendary Carlos “The King” Loyzaga. Loyzaga, then a “light” 200 lb. defensive wizard from San Beda. Loyzaga, a former 1978 national team member that represented the country in the World Basketball Championships, was considered to be the team’s legitimate sixth man, relieving either Fernandez at the slot or King at the #4 position. Loyzaga, however, disappeared after one season with the Super Corollas and eventually returned to join Great Taste in 1984 upon Toyota’s disbandment. 

In 1982, the Super Corollas felt that they needed to approximate what their arch rivals Crispa did the previous year of preparing for the future. In 1981, the Redmanizers collared 4 of the best amateur players of the country from the defunct APCOR squad in Ramon Cruz, Arturo Cristobal, Federico Israel and Elpidio Villamin. They came up with their own in Timothy Coloso (another supposedly potential Jaworski-clone), Ricardo Relosa, Edgardo Cordero, and Antero Saldaña, the first three coming from their recently-folded sister team in the amateurs and the last (Saldaña) from APCOR. These four, especially Saldaña, created a solid impact in the team’s 1982 stint where they won two titles. Saldaña would have been a shoo-in to become the team’s 3rd rookie of the year awardee if not for his prime involvement in a bench-clearing melee against the visiting South Korean national team. The 6’3 power forward was disqualified by the league for the ROY crown, virtually giving his namesake and former APCOR teammate, Marte Saldaña of San Miguel the silver plate. 


It will be argued that Toyota was the only team capable of matching, if not, exceeding the starting unit that Crispa possessed at that time. While the Redmanizers had Co, Fabiosa, Hubalde, Cezar and Guidaben, Toyota countered with Jaworski, Arnaiz, Tuadles, King and Fernandez. All 5 Crispa players ended up in the top 25 players of the league from 1975 to 2000 while Toyota had three in Jaworski, Fernandez and Arnaiz. While it may be argued that King and Tuadles deserve to be in the same list, their notorious activities off-court whether proven or otherwise (King became involved in a drug scandal in Las Piñas, Tuadles met his untimely death in 1996 while gambling big money against former President Joseph Estrada’s cronies), somehow tainted their images that affected their nominations in the elite list.

PLAYING STYLE:

In a time when defense was defined as “an individual’s effort to stop or stymie the opposing team’s counterpart”, Toyota’s playing style was considered one of the most glamorous and worthy to watch. With team defense hardly known back then, Toyota was a typical run-and-gun team that depended heavily on their rebounding prowess. Hence, when you have an Andrew Fields, Bruce King, John Irving, Abe King, Ramon Fernandez and even a Bobby Jaworski collaring the rebounds, the most common (and very entertaining) spectacle was to see a baseball pass by the rebounder to a streaking player on the break for an easy twinner. Notables among the recipients of the baseball pass over the years in the Toyota lineup included Segura, Cortez, Tuadles, Arnaiz, and Legaspi. In the halfcourt, it was not uncommon to see a similar play that Fernandez and Jaworski employed in the recent Crispa-Toyota reunion game where Fernandez would post up, Jaworski would stay at the top of the arc and wait for Fernandez to be double-teamed. Once the double team is consummated, Jaworski either waits at the 3 point line or makes a straight cut in the middle of the lanes waiting for the blind pass of Fernandez for an easy two. Another common sight was to see Jaworski mapping out the play, cuts in the middle and makes the interior defense commit to him. He then throws a behind-the-back blind pass to cutting slotmen like Fernandez or King for an easy layup or throws it back to good buddy Arnaiz for a long range bomb shot from the arc. Hence, it wasn’t a surprise to see Jaworski, Arnaiz and Fernandez (in that order) being the first 3 PBA players to dish off 2,000 assists in their careers. 

For defense, Toyota’s starting unit had a better defensive stance against their counterparts in Crispa. With Jaworski, Fernandez and King anchoring the defense, it was like an impregnable Fort Knox to penetrate the individual defenses lay down by the team. It was a tribute therefore to Crispa’s individuals’ capabilities to go beyond this defense set up by the three. Crispa, however had the edge at the bench since they had noted defensive aces like Padim Israel, Joy Dionisio, Yoyoy Villamin, Bay Cristobal (especially in 1983 under Coach Tommy Manotoc) while Toyota had to contend with Herrera, Javier, Coloso and Bulaong to provide the defensive spunk.

THE IMPORTS:

The Crispa Redmanizers suffered the ignominy of having to contend with a lot of lemon imports in their quest for the title. That was why Crispa always found themselves more successful in the All Filipino Conference, unlike Toyota who had more championship victory ratio (total of 9, only 3 in the AFC) in the import-laced conferences. Toyota was backed up by stellar imports, led by two of the best in their respective positions (my opinion only), Andrew Fields at the power forward slot and Carlos Terry at #3. Other notable imports who performed very well were John Irving in 1977, Byron “Snake” Jones (the first balik-import of the league, playing for Toyota in seasons 1975 and 1976 and eventually secured by Crispa in 1981), Bruce “Sky” King, and Donnie Ray Koonce in 1982. Fields was their resident import, having played for five seasons with the team (1979-1983), while Terry was the key personality in the victories of Toyota against World Champions Yugoslavia 118-113 and 6th placer Canada. Had there been a best import award in the 70’s, Terry would have won that title handily in his 1978 stint with the Tamaraws. Fields, on the other hand, is the recipient of the first best import award given by the league in 1981.

Of course, they also had to contend with marginal and paltry imports. Names like Melton Wertz, Arnold Dugger, Victor Robinson, TJ Robinson, and the highly-touted Kevin Porter are just some of those that didn’t exactly make the Toyota standard of imports. Porter, the starting point guard of the 1979 NBA champions Washington Bullets and a record holder of the NBA in number of steals in the same season, was a shadow of his old self when he planed to Manila to don the Toyota jersey in 1983. Having to contend with old age and injuries, Porter was immediately replaced after three games.

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