Friday, February 24, 2012

Toyota Controversies in the PBA

Toyota, more than Crispa, was hounded with more controversies throughout their 9 seasons in the league. There is no compelling reason for such, except that probably, Toyota’s individual players were known to be more “independent-minded” while Crispa’s superstars submitted to their team owner Danny Floro. Jaworski, who eventually became larger than life in the PBA, was
involved in majority of these controversies, as well as Fernandez. Let’s try to give a sampling here.

1. In December of 1979, Dante Silverio resigned as the team’s head coach after management decided to reinstate players Fernandez, Estoy Estrada Abe King in Game 2 of the 3rd Conference finals. Silverio deliberately didn’t field any of these players in the 3rd Conference after claiming that the three deliberately “didn’t play their best” in a losing finals stint against Royal Tru Orange in the 2nd Conference. The Orangemen, then coached by Eduardo Ocampo (who took over Toyota at the start of the 1981 season) and led by imports Otto Moore and Larry Pounds, decisively beat the Tamaraws in 4 games of a best of five series to earn their first title. Notable players in the RTO fold included Rudy Lalota, Tony Torrente, Leo Paguntalan, Biboy Ravanes, Badong Ramas, Jess Migalbin (the father of Richard Yee), and Rosalio “Yoyong” Martirez. Toyota eventually won the 3rd Conference title, their 6th since 1975, beating Crispa in four games. The team was led by their imports Andrew Fields and Bruce “Sky” King while Crispa was powered by Bernard Harris (who played for Tanduay the year before) and Irving Chatman.

2. In April of 1977, the Comets and the Redmanizers were involved in a tumultuous post-game rumble at the Big Dome that saw both protagonists being sent and jailed at the Fort Bonifacio. At a time when the players’ notion of winning a game was “at all costs”, especially in a Crispa-Toyota game, it was not uncommon to find these two teams involved in several rumbles. The very first fight actually happened back in 1975 between the two teams and led by Toyota’s notorious bad boy Oscar Rocha. The apex came in 1977 when players like Fernandez and Co were mixing up at each other despite the presence of cops in the dugout.

3. I can't exactly describe this as controversial but the story of the longest 16 seconds in league history would happen in 1980 featuring the Toyota Tamaraws and the U/Tex Wranglers. The two teams tangled in the Finals of the Open Conference title with U/Tex having the privilege of playing their two imports side by side with each other. The two, Glenn McDonald and Aaron James, combined forces with Bogs Adornado, Lim Eng Beng and the diminutive Ricky Pineda to form a solid starting unit. Toyota of course had their resident import Andy Fields partnered with another old reliable in King. In Game 4 of the series and U/Tex ahead 2-1, Tommy Manotoc pulled out all his starters and sent in his shock troopers with more than 7 minutes remaining in the game and the Tamaraws up by only 9 points. Reporters bitterly criticized Manotoc's move for conceding the game at such an early stage, but Manotoc justified this by saying the most famous quote, "one step backwards, two steps forward" in reference to the tactic of relieving his star players and giving them enough time to rest in preparation for the all important Game 5. Toyota won Game 4 handily of course. In Game 5, with time down to 16 seconds, U/Tex in possession and Toyota ahead by four 94-90, the 16 second miracle happened. Upon receipt of the inbound pass from Lim Eng Beng, Aaron James cranked up a jumper from 18 feet to bring the game closer by 2, time down to 11 seconds. Toyota had possession, inbounded from the endline, but the full court press of U/Tex somehow added pressure to the Tamaraws. Instead of just holding on to the ball and waiting for a foul while watching the time tick away, the Tamaraws made one hurried pass after another until it reached the frontcourt. In the ensuing play, Francis Arnaiz made a pass to Abe King who was unmolested in the paint, but his pass was read well by McDonald who intercepted the ball. Arnie Tuadles, in haste, fouled McDonald in penalty instead of putting up a solid defense against the 6'6 former Celtic. McDonald, in his characteristically cool demeanor, proved once and again that his 1976 championship performance with Boston was no fluke, sank both free throws with time down to 2 seconds left. The game was tied and Toyota couldn't buy a basket in the remaining seconds, forcing the game into overtime, the very first recorded OT in Game 5 in PBA History (and probably the only one to date). At the end of 5 minutes of extension, U/Tex saw itself at the winning end with a 99-98 victory against the hapless Tamaraws which never know what hit them.

4. In December of 1980, Crispa was at the threshold of winning the 1980 All Filipino Conference in unbeaten fashion. They have already won 19 straight – 9 in the eliminations, 8 in the semifinals, and the first 2 games of the finals series against arch rivals Toyota. In Game 3, and behind by three points at halftime, Toyota team manager Pablo Carlos fired Coach Fort Acuña on the spot for refusing to heed Carlos’ demand thrice to field in Robert Jaworski in the game. The feud between Acuña and Jaworski was never revealed although rumors at that time said that their differences were “professional transcending into the personal.” Jaworski re-entered the court at the start of the 3rd canto with Carlos coaching, and although didn’t exactly play well, emotionally lifted the Tamaraws to a hotly-contested 97-94 victory against the Redmanizers, spoiling Crispa’s chances to win the crown unbeaten. Crispa eventually won Game 4, 105-91 and ended the conference with a 20-1 slate.

5. In July of 1982, the Super Corollas and the visiting national team of South Korea were involved in a bench-clearing free for all that saw several players being thrown out of the game and getting suspended. Despite Toyota’s victory against the Koreans in that game (despite Korean hotshot Lee Chung Hee’s 54 points), the suspensions of three key players (including leading Rookie of the Year candidate Terry Saldaña) proved to be a backbreaker as they failed to land in the finals of the Asian Invitational Conference. San Miguel won the title, beating Crispa in Game 3. The failure of the Super Corollas to win this conference proved to be a heartbreaker as this was the only conference in 1982 where they failed to win, thereby losing their hopes of a similar grandslam victory won by Crispa in 1976 and followed up in 1983.

6. In February of 1984, the Toyota franchise officially takes a leave of absence from the league after suffering from huge losses in terms of revenues. This also forced the hand of then team manager Jack Rodriguez (who replaced Ricky Silverio, Jr., the son of the team owner who replaced Carlos) to sell the franchise to Beer Hausen of Lucio Tan’s Asia Brewery. The lock, stock and barrel deal stated that all Toyota players will be sold as well, to be led by no less than their starting center Ramon Fernandez. Robert Jaworski balked at the sale, refusing to heed the contract that they were obligated to follow. This made Jaworski mouth the famous line, “di kami por kilo” in reference to the non-transparent ways that the Toyota management did in selling the franchise without informing the players. With the controversy becoming even bigger as the days wore on, then Ginebra team manager Carlos “Honeyboy” Palanca, III, who was also the PBA President at that time, decided to secure Jaworski’s services instead of pushing through with the Beer Hausen transaction. Jaworski was joined by Francis Arnaiz and Arnie Tuadles in the Palanca franchise, while Abe King joined the San Miguel Group then called Gold Eagle Beer. Chito Loyzaga resurfaced and was taken in by Great Taste Coffee. The majority of the Toyota players led by Fernandez (along with Coloso, Cordero, Herrera, Legaspi, Bulaong, Relosa, etc) went to Beer Hausen.

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