Wednesday, March 14, 2012

EMERITO LEGASPI – from amateur superstar to PBA role player


Birthdate: May 02, 1954
Height: 5’11
Weight: 160 lbs
Position: Forward

          When Emerito Legaspi graduated from high school at the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation (GAUF) in Malabon, the future was extremely bright. He just finished valedictorian from high school after being salutatorian in elementary, was the star basketball player of his school, and was just granted a full scholarship by the University of the East not because of his
athletic credentials but because of his academic standing.


          Legaspi took up Mechanical Engineering at UE, one of the most difficult courses offered by the school. He initially didn’t suit up for the UE Red Warriors, content with doing well in his studies. Things changed on his sophomore year though when then Coach Pilo Pumaren (father of the Pumaren siblings Derrick, Franz and Dindo) took interest in Legaspi and recruited him to join the team. In the next four years, he played for the Red Warriors and became the team’s leading scorer, and was regarded by many as the best player of the league (there was no MVP award back then). Legaspi powered UE to back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975 and re-established the school’s dominance of the UAAP after losing the 1972 and 1973 titles to the Far Eastern University Tamaraws. Legaspi was backstopped by future pros Tito Varela, Ramon Cruz, Jimmy Manansala, Benjie Chua (who later on became a PBA referee himself), Legaspi’s elder brother Roberto, among others. He eventually graduated at UE and was poised for loftier basketball heights.


          With Legaspi’s exploits, the farm team of Toyota in the MICAA, Crown Motors, secured his services. 

Given the full trust and confidence by coach Nat Canson, Legaspi immediately made his presence felt and achieved a historical feat. In 1976, Legaspi was the first player to have won the Most Valuable Player Award and the Discovery Player of the Year Award (known today as Rookie of the Year) in the same year in MICAA history. Venancio “Benjie” Paras achieved the same rare hattrick in 1989 while playing for Formula Shell in the PBA while Eric Menk accomplished the same feat in 1997 in the PBL. Legaspi was so prolific that he was averaging close to 28 points per game and was the leading scorer in the tournament, ahead of future pros Renato Sidamon, Greg Gozum and Paul Velasco.

          Crown Motors won the MICAA title in 1977 with Legaspi leading the charge. Some of his more notable teammates include fellow Toyota teammates Pol Herrera, Pablo Javier and Abe King, Federico “Bokyo” Lauchengco, his UE teammate Mon Cruz, and soon-to-be actor, player and politician Joey Marquez. Crown won over teams like the YCO Painters, the Imperial Textile Mills, the 7-UP Uncolas, and the Manilabank Bankers. On his rookie year, Legaspi powered Crown from last place in 1975 to a solid 3rd place finish in 1976, earning for him the two major individual titles at stake.


          After the 3rd place finish in 1976, Crown Motors temporarily disbanded, thereby making the players virtual free agents. ITM tried to recruit him and he was already practicing with the Textile Millers when he was called upon by Coach Honesto Mayoralgo to suit up for the RP Youth national team that was to compete in the 1976 Asian Youth competitions.  ITM refused to lend Legaspi as they were bent on winning the title with Legaspi teaming up with 6’6 giant Romulo Mamaril and Israel Catacutan. Legaspi didn’t get to play for ITM though as Crown regrouped and re-secured his services. By that time, the RP Youth team had already been formed.


          The decision on Legaspi’s part to rejoin Crown Motors turned out to be providential. Toyota coach Dante Silverio was to reorganize his aging team after a grandslam season by arch rival, Crispa in 1976. Silverio released the Reynoso brothers – Big Boy and Tino, Rolly Marcelo, Jake Rojas and Roberto Concepcion. Silverio wanted new blood and decided to get Jess Santamaria and Rino Salazar from other PBA teams and recruited Legaspi, King, Javier and FEU stalwart Nic Bulaong. Retained were Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Francis Arnaiz, 1976 Rookie of the Year Gil Cortez, Fort Acuna , Oscar Rocha, Orly Bauzon and Aurelio “Boy” Clarino. Rodolfo “Ompong” Segura also played in 1977 until he was waived by Silverio and was picked up by the U/Tex Wranglers.

          Toyota initially struggled with chemistry problems, thereby allowing Honda to become the first team in PBA history to enter the Finals outside of Toyota and Crispa. Of course, the Panthers had the luxury of suiting up the 6’6 Big Billy Robinson in their lineup, and with Jun Papa backstopping him, they dislodged the Tamaraws from another Finals date with the Redmanizers. But in the 3rd Conference of the 1977 season called The Invitationals, the Tamaraws were able to stop Crispa from winning a back-to-back grandslam. Crispa struggled as their original backup import, Ricky Hicks, was released and they brought in former 7/UP import Chris MacMurray to team up with Cyrus Mann. Toyota , on the other hand, had Bruce “Sky” King and John “Dr. I” Irving . The Tamaraws run roughshod over the visiting Emtex Sacronels team powered by the nucleus of the Brazilian national team led by the venerable Oscar Schmidt.

          Legaspi didn’t join Toyota immediately at the start of the season though. Because of his commitments with Crown where he powered the team to the MICAA title, he was only able to join the Tamaraws on their 5th game for the season against the Royal Tru Orangemen in a provincial game held at Lucena. For his debut game, Legaspi scored 13 points just behind leading scorers Arnaiz and Fernandez.

          Legaspi’s rookie season wasn’t as rosy as his MICAA experience though. At 5’11, he played forward with UE and Crown but his height was only good enough to be a shooting guard. And since Toyota arguably had the best backcourt in the PBA with Jaworski and Arnaiz, he had to content himself being a reliever. This didn’t stop his drive to succeed though, and became Toyota ’s 4th best scorer in 1977 behind the Big 3. However, he wasn’t part of the starting unit that earned the most playing minutes, unlike fellow rookie King who was inserted as the starting power forward. It was Cortez who started as small forward for Toyota that year.


          The circumstances didn’t change in 1978 when Toyota acquired the services of Danny Florencio from the disbanded 7/UP Uncolas and Ernesto “Estoy” Estrada from Royal. Florencio supplanted the oft-injured Cortez in the starting lineup and Estrada became the team’s sixth man. Florencio proved his worth immediately as he became the team’s top scorer for the season, averaging 23 ppg. It was also the Big J’s banner MVP season, averaging 20 ppg, 12 boards and 8.8 assists per game in what may be regarded as the finest season played by any player in PBA history. Still, Legaspi toiled at practice and earned Silverio’s trust. He was averaging close to 15 minutes per game but he was one of the more efficient players of the Tamaraws.

          When Florencio took a leave of absence for the entire 1979 season, Silverio acquired the services of Visayan cager Arnulfo “Arnie” Tuadles from the San Miguel Braves in the MICAA. Tuadles, at 6’1 and close to 180 lbs, was also one of the best one-on-one players you can ever find. With his height, built and talent perfect for the PBA brand of play, he created an immediate impact and became the first rookie to crack the Mythical Five. He ended up as the Rookie of the Year for 1979 as well. Legaspi didn’t have the same opportunity that Tuadles got from Silverio. Nonetheless, Legaspi remained to be a vital cog in Toyota ’s scheme of things. In a game against Crispa where they lost 172-142, Legaspi scored 29 points behind Abe King’s 60 points in one of his more prolific games for the Tamaraws.


          When Silverio resigned at the start of the 1979 3rd Conference brought about by his uncle and team owner, Ricardo Silverio, Sr.’s decision to have Fernandez, King and Estrada play after being sidelined by the fashionable Toyota coach, the Tamaraws appointed then assistant coach Fort Acuna to replace him. Acuna was the type of coach who wanted to give more playing time to his younger players and this took a toll on his relationship with the veteran players. Acuna was eventually sacked in Game 3 of the 1980 All Filipino Conference when he refused to field in Jaworski for that pivotal game. Legaspi earned more playing time from Acuna but had to accept the latter’s fate.

          When Ed Ocampo was hired by Toyota to coach the team after a successful 1979 2nd Conference championship for Royal, Legaspi had to earn his minutes. Not the type of person to complain, Legaspi remained loyal to Toyota , even if he was already being offered by Great Taste team manager Ignacio Gotao to join the Discoverers. He remained to be a valuable reserve for Ocampo and was only able to earn more minutes when either Jaworski or Arnaiz was injured.


          After successfully winning two titles in 1982, Toyota floundered in 1983 in what may be regarded as their most turbulent season. The feud of Jaworski and Fernandez was more evident, Ocampo couldn’t rein the two players to make amends, and Crispa became dominant with the hiring of Billy Ray Bates as their import. Toyota ended their last conference in the PBA by failing to gain a semifinals stint, the first time in team history. Despite assurances from owner Silverio and team manager Jack Rodriguez that the team wouldn’t disband, Legaspi was shocked to read in the papers a few days after that the franchise had been sold to Basic Holdings, Inc, the holding company of Asia Brewery. Jaworski didn’t want any part of the sale and entertained offers from other teams. He was joined by his buddy Arnaiz and they later went to Gilbey’s Gin. Legaspi joined Fernandez’s group at Beer Hausen, along with Ed Cordero, Ricky Relosa, Nic Bulaong and Tim Coloso. Before Toyota disbanded, King signed up with Gold Eagle Beer and was immediately penciled by Gold Eagle coach Nat Canson as the team’s franchise player. Chito Loyzaga and Tuadles went to Great Taste.

          Legaspi spent two uneventful seasons with the Brewmasters. His lack of height and the insistence of his coach, Bonnie Carbonell, to field him as a shooting guard, were his biggest dilemma since his position has always been as a small forward. Similarly, he had to share minutes with the likes of Itoy Esguerra, Bert Dela Rosa and Abet Gutierrez at Beer Hausen.


          When Legaspi retired after the 1985 season, he found himself at a loss. Not knowing what to do, he stayed home in his Paranaque residence and took care of his family. His former teammate, King, gave him emotional support until he found a job as a dealer for PAGCOR. Today, he is now a successful PIT Manager at PAGCOR Airport Casino.

          When asked of his views on the brand of basketball being played today, Legaspi showed his admiration for the athleticism and mobility of today’s players. He attributed this to better and more sophisticated training methods applied today. Coaching has also improved by leaps and bounds, making the players understand the game better. However, if given the same training opportunities, Legaspi would be the first one to say that their fundamental skills in terms of shooting and resiliency would make them better than many of today’s players. Of course, with 6’7 forwards around, his 5’11 frame would be very small. But if the methods employed today were done in the past, he would have easily converted himself to a point or shooting guard with ease.

          Emer Legaspi was one of many amateur superstars who had to contend themselves to becoming role players for their PBA teams. He was the most prolific amateur player of his time, capable of scoring anywhere from 20 feet, had a soft and elegant touch from the outside, and was capable of driving the lanes and scoring from inside. Unfortunately, like many other players, his height and playing position became difficult for him to be as successful in the PBA. Younger players who wouldn’t be familiar with Legaspi’s brand of play can compare him with an Ato Agustin in terms of style. Agustin however was able to succeed because he willingly became a point guard for San Miguel Beer. Legaspi admitted that he wasn’t cut out to being a court general and never got the opportunity as he had to play behind Jaworski, if ever.

          The upside is that Legaspi is financially secure and contented with life. Blessed with a loving wife, Edita (a former UE varsity basketball player herself in the mid-70’s) to whom he has been married for 37 years and three children, Hazel, 36, Jasper, 34 and Edmer, 33 – all of whom are now successful in their respective fields, Legaspi has remained the same humble and intelligent person that fans remembered him during his halcyon days. Perhaps, if Legaspi ended up with a different team other than Toyota , then we would have witnessed the same player who scorched the nets in the MICAA. No regrets though, as Legaspi succinctly put it. He may not have been a superstar at Toyota but he was known by basketball fans all over the country for playing for the Tamaraws.  For someone who had to play in the shadow of three of the most illustrious and popular players in the land, Emerito Legaspi definitely has earned his spurs on his own.


  1. Great column Jay! Thanks for documenting my father's basketball career. My Dad is the quiet type and doesnt talk about this if not asked. He made a legacy in PBA which can be acknowledge by his generations but remains unrecognized by younger generations. There are people that leaves mental notes from how they know my dad and this is the first time I have seen something about my dad published on line. Your dedication and passion with documenting the sport is extraordinary. The world needs more of you Jay. Keep it up

  2. Thank you for a very comprehensive article. Very informative and insightful. Please keep on doing this.

  3. One of the best shooters in pba