Wednesday, July 7, 2021

PBA Needs to Change its Mindset

The PBA Board is made up of a flock of dinosaurs struggling to keep up with the times. Even more so, they're struggling to read the mindset of the Millennial and Generation Z players. They've also overrated the value of the league from the perspective of the young players who all grew up watching the NBA more than the PBA.

The PBA Board of Governors (photo c/o ABS-CBN Sports)

Millennial and Generation Z personalities like to travel and explore. They take calculated risks and set lofty ambitions for themselves. They can be irreverent and non-complicit to certain set of rules and regulations. They like to look at various options and won't hesitate to take the unexplored path.

The Ravena and GDL brothers, Ken Tuffin, etc. are examples of today's generation who won't subscribe to the norm. This is where the PBA is completely lost - all these threats of sanctioning players, etc. may not worry these young players that much. The PBA isn't the only league in the world where they can play. The decision-making of the Board manifests a backward mindset that may have worked in the 70's to the 90's but is hardly relevant today. It's not just an issue of supply and demand (more leagues to consider instead of only the PBA or MBA or PBL before), it's also a generational behavior that the Board simply couldn't (or wouldn't want to) understand. 

Juan and Javi Gomez di Liano (photo c/o ABS-CBN Sports)

Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena (photo c/o ABS-CBN Sports)

For these players, so what if you ban them? They'll play elsewhere. If the B-League doesn't want them anymore, then they'll consider other choices, then go back to the PBA. They'll probably say, "you want an apology letter with a request for re-enlistment...sure, we'll do that...since you need us also, we're sure you can't live up to the alleged 5-year ban and will promptly reinstate us when we apologize..."

Simply put, the PBA has nothing but an empty card in its hands. Sure, they can bluff, but these young players are just as good....they don't easily blink.

What the PBA can do is to learn to live with the times. Open the league globally, accommodate regional neighbors and let them play in the league without restrictions. In the PBA's case, they are still imposing a limit of five (5) Fil-foreigners in a roster - another totally backward way of thinking. How do we expect the Chinese, the Taiwanese, the Sokors, the Aussies, the Kiwis, etc. to play in the PBA when even slots for legitimate Fil-Fors are limited?

Tie-up with international leagues by having a common schedule, and then, on a vacant month, come up with an All-Asia championship where the top 2 teams per league would gather in one invitational tournament to determine which team is the best ball club in Asia.

Gilas vs. South Korea (photo c/o

Open the doors for foreign coaches to assume formal coaching duties in the PBA. The transfer of technology will be significant and improve the skills and talents of both the coaches and the players. No one can deny that guys like Dwight Ramos, Will Navarro, SJ Belangel, Geo Chiu, etc. want to play for Tab Baldwin because of his ability to improve their games significantly. Imagine six (6) Tab Baldwins or Ron Jacobs handling PBA teams and see the differences with how the game will be played from thereon? Imagine how our local coaches - Cone, Black, Chot, Yeng, etc. - try to adapt as quick as they can if only to make themselves competitive against these foreign mentors?

National Team Coach Tab Baldwin (photo c/o

Revisit the PBA Constitution and make the necessary revisions. If the VMV (Vision, Mission, Values) don't conform to the present needs, rework them. Since the Board thinks from the perspective of managers running a company, have them discern the fundamental problems plaguing the league - particularly the waning support from the fans. Is the business model still relevant? Is the PBA still the primary entertainment sports medium in the country?

Focus on the one reason why the league surged to its popularity peak back in the mid-80's to early 90's - parity. That was when one watches the games live or on television genuinely not knowing which team will win in the day's doubleheader. Since they joined the PBA, the two newest franchises - Blackwater and Terrafirma - have yet to crack the semifinal round and have found themselves toting a losing win-loss card every season. 

Unless the Board recognizes there's a problem, solutions will never be discussed. PBA Chairman Ricky Vargas has to find a way to convince himself, much more the Board, that their obsolete mindset cannot compete with the changing times in today's totally different landscape.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. - Changing the Philippine Basketball Landscape

I wasn't a Danding fan when it came to his politics. He was Marcos' primary crony and pretty much ran the coconut industry in the country (another crony, Roberto Benedicto was the primary stakeholder of the sugar industry). I didn't vote for him in the 1992 presidential elections mainly because he and Imelda represented the Marcos bloc. He was also suspected to have a hand in Ninoy Aquino's assassination, albeit, never proven.

Photo c/o GMA Network News

But I will always be an admirer of ECJ for his contribution to PHL basketball. I never rooted for San Miguel Beer in the PBA, except on certain cases like the 1979 Finals (cheered for RTO against Toyota) or when they were underdogs in the 1984 season as Gold Eagle Beer. Those who know me well understand how closely I followed the NCC program dating back when it all started in 1980, the same year ECJ was appointed project director for basketball by Marcos. Yet, even if I love the national team, I didn't convert to becoming an SMB fan in 1986 when the nucleus of the team joined the franchise (then called Magnolia) in the 3rd Conference. 

Yet, that NCC team was the closest national team I've ever followed. From the time the team was being formed, won the 1981 Jones, Cup, won the 1981 SEAG gold, the 1982 Asian Youth, getting robbed in the 1983 ABC, winning the 1984 Asian Interclub, performing well in the 1985 World Interclub, winning the 1985 Jones Cup, winning the 1985 Reinforced Conference, and finally, the 1986 ABC championship - I was a fan.

Ambassador Cojuangco's single biggest contribution to PHL basketball wasn't his investing on the national team. It wasn't his putting up the PABL as a league that eventually replaced the MICAA. It wasn't bringing in coach Ron Jacobs and Fil-Americans and naturalized players like Ricardo Brown, Willie Pearson, Jeff Moore, Dennis Still and Chip Engelland to the country. All significant, but these were not his best offer to the cause.

Danding with the implementor of his basketball program, Coach Ron Jacobs

I feel that ECJ made us believe again that we can be a powerhouse basketball playing nation in the world. He laid down the groundwork, given the limited time he had to prove himself. He understood that there was a talent drain in the amateur ranks brought about by players turning pro. Since he needed to produce results right away, and knowing how long it will take to nurture the existing talent pool that the PHL had back then, he made a supreme revolutionary move of bringing in no less than eight (8) foreign talents from the United States, naturalize them by presidential decree during the Martial Law era, suit them up for the national team, and provide the fastest way to transfer technology. 

It wasn't an easy trek, despite the power that he possessed. He had to contend with another crony, Herminio Disini of the Herdis Group of Companies, who had his APCOR Financiers team dominating the MICAA in 1980 and 1981 and was generally considered as a godfather himself to the sport back then. Ultimately, Disini left the country for Austria after the Dewey Dee case and ECJ had the basketball world all for himself.

He retained his San Miguel basketball team in the PBA but it was apparent that he focused his resources more on the national team. After discarding the initial plan of filling the entire national team roster with naturalized players brought about by the lukewarm reception received by the team after winning the 1981 Jones Cup in splendid fashion, the next direction was to focus on key areas of weaknesses that the country perennially had. In 1982, the Philippine team won the Asian Youth title held at the Araneta Coliseum, demolishing title favorites and defending champion, China, 74-63, in front of more than 25,000 fans, including the then First Lady, Imelda Marcos, in attendance. It was a proud moment for Philippine basketball, and Cojuangco showed us vignettes of the potential of his basketball program.

The 1982 RP Youth team that won the Asian Youth title

There were still hitches that needed ironing out. Because of the pioneering move of hiring naturalized players (never heard or done before in this region), neighboring countries questioned our decision of fielding naturalized players, Moore and Still, in the 1983 ABC held in Hong Kong. After allowing Moore and Still to suit up in the elimination round where we won both games, they were disqualified and the two games were forfeited in favor of our opponents. 

Yet, Cojuangco plodded on. He put up the PABL in 1983, giving amateur players a venue to showcase their skills and talents. The greatest amateur basketball players of the 80's can trace back their roots to the PABL. in 1984, the national team won the Asian Interclub held in Ipoh, Malaysia, proving to everyone of the team's capability to win the ABC in Hong Kong had not for the ambush. In a phenomenal display of dominance, the Cement Makers won by a margin of 43.5 points per game, including two 20 point plus demolitions of the Chinese team that bannered the 7'4 Mu Tie Zhu. It was annihilation on payback time. 

Coach Ron Jacobs given the traditional victory lift

The national team also guested in the PBA starting in 1984 but experienced some rough sailing as well. There was perception of the referees favoring the PBA teams, particularly on borderline calls, when going up against the national team. The league also didn't find comfort in having a guest team, all amateur players at that, to win a professional championship. In the end, ECJ's team handily won the 1985 Reinforced Conference in the most lopsided Finals series in league history against the Manila Beer Brewmasters.

Danding's NCC team winning the 1985 Reinforced Conference

Apart from the PBA title, 1985 was a very good year for ECJ as his team played extremely well in the World Interclub held in Gerona, Spain. While they won only once in 4 games, they had close games against the US and Brazilian teams before demolishing the Banco di Roma team of Italy, 98-79. They then won the Jones Cup after a few months, stopping the US Golden Eagles team made up of 3 future NBA pros and mentored by legendary collegiate coach, Gene Keady of Purdue, in overtime, 108-100. All these would have meant nothing though if they didn't win the ABC, a feat they accomplished on January, 1986 at Kuala Lumpur, sweeping all their rivals for the top spot.

Danding with the core of the 1986 national basketball team

When Cojuangco came back from exile after EDSA 1 and regained control of San Miguel Corporation, it didn't take long for him to bring the Beermen back to its dominant ways. By the 2nd Conference of the 1999 season, they were already winning championships on a regular basis, 16 of the last 54. With the conglomerate now being run by Ramon Ang, Cojuangco took a backseat and opted to steer clear from the limelight until he became the chief benefactor of the Dela Salle Green Archers basketball team.

Danding as DLSU godfather (Photo c/o Tiebreaker Times)

There's no doubt that Danding Cojuangco was a winner. He seemed to possess the golden hand - whatever he touches always turned to gold. He may have also been successful in his other sports interests like horse racing, vintage cars, equestrian, golf and boxing but it was in basketball where he truly made his mark as a sportsman and leader. He has lived a full life and Philippine basketball will forever be grateful to him. 

May he rest in peace...

Friday, June 12, 2020

Marcial and Baldwin: A Tale of Two Perspectives

The recent controversy that stemmed from Gilas project director Tab Baldwin's statement on the PBA's quality of officiating and how the league is being run has rankled PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial. The Commissioner has threatened to impose sanctions on the assistant head coach of the Talk 'N Text KaTropa for coming up with such statements that are detrimental to the league. 

Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN Sports

Initial Thoughts

1) I felt Marcial could have taken this remark constructively and move forward. It's an opinion coming from an international-caliber coach who has his own observations. While he may have criticized the league, it wasn't derogatory but more like an avenue for improvement.

2) I don't understand what Marcial was referring to when he said Baldwin could've gone to Ricky Vargas or Bong Ravena or Gabby Cui to air his concerns, while he could have done the same thing himself - going to Vargas to discuss what Baldwin said. It's more prudent on his part as Commissioner instead of threatening him with a penalty through media.

Manotoc vs. Jacobs

In the 1984 2nd All Filipino Conference, then Deputy Commissioner Tommy Manotoc had a similar issue against American coach Ron Jacobs but knew how to handle him. When Jacobs acted in protest over the bad officiating in their 1984 Finals KO game against Beer Hausen which NCC lost, relegating them to a 3rd place battle vs. Tanduay, Jacobs hardly gave playing time to naturalized players Still, Moore and Engelland and got clobbered by the Esquires in the first two games by an average of 23 points, including a game that saw Denis Abbatuan score 51 points. Prior to Game 3, Manotoc spoke with Jacobs and warned him of a penalty, if he kept this up. In Game 3, Jacobs fielded his best players, with Engelland scoring 60 points, that resulted to NCC routing Tanduay, 148-110. No penalties given, no unnecessary threats, and you can even say Ron committed the "graver sin." But Manotoc was a secured man and knew how to handle such egos. In the end, both men were able to prove their respective points - Manotoc being a firm but fair Deputy Commissioner while Jacobs displaying his wisdom by winning the 1986 ABC title. 

Suffice to add that Jacobs was a far more difficult "nut to crack" because his boss was Danding Cojuangco. I really don't care about the opinion of the other personalities (Alfrancis Chua, Yeng Guiao, Louie Alas) because they can agree or dissent, a personal opinion given, and that's fine by me. I'm more focused on Marcial since he's the Commissioner and whatever he says is representative of the league. Why didn't Marcial just summon Baldwin in his office quietly to discuss his concerns? Why didn't he just go to Ricky Vargas and handle things more professionally? Even more, why did Marcial not get involved and give penalties to Wells, Tubid, Nabong and Santos of SMB in a melee in front of fans during practice and merely allowed SMB management to impose the said penalties?

Did Marcial speak out because Alfrancis Chua also has spoken out against Baldwin? That goes without saying. For me though, whether Baldwin was right or wrong doesn't matter - he expressed an opinion. Whether that was derogatory, ill-intended, and malicious is something that can only be judged when Marcial hears his side. At this point, Marcial has also expressed his opinion on what to do with Baldwin - the problem is that he's the Commissioner and now, he's obligated to follow through what he said. Marcial could have merely summoned him sans fanfare, and then release a statement when an official verdict is given. If it means a fine or a suspension, so be it. But you don't express an opinion on media without hearing the side of the other person. It's just unbecoming from a league Commissioner, especially since he contradicted himself, doing exactly the same thing that he's accusing Tab of.

Root Cause

The source of the problem is that the personalities involved are coming from different perspectives. And while I see the logic from both sides, it's difficult to reconcile both as their objectives are far apart from each other.

Marcial is looking at it from the angle of entertainment and business. He wants the PBA to be a lucrative endeavor to ensure that club participation remains active and that the PBA remains a viable vehicle among present and future franchises as a marketing tool. To do so, you would need to have fans cheering for the local talents and their playing time not taken away by the imports, which is really logical because the lifeblood of the PBA is anchored on two factors: the franchises and the fans. Not long-term but not exactly myopic. You won't find in the PBA Constitution anything that involves participation in the national team or ensuring continuous basketball development in the country.

On the other hand, Tab's viewpoint is player development. He wants the PHL to be a basketball great internationally. He feels that the PBA, being the top basketball league in the country, has become a detriment towards progress as its style of play is fundamentally flawed for the international game. He feels that the PBA should play a major role in the national basketball landscape as they do have the best players in the league. And that if the PBA changes this approach, it can be a springboard towards greater international success, parallel to the objectives of the SBP.

Photo c/o Dugout Philippines

The thing is, with both groups' objectives not parallel with each other, there will never ever be a meeting of minds. All we'll have are compromises which has what happened for the past 30 years and it has never worked. One party just can't give way to the other without violating the very objectives of their respective groups. 

The PBA has allowed its players to suit up for the national team since "open basketball" came about in 1990. So far, no national team has replicated the success of the last national team that won the FIBA-Asia tournament (then called the Asian Basketball Confederation) - the 1986 team of Jacobs. Back then, we kept on saying we're the best in basketball in this region but the pro league's existence has prevented us to prove this to our rivals. Yet, our best finish was in 2013 when we won a silver medal at home and two years after in Changsha, as well as a silver medal placing as well in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. That only proves that we're not Asia's best anymore.

Curiously, the last team that won the FIBA-Asia title did not have access to the players in the pros. They were culled from a bunch of collegiate players and reinforced by two naturalized players. Their secret was their ability to stay together as a unit for almost 5 years, expose themselves in the international competitions, while ensuring they kept in shape by participating as a guest team in the PBA. 

 The victorious 1986 national basketball team in the ABC
Gilas 1.0 under Coach Rajko Toroman

Where To?

Because of the fundamental differences of the PBA and the SBP, the only resolution really is to rely less on the PBA, as what Baldwin has previously declared. It has been done before - first, by Cojuangco's program that started as early as 1980 when he was project director for the sport, and second, in 2009 when Gilas 1.0 was put up by PBA former Commissioner and former SBP Project Director Noli Eala. 

And the timing is ideal - it's ripe for the picking. With up and coming talents like Kai Sotto, AJ Edu, Dalph Panopio, Thirdy Ravena, Kobe Paras, Juan Gomez De Liano, Dwight Ramos, CJ Cansino, Dave Ildefonso, Rhenz Abando, among the top collegiate players today, the pool is deep enough to come up with a young, yet formidable, national team for the future. Add Jordan Clarkson in the mix and you have a potent national lineup that has the chance to beat any national team that the PBA can form in the future. 

Fans would recall how the 1985 national team beat a PBA All-Star team reinforced by Francois Wise in 1985 in a benefit game for Mike Bilbao, who suffered a near fatal car accident along Alabang-Zapote Road in Muntinlupa. Similarly, Gilas 1.0 overpowered the Powerade national team of Guiao that played in Tianjin, China for the 2009 FIBA-Asia tourney. This scenario isn't unlikely again. It's not a matter of putting up a basketball team with the best players, but putting up the best basketball team. NCC and GIlas 1.0 proved that before. It can be replicated.

 The 1985 Reinforced Conference champions

Photo courtesy of GMA Network

Stumbling Block

Of course, the PBA may end up nipping all these in the bud. Note that a recent rule by the league threatening to ban eligible players who won't join the draft is actually counter to any future plans of the SBP. If an amateur player is already eligible to join the draft but won't because he has to play for Gilas or the 3x3, it takes away his right to earn a living in the future once he declares himself ready for the pros. The SBP would now find itself in a tight situation where young players, for fear of being banned by the PBA, would eventually leave the national pool. I find it appalling that the country's blueprint to international basketball success is not anymore being blocked by the FIBA but by the PBA itself.

This would force the hand of the SBP now to cough up a little more than it should when giving allowances to the young players to stay in the amateur ranks. And given the timeline of Baldwin where 2023 would mean qualifying in the second round and 2027 for the medal rounds in the World Cup, the roadmap is long-term and would be very costly.

Again, this is because it runs counter to the PBA's own goals. Preventing top amateur players from joining the league would mean only the second-tier talents ending up in the draft. You can only imagine how the franchises are salivating for the opportunity to have the likes of Paras, Ravena, De Liano, Ramos, etc. in their rosters.

Future national team mainstays Kobe Paras and Thirdy Ravena

Win-Win Situation

There's a win-win proposition here, although I don't know if the PBA is amenable to such. If they don't want to remove the threat of the ban, then at least, exempt those players who were selected as part of the national pool (including 3x3). If a player wants to stay in the pool until 2027, then so be it. Threatening to ban players not joining the PBA when they're eligible is a draconian measure, especially considering the PBA has no relationship with any amateur player, and hence, may be questioned in court as a form of curtailment of human rights.

Second, allow the national team to play in PBA conferences to keep them competitive and in game shape. Adjust to the FIBA rules when the national team is participating, if only to ensure that the team won't have to adjust every single time. Make the calls fair and objective without partiality to any PBA team.

Third, when the national team plays in the PBA, make sure this happens on import-laced conferences. There's nothing more embarrassing than an all local PBA ballclub losing to an all-amateur team just like what happened twice in the past. Moreso, if they end up winning a PBA title, not unlike what NCC did in the 1985 Reinforced Conference when it  swept and annihilated  the Manila Beer Brewmasters in what is regarded as the most lopsided Finals ever, losing by an average of 25.5 per game.

In return, imagine the benefits the PBA will receive once those in the pool finally opt to turn pro. Not only will they be household names already, their talent stock would have risen considerably that they would be dominating the league in the next 5 years or so. Again, this is not without precedent. When the NCC program folded up, the PBA benefited when Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, Yves Dignadice, Pido Jarencio, Elmer Reyes, Franz Pumaren, etc. joined the league in 1986 and 1987. There was a resurgence in the interest in the pro league brought about by these young men. Similarly, in the 2011 draft, the Gilas 1.0 players also came in, ushering another new generation of players. Guys like Marcio Lassiter, JVee Casio, Chris Lutz, Mark Barroca, and Chris Tiu came aboard and the league once more ended up as the primary beneficiary. 

Similarly, Marcial and company would not have to worry about schedule disruption, player adjustment, long seasons for players, etc., anymore. The PBA can go on with what they feel is best for them - 3 conferences, preferred number of imports, among others. 

In the end, this won't just be a compromise, but a win-win deal for both as they fulfill their respective organization's mission statements. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The BIG J Wishlist - Jaworski would have wanted these players for Ginebra

Unlike the Ginebra of the present, the team under Coach Robert Jaworski from 1985 to 1998 was made up mostly of unglamorous, blue-collar players who worked their tail off in proving to the Big J they deserved their floor burn. During that time, salary was always an issue among the players as Ginebra, despite being owned by the Carlos Palanca Group and, later, San Miguel Corporation, had perhaps the lowest payroll in the league.

Coach Robert Jaworski in action with assistant Rino Salazar

It was both a source of inspiration and frustration for the legion of Ginebra followers. Having "average" players perform beyond their capabilities from the prodding of their coach, and eventually win championships can only make a fan prouder for cheering for this team. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for Ginebra fans to constantly have heartbreaks - runner-up losses to Tanduay in the 1986 AFC, to San Miguel Beer in the 1989 Reinforced, missing the Finals of the Reinforced from 1985 to 1988 and 1987 Open by a whisker, and so on.

More discerning fans felt the team needed a quality player or two for them to win more championships. This was even more evident in the doldrum years of 1992 to 1995 when Ginebra looked like the New York Knicks today when it seemed no one wanted to play for them. It didn't help when they had a couple of rookie draftees who didn't want to play for them because of pay issues, or free agent players who wanted to leave for "greener pastures."

Jaworski has always said that he won't force anyone to play for him if they don't want to, making it more difficult to get marquee players from other teams. The team never soaked themselves in the free agent market, unlike up and coming teams like Swift and Pepsi who tendered juicy offers to free agents like Alvin Patrimonio, Nelson Asaytono, Al Solis, Alvin Teng, Jun Limpot, among many others.

But the Big J also had his favorites. These were players that he yearned for. And while Jaworski never admitted anything to the public regarding his personal preferences, you sense this when he coaches All Star games, or how he treats the players on and off the court. There were players he got in their twilight years who Jaworski would have wanted to get much earlier. Names like Freddie Hubalde and Philip Cezar of arch rivals, Crispa, Manny Victorino and Bong Solomon (who had a detached eye retina when Ginebra got him that led to his early retirement) were the most notables. Ex-Toyota teammates, Chito Loyzaga, Ricky Relosa, Terry Saldaña and Arnie Tuadles got a chance to suit up for Ginebra with Jaworski as head coach.

This list may not be 100% accurate, as this is based on conjecture and educated opinion.  But Jaworski followers who have followed his playing and coaching career would most likely agree with me on this one. Here's a roster of players that the Big J would have wanted to coach at Ginebra but never got to do so:

1.  Yoyoy Villamin

Yoyoy Villamin guarding Jaworski

Villamin joined the PBA midseason of 1981, suiting up for the Crispa Redmanizers. He was already a celebrated amateur player by then, terrorizing the opponents by dominating the paint as a player for Solid Mills, APCOR and several national teams. His performance peaked in 1987 when he became an MVP runner-up to Abet Guidaben while playing for Hills Bros. Jawo's fondness of Villamin was apparent when the two teamed up in the 1989 All-Star game, as well as serving as playing coach of the 1990 Veterans team in the All Star game.

Villamin remained a valuable contributor after his Hills Bros stint, serving as one of Yeng Guiao's most trusted veterans at Swift. It was probably during this period when the Big J wanted to get Villamin's services as Ginebra lost key big man, Rey Cuenco, to Shell via a trade. The Bicolano Superman would have been the post presence the Gins needed during that slump period. Too bad Guiao equally valued Villamin's worth, becoming an All-Star and a Mythical Second Team member in 1991. Villamin would have essayed what Terry Saldaña and Dondon Ampalayo did at Ginebra - a phenomenal one-on-one post player who's equally vicious off the offensive boards.

2.  Abe King

Abe King guarding Carlos "Red" Briggs

Not a surprise choice. In an exclusive interview on An Eternity of Basketball hosted by ESPN5's Sid Ventura, Noel Zarate and Charlie Cuna, King admitted that Ginebra was offering a roster spot with the team in the 1994 season. That offer would have probably been made much earlier except that King was well-entrenched with Great Taste after the Gokongwei franchise secured his services in 1985 and has become the team's resident leader and veteran.

King, who joined the league in 1977, nearly became the Rookie of the Year winner, losing by a a vote or two against Tanduay's Jimmy Taguines. But oldtimers felt King deserved the award more - not only did he come in much later in the season compared to Taguines, King had to put in his numbers as part of a vaunted Toyota unit that had multiple superstars.

With Vic Pablo declining the offer from Ginebra and the latter forcing to trade him for Manny Victorino, King would've been perfect for the team as he reunites with Jaworski and Chito Loyzaga. Opposing teams' prolific bigs would have a handful figuring out how to score with King and Loyzaga patrolling the paint, while typifying the gritty defensive lockdown that Ginebra was known for in the late 80's and early 90's. King, in a Ginebra uniform, may have also given the Chairman of the Boards the rightful recognition the richly deserves as one of he league's greatest players of all time.

3.  Romy Dela Rosa

Romy Dela Rosa and Rey Cuenco battling for the rebound

In 1989, Añejo Rhum 65 shocked fans when they drafted little known Cebuano, Romy Dela Rosa for the fifth overall pick. While there was no denying Ginebra was looking for a big man to shore up its interior, no one thought of DL Rosa. They were still able to acquire the 6'5 Peter Aguilar in the second round but they did miss out on talented guards like Boy Cabahug, Ato Agustin and Dindo Pumaren in getting the 6'2 Visayan cager.

But Dela Rosa turned out to be a well-scouted and intelligent pick for Ginebra. Shell was also interested in getting him but they obviously won't pass up on Benjie Paras as the top pick. They didn't have a second round pick so perhaps, they were hoping to snag him in the third round (13th overall). Jaworski's fondness for prolific, yet tough, defensive post up power forwards came to fore when they drafted Dela Rosa. It was unfortunate that the two parties didn't agree, leading to his trade to Shell for Rey Cuenco. He would have been an ideal fit, and Ginebra fans turned their ire on him for turning down Jaworski. Dela Rosa proved to be as mentally tough as he was advertised, and became a pivotal member of that successful Shell team from 1989 until 1992.

4.  Benjie Paras

Benjie Paras and Jaworski jockeying for position

Perhaps the biggest what-if in Jaworski's coaching career. Not only did the Big J wanted to have a great center for the first time, he could have gotten the country's best center at that, and arguably, the best PBA player that time. Odds became much better when Paras openly expressed being traded to Ginebra after his contract with Shell ended at the end of the 1992 season, heightening talks of a possible trade.

Previous to that, Paras unleashed his true value as a player when he powered the 1990 national team in the Beijing Asian Games to a silver medal finish. Jaworski, who was coach of that team, gave extensive exposure to Paras and the big guy delivered. Ginebra tried to work out a deal when they offered multiple future trade picks, or any two players in their roster, or a combination of both. When Shell didn't reciprocate, Paras sat out for one conference in the 1993 season, dabbled into show business, before finally affixing his signature to a new max contract with the Oilers prior to the start of the 2nd conference. If there's one player perhaps that Jaworski would have loved to coach, that would be the Tower of Power - the one man who would fulfill his needs at the slot, and the one person who he can focus his offense on. Even the Big J would have wanted to play longer with Paras around just to make these plays come to fruition.

5.  Ronnie Magsanoc

Ronnie Magsanoc, guarded by Jaworski

Just how good Ronnie Magsanoc was? In the tumultuous 1990 First Conference Finals between Shell and Añejo Rum, won by the former, Magsanoc was phenomenal and a total beast. He scorched the nets, sinking treys from all angles. All these, despite the roughhousing done to him by Ginebra enforcers Rudy Distrito, Dante Gonzalgo and Mike Advani. Magsanoc even got socked by a Distrito punch but just shook it off, earning further respect not only from Distrito but Jaworski himself.

It was not a surprise therefore to see Magsanoc play longer than Hector Calma in the 1990 national team. Understanding Magsanoc's three-point shooting as a critical weapon in international competition, Jaworski started Calma but played Magsanoc longer, particularly in the all-important games. If the Point Laureate can accept all the physical beating he received from his Ginebra wards, the Big J understood how mentally strong Magsanoc was - an important trait from all Jaworski guards. Add to this his impressive accuracy from the three point line, he would have made Ginebra a strong contender every year. But then, Shell, just like in the Paras issue, was smart enough not to give him up for any team during his peak playing years.

6.  Samboy Lim

Jaworski guarding Samboy Lim

Which coach would not want to have a Samboy Lim in his roster? Yup, no one. And Jaworski had a special fondness for Lim. Jaworski is always known for his physicality on defense, but somehow, just like how he defended against Marte Saldaña, the Big J never really went after Lim as hard as he was with other guys like Willie Generalao, Jojo Lastimosa, Totoy Marquez, Boy Cabahug or Al Solis. It was clear that Jaworski respected Lim's game and while he remained physical at him, Lim appeared "safe" from the Big J's defense.

When Lim won the MVP award in the 1990 All Star game, the Jaworski-coached Veterans team walloped the Rookies-Sophomores-Juniors (RSJ) team, 146-118, led by Lim's 42 points. He earned MVP honors unanimously from the press corps with Jaworski practically feeding him in every play. The playing coach has always admired gutsy players who feared no one and gave everything inside the court - superstar or otherwise - and Lim personified all the characteristics that the playing coach wanted in a player. Of course, there was no way for Ginebra to get Lim during his prime because of his value to San Miguel Beer, but it won't be surprising if Ginebra would give an arm and a leg just to get someone like the Skywalker.

7.  Alvin Patrimonio

Jaworski consoling a dejected Alvin Patrimonio

There were rumors that Alvin Patrimonio wanted to be traded to another team, in particular, Añejo Rum 65, prior to the start of the 1990 season after Purefoods management, led by President Rene Buhain, allegedly ordered all Purefoods players to vote for Benjie Paras as MVP of the 1989 season to prevent Ramon Fernandez from winning the plum a 5th time. Unfortunately, Patrimonio was actually ahead in the statistical race by the end of the season and was himself, a candidate for the award. Feeling slighted for being shunned by his own team management, Patrimonio sought to move to another team.

Jaworski and Añejo would have been more than a willing trade partner. In the first place, who wouldn't want Captain Lionheart in your team? Secondly, Patrimonio was the complete embodiment of the power forward that Jaworski's teams were known for.  He had power, he had smarts, he was unstoppable one-on-one, one of the best clutch players of all time, and a no-nonsense defender himself. Simply put, Patrimonio would not just have been the franchise player of the Gins, he was also going to be the all-time second most popular player in league history next to his playing coach. During crucial situations and needing a basket, the Big J would normally go to the post and let guys like Ampalayo, Saldaña, Distrito, Joey Loyzaga, Leo Isaac, or even himself, post up and go one-on-one against their defender. You can only imagine the multiple number of games Alvin would have won in the final seconds for the franchise. It never happened though as The Face ended up staying with Purefoods until his retirement in 2004.

8.  Rey Lazaro

Jaworski looking to defy Rey Lazaro's defense

True-blue Ginebra fans would be surprised with this choice. Rey Lazaro was perhaps Ginebra's first public enemy number one - and we all remember how "Lazaro, Gago!" became the first vitriolic chant of the Ginebra faithful. This, of course, later morphed into any player's name (preferably 3 syllables), then "gago" - from "referee, gago!" to "Polistico, gago!" (okay, that's 4 syllables, but expect the fans to find a way to fit those in). It all came from a skirmish Lazaro had with Ginebra import, Terry Duerod. Everything else followed.

But only a few are aware that Lazaro nearly joined Toyota in 1981, only to be beaten to the draw by Freddie Webb and YCO/Tanduay. In 1985, when Lazaro's contract expired, Jaworski actually had a meeting with Lazaro and expressed interest in acquiring his services. The 6'2 stalwart nearly signed with Ginebra only to be convinced by Webb (again!) to join expansion team, Shell instead. Jaworski's near signing of the acrobatic player, considered one of the greatest one-on-one post up players in PBA history, proved his partiality towards bruising power forwards who can post up, go one-on-one, and and dominate the paint. He would have made a formidable troika of post players for the Gins in 1986 with Terry Saldaña and Dondon Ampalayo. Too bad Webb was quick to the draw...

9.  Bogs Adornado

Jaworski guarding Adornado was a common sight back in the 70's

The Big J and Adornado go a long way back. Jaworski's primary defensive role was against Adornado dating back in the MICAA. They were also teammates in several national teams, particularly the 1973 ABC and the 1974 World Championship. Heated rivals on the court, Bogs would score 20 points or more despite the tough defense employed by Jaworski.

Jaworski had an opportunity of grabbing Adornado in 1985 when he debuted as playing coach for Ginebra, but Shell beat him to the draw. There's no denying how much the Big J respected his game - Bogs had everything the Big J wanted from a player - the ability to create his shots, to draw fouls, to score from all over.  Perhaps the only drawback in Bogs' game was his defense, but that was something Jaworski can live without. There were more pluses in Bogs' game than his minuses, and, despite the fact that his game was slowing down by 1985, he remained one of the most prolific scorers in the league, averaging 34.5 points in the 4-game Finals against Great Taste Coffee in the All Filipino conference. I won't be surprised if Bogs' career went further beyond 1987 had he suited up for Ginebra instead.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Early PBA Broadcasters (1975-1981)

When the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) debuted on April 09, 1975, only the second game was aired live, starting at 7:30PM. The first game would eventually be aired immediately after the second game, or, when it moved to the government network, GTV-4 in 1978, the first game was shown after the 30-minute news.

The first coveror was KBS Channel 9 (eventually became RPN 9 and now CNN Philippines).They were able to secure the contract with the PBA for a then hefty amount of one million pesos. The year after, in 1976, the PBA switched channels and joined the Banahaw Broadcasting Network (BBC) Channel 2 owned by the Benedicto family. In 1977, the league went back to KBS 9 and stayed there for another year before moving to GTV-4 when the league tied up with Media Specialists, Inc. (MSI) owned by former Congressman Romy Jalosjos. MSI was able to secure the contract with the PBA and then bought airtime from the government network to show the games as a blocktimer. They continued to air the games until 1981 until Vintage Enterprises of Carlos Velez was able to acquire the rights to air the games on City 2 network. Vintage will be credited for bringing world-class basketball broadcasting in the Philippines when they took over in 1982. It was only in 1987 when the doubleheader was aired live starting at 5PM.

Let's list down some of the broadcasters from the pre-Vintage era and recall how they covered the games.

1.  Frank Sanchez (1975 and 1977)

One of the PBA's first play-by-play commentators (now called anchor), the mestizo-looking broadcaster had an excellent command of the King's language and preferred a conversational approach when covering the games. He and Raffy Mejia were the first PBA anchors back in 1975 with Caloy Prieto doing the color commentary. Sanchez was part of a quartet of broadcasters along with Mejia, Babes Romualdez and Emy Arcilla who put up RPN and BBC Sports. They covered the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics in Canada. Sanchez's style was mild-mannered and moderate - traits of the typical broadcaster back in the 70's.

A 70's vintage photo of Raffy Mejia (seated), Frank Sanchez (second from left) and Caloy Prieto (rightmost)
(Photo taken from the late Caloy Prieto's FB account)

2.  Raffy Mejia (1975 and 1977)

Another familiar voice during the 70's was that of Mejia's. Similar to Sanchez, he was extremely professional when covering the games. He did the play-by-play commentary with authority, speaking in straight English, and described the plays as he saw it. It wasn't unusual for play-by-play commentators to refrain from giving their opinions as they were trained to say what they saw. Mejia had excellent diction and pronounced the names of the players in his own snazzy manner. Older sports fans would remember Mejia for being one of the resident broadcasters of RPN and BBC. Mejia was part of the original broadcast team of the PBA in 1975.

3.  Caloy Prieto (1975 and 1977)

The unmistakeable baritone voice of Prieto was always a treat to listen to. While I first heard him in 1975 with the PBA, the memory that sticks out was how he covered the Olympics in 1976. Curiously, we learned that the then 14-year old Romanian gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, was pronounced as "Ku-ma-ne-chi" but in actualiy, it should be pronounced "Ku-ma-nech." Despite the faux pas, I've always been impressed with Prieto's distinct broadcast control. His ability to support Mejia and Sanchez's play-by-play by providing descriptions of the players, what school or amateur team they came from, etc., will always be relevant information that helped the viewer like me know more about the personalities on the court. Like Mejia and Sanchez, Prieto was a pioneer in the PBA broadcast team.

The KBS-9 crew in the Montreal Olympics. Sanchez is the one kneeling, Prieto is leftmost, while Mejia is the one in red shirt
(Photo taken from the late Caloy Prieto's FB account)

4.  Emy Arcilla (1976 - 1981)

One of the more glamorous guys in the broadcast team was Emy Arcilla, He was only 30 years old when he was part of the BBC-2 panel in 1976. Contrary to what many thought, Arcilla only came in on the league's second season, alongside Dick Ildefonso. Arcilla can be fashionably trendy - whether in formal attire whenever he hosted the opening ceremonies or in casual wear. He didn't speak much, allowing Ildefonso to dominate the microphone. He normally interjected though, especially when a player goes to the charity line for a pair of FT's. It was Arcilla's cue - to provide the stats of the player, his FT%, and total points contributed in the game. His charisma spilled over when they interview players after the game as they would instantaneously warm up to Arcilla's charming ways (at that time, players were asked to sit between the broadcasters after the game).

The late Emy Arcilla (rightmost) interviewing Bb. Pilipinas winners during the game

5.  Dick Ildefonso (1976 - 1981)

The most popular among the first batch of PBA broadcasters, Ildefonso was pretty much the voice of the PBA during the early years. Like Arcilla, Ildefonso joined the coverage when BBC-2 secured the rights to air the games. What I've always admired about Ildefonso is that he never seemed to be absent in any PBA game. He was practically the sole anchor in the coverage, and was made to talk around 80% of the time, and yet, never seemed to miss a single game. Note that broadcasters did two coverages per game date, making it even more impressive. Ildefonso's coolness was legendary - he never seemed to get ruffled even when there was a scuffle inside the court or when fans were pelting the floor with coins or any form of litter. It was Ildefonso who started using player monikers more frequently during the PBA coverage - "that's a triple from the Big J!" He and Arcilla did the coverage of the Crispa-Toyota reunion game in 2003.

Dick Ildefonso interviewing Coach Baby Dalupan

The memorable duo of Dick Ildefonso and Emy Arcilla in this 1976 game

6.  Ronnie Nathanielsz (1978 - 1981)

Nathanielsz is a Sri Lankan who was given Filipino citizenship by President Marcos. He worked for the government network, National Media Production Center (NMPC), under Greg Cendaña, then the Minister of Information. An avid sports fan himself, he earned his ticket to the PBA broadcast team when Media Specialists, Inc. became a blocktimer for GTV-4 where he worked. Nathanielsz provided the analysis of the game, although if you're a Crispa fan watching a Toyota-Crispa game, you wouldn't want Ronnie covering because of his partiality to the Tamaraws. When it wasn't the norm back then to roundly criticize the referees for their calls, Ronnie somehow was given enough latitude to air his contrary sentiments. Nathanielsz continued his broadcasting career with ABS-CBN in the 2000's, doing the boxing coverages alongside Bill Velasco and Dyan Castillejo.

Die-hard Toyota fan, Ronnie Nathanielsz, smiling from ear to ear, while interviewing Andy Fields after Fields won the first Best Import Award

7.  Zal Marte (1979 - 1981)

We first heard of Zal Marte as "the voice" that we didn't see on cam. Only those who watched the games live had the opportunity of knowing how Marte looked like in his first few months of broadcasting. It was a "gimmick" on MSI's part not to have Marte's face seen on camera, but his analysis was quite authoritative. Possessing a DJ voice, Marte was also candid with his comments particularly when a player wasn't doing well. He won't mince his words criticizing players, not especially common then, and sure caused some feathers to ruffle. Later on, Marte was finally seen on camera and remained part of the broadcast team until 1981. This was the time when MSI opted for a three-man panel by having an analyst. While his style may have been uncomfortable to the players, this came quite refreshing to the ordinary viewer.

8.  Lauro "Bay" Mumar (1980-1981)

"The Fox," as he was called when he was still playing for "Murder, Inc." of the Letran Knights in the 50's, was one of the more successful MICAA coaches after he retired from playing. His biggest success was piloting the Meralco Reddywatts to the MICAA championship in 1971. He later coached U/Tex before handling the Noritake Porcelain Makers in the 1975 season. He moved to 7/Up in 1976, was retained by Filmanbank in 1978 after buying the Uncolas' franchise, and then joined the panel in the 1980 season as an analyst. Mumar's coaching experience served him well as he was the first broadcast analyst to view things from the coach's perspective. Mumar was often asked by Ildefonso and Arcilla how the coach would design the next play. It was unfortunate though that Mumar wasn't exactly articulate, but to the regular viewers, the points he raised were more than enough to learn from him.

The late Lauro "Bay" Mumar while coaching Sonny Jaworski and Big Boy Reynoso in the sidelines

There were also times that MSI would invite guest analysts to cover the games. Legendary coaches Carlos Loyzaga and Tommy Manotoc were asked to dissect the games when they weren't coaching their respective teams that day. Somehow, this move served as the template of future broadcast coverages to utilize more knowledgeable minds to serve as guests to dissect the games. Coaches like Freddie Webb, Norman Black, Ron Jacobs were invited to add spice. Curiously, the winningest coach in the PBA, Tim Cone, did it the opposite way. Cone started out as a Vintage analyst in the late 80's before latching up a job as head coach of the Alaska Air Force.

Doing the commentary today is a far cry from how it was in the past. Signs of the times. Even in the NBA, when we grew so fond of CBS anchors Dick Stockton, Brent Musburger, Frank Glieber, Jim Kelly and Gary Bender, and analysts Hubie Brown (still my favorite of all time), Doug Collins, Tom Heinsohn, and Kevin Loughery, the present cast made up of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson of ABC and Marv Albert, Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller of TNT continue to keep the games entertaining and informative. The one constant though that I look for in an anchor is his ability to take control of the broadcast - that person remains the key to making for a worthy coverage.