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    Two former Ginebra players recall team’s first PBA title on Jawo's 75th birthday

    Mar 8, 2021

    BARANGAY Ginebra won its 13th PBA title during the bubble season last year, moving the franchise no. 4 in the all-time list of most accomplished team in league history.

    But the seeds of those championships were planted 35 years ago by the man whose legend grew with time and gave birth to what has become known as the team’s never-say-die spirit.

    Robert Jaworski Sr., the charismatic playing-coach of Ginebra San Miguel, steered the team to its breakthrough crown during the 1986 Open Conference, beating Manila Beer in five games of the best-of-seven finals.

    Bannered by the explosive duo of Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett, the Gins finally made it to the elite list of champions seven years since joining the league in 1979 as Gilbey’s Gin under the old La Tondena Inc. franchise of former owner and founder Carlos Palanca Jr.

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    Two prominent members of the team looked back with fond memories as they cherish the team’s first championship on the day the Big J celebrated his diamond year on Monday.

    “Ang sarap balikan,” said former guard Leo Isaac.

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      Now 60, Isaac considered it one of the highlights of his 10-year pro career, having served as back-up of the legendary Jaworski right in his freshman year.

      “First championship ko sa PBA and sa amin sa Ginebra, tapos rookie year ko pa. Bates and Hackett ang imports namin,” said Isaac, who was 25 years old at about that time.

      And proof how he earned the trust of a coach as strict as Jaworski was being given the tough defensive assignment of having to guard Manila Beer’s quick import Harold Keeling.

      “It was also a bit special because I was tasked to defend against Keeling,” Isaac recalled.

      Leo Isaac poses with a former Ginebra coach in Rino Salazar.

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      That 1986 title was also the first in the PBA career of Joey Loyzaga, now based in Australia.

      But what struck him the most during the title series was Jaworski displaying longevity, playing the full 58 minutes of the Gins’ 145-137 double overtime win in Game 4.

      “Imagine, coach played for 58 minutes,” said Loyzaga of Ginebra’s charismatic playing-coach, who was 41-years-old then.

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      Jaworski became the first local player to have played non-stop in a game, a record that has since been broken by Jun Limpot and Kerby Raymundo.

      When everything was over and done with, Loyzaga could feel how Jaworski savored the franchise’s first ever championship and him as playing-coach of the team.

      “Coach was very happy, his eyes were sparkling with joy as we captured our first championship,” said the younger brother of fellow Ginebra alumnus Chito Loyzaga and son of the late great Carlos Loyzaga.

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        “It was his first as a playing coach and I’m thankful for being a part of that group. Coach was so happy. It was something for him that he never dreamed of as a playing-coach. Mahirap maging playing-coach, with all the pressure and all eyes watching you.”

        No wonder, he's considered basketball’s Living Legend.
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