AS far as PBA best imports are concerned, it really takes one to know one.
Such is the case with Norman Black, a two-time PBA best import awardee and one of only two recipients of the '100 Percent Performer' award (the other was Sean Chambers) who, after he became a coach, also brought in some of the finest imports to strut their wares in Asia's first professional cage league.
As if he needed to back that up, Black, an 11-time champion coach in the PBA and owner of five UAAP championships with Ateneo, once again struck gold in the last Commissioner's Cup where his unheralded find for Meralco, Arinze Onuaku, ended up lifting the Best Import plaque.
But when SPIN.ph asked the veteran coach to name the five best imports to ever play under him in his almost three decades in the PBA, not all of his choices owned Best Import awards. Some didn't even win championships.
If there was a common denominator for his choices, it's that these imports are two-way players who can shine on both ends of the floor.
In short, they are much like Black.
Here now is a list of Black's Top Six imports of all time (yes, SIX because he has so many to choose from he couldn't settle on a Magic Five), not really in any particular order:
Not a lot of people remember that while the late dad of current Gilas star Ray Parks won most of his record seven PBA best import awards with the defunct Shell franchise, it was Black who recruited Parks in the US for San Miguel. "In fact, Bobby helped me win my first championship as coach in the PBA," recalled Black of his maiden title as playing coach in the 1987 Reinforced Conference.
Whatley is a 10-year veteran of the NBA who, in 1989, left a big imprint on the PBA landscape when he came in to replace former Indiana hero and future Sacramento Kings coach Keith Smart five games into SMB's campaign in the 1989 Reinforced Conference and helped complete only the second grand slam in PBA history.
"Simply efficient, actually," Black said of Whatley, "high percentage shooter, good assist guy, good defender and a great teammate."
Although one of the best remembered imports to suit up for the Beermen, 'Helicopter' Strothers actually never won a championship under Black. But he still made Black's list, not just for his impressive athleticism and outstanding skills but more for his big, fighting heart. "Lamont, he never backed down from anybody," said Black.
A great shooter, Mike Phelps was a first-round pick in the NBA draft who Black brought in to be his import partner for the 1988 Reinforced Conference after Bobby Parks had moved to Shell. Together, Black and Phelps beat Parks and Shell in the finals of that conference then went on to lead SMB to the 1989 Open Conference championship - the first jewel in the Beermen's grand slam achievement.
A crafty scorer and team player, Damien Owens led the Sta. Lucia Realtors to their maiden PBA championship in the 2001 Governors Cup, which was also Black's first championship outside the SMB umbrella. Another former Sta. Lucia import, Ansu Sesay, actually made Black's list as an honorable mention after winning Best Import honors while leading the Realtors to the finals of the previous conference.
Kenny Travis was never the best scorer in a game, never the most gifted player on the floor. But one thing for sure, he outworked everybody every single night - the reason he made Black's list.
After painstakingly laying down his list, Black was asked: From among these great imports, who would you pick over yourself?
"Let me put it in another way," said Black, letting out a hearty laugh. "If I had to pick one to replace me, it would be Bobby Parks - If I had to."
"You know, actually I saw Bobby in Los Angeles and we went to this gym and asked two more players to join us," Black continued. "And we just played two on two in the gym, four of us in one game, and I decided right there that I was gonna recruit him."
Black, it turned out, was rarely wrong.