FORTY-TWO years ago today, the first ever professional basketball league in the country, and for that matter in Asia, came into being.
Nine former members the Manila Industrial Commercial Athletic Association (Micaa) - Crispa, Toyota, Universal Textiles, Royal Tru-Orange, Noritake, Concepcion Industries’ Carrier, Tanduay, CFC-Presto and Seven-Up, shed their amateur status to form the PBA which skeptics predicted won’t last long.
Before a crowd of around 18,000 fans at the historic Araneta Coliseum, Gregorio 'Joy' Dionisio converted a medium-range jumper for Carrier that now stands in history as the first-ever PBA basket, never mind that his team suffered a 98-101 defeat to Noritake.
That basket by Dionisio, actually the original 'Angas Ng Tondo,' officially commenced a league that - contrary to claims of neysayers - grew to become the top sports league in the country, thanks to a fierce rivalry in the mold of the Yco-Ysmael wars in the commercial amateur league, the Ateneo-San Beda battles in the NCAA and the present day Ateneo-La Salle rivalry in the UAAP.
The Crispa-Toyota rivalry, however, didn't start until much later in the season as the Redmanizers management, led by amiable team manager Danny Floro, held out its top-notch players Bogs Adornado, Atoy Co, Philip Cezar, Rodolfo Soriano, Alberto Guidaben, Johnny Revilla and Reynaldo Franco - all candidates to the Philippine team preparing for the country’s defense of the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) championship later that same year.
Playing with a relatively young squad led by Freddie Hubalde, Bernie Fasbiosa, Virgilio dela Cruz, Cris Calilan, Eric Leano, Rey Pages and Jesus Sta. Maria, coach Baby Dalupan’s Redmanizers struggled early with losses to Noritake, 131-108, Seven-Up, 107-92, and Royal Tru-Orange, 111-94.
The string of setbacks forced the Floro patriarch, Don Pablo Floro, to intervene and order his son to bring in Adornado and Co. in the Redmanizers’ next games. The move led to Crispa sweeping its remaining assignments, starting with a 113-102 demolition of Presto and a 139-133 overtime win over Toyota to end its first-round campaign.
That overtime win over Toyota proved to be the first of 21 heated games between the two great teams in the PBA’s opening season alone - and the start of a bitter rivalry for supremacy in the sport Filipinos love the most.
Weeks later, the Pasig-based Redmanizers repeated over the Comets in another overtime thriller, 143-139, to finish second behind their rivals going to the semifinals.
U-Tex and Royal Tru-Orange completed the semifinal cast.
The Comets, led by the high-scoring Byron 'Snake' Jones, avenged those twin losses to the Redmanizers by winning their two semifinal encounters - 106-104, and 114-102 - to earn the first finals seat while relegating Crispa to a winner-take-all playoff with the Weavers for the second slot.
The Redmanizers easily disposed of U-Tex to arrange the league's first-ever Crispa-Toyota finale.
Dalupan and his Redmanizers drew first blood in the best-of-five finals against coach Dante Silverio and his Comets, 107-103, with Cezar outplaying Jones and Adornado pouring in 29 points. But Toyota bounced back for back-to-back victories, 88-87 and 109-105.
It was on July 31, 1975 when the Comets clinched the PBA's first championship with a 117-96 conquest of the Redmanizers before a crowd estimated to be around 30,000 at the Big Dome.
Toyota asserted its mastery of Crispa by ruling the Second Conference, but the Redmanizers came back to deny the Comets a grand slam by winning the Third Conference, which was later christened the All-Philippine championship.
But that’s for another story.