THE first-ever PBA All-Star game proved to be the most memorable one, too.
Legends Ramon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio both waxed nostalgic while recalling the inaugural staging of the mid-season festivity in 1989 that eventually became the yardstick for every All-Star game that followed.
Already in the twilight of his illustrious career at that time, Fernandez still considered the event one of the highlights of his decades in basketball.
Tension and anticipation were high leading to the game that pitted the Veterans on one hand and the Rookies/ Sophomores/ Juniors (RSJ) side on the other.
Patrimonio led the team of the league’s rising stars that included the likes of Benjie Paras, Boy Cabahug, Jerry Codinera, Bong Alavarez, Ronnie Magsanoc, Nelson Asaytono, Jojo Lastimosa, among others, and coached by Dante Silverio.
Handled by the venerable Virgilio ‘Baby’ Dalupan, the Veterans squad was just as star-studded with Allan Caidic and Samboy Lim teaming up with such luminaries as Philip Cezar, Yoyoy Villamin, and Arnie Tuadles.
But the presence of Fernandez and the ‘Living Legend’ Robert Jaworski Sr. in the team made the Veterans larger than life as attention shifted to the two superstar players who were not seeing eye-to-eye during those times after a falling-out over Toyota's disbandment.
The tightly-fought match lived up to its billing, with the outcome not decided until its final play.
And who would provide the perfect ending straight out of a Hollywood movie? No less than Jaworski and Fernandez themselves – the former teammates turned bitter enemies.
Fernandez scored the game-winning basket, 132-130, off a twisting reverse lay-up over the outstretched arms of Paras at the buzzer, a baseline move made possible by Jaworski’s half court inbound pass off a timeout.
The four-time league MVP raised his right arm in triumph while backpedalling shortly after converting the winning basket in what now stands as one of the league's most iconic moments.
Fernandez later exchanged high-fives with his veteran teammates as pandemonium broke through at center court, but it was his hand shake with Jaworski - made possible by Dalupan who stood between them – which drew a roar that shook the jampacked ULTRA to its very foundation.
“That (1989 All-Star game) would be one of the most memorable ones considering that it was my first All-Star game,” Fernandez recalled to Spin.ph.
Fernandez refused to elaborate on that priceless ‘hand shake moment’ with the Big J, and instead, stressed the All-Star game has always been for the PBA fans.
“Basically, that’s (All-Star game) for the fans because they get to see their favorite players in one venue, getting pictures and autographs of their favorite players,” said Fernandez, the league’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, and block shots.
“That’s (playing in an All-Star game) an added feather in the cap of a player and it’s something a player can be proud of because he is voted by the fans,” added the 61-year-old PBA Hall of Famer.
Although he belonged to the losing team, Patrimonio admitted the dramatic ending and the Jaworski and Fernandez that followed formed a lasting image in his memory as far as his first All-Star game was concerned.
“Iyun ‘yung pinasa ni Sonny Jaworski kay Mon Fernandez 'yung bola, kasi sila 'yung nagpasahan sa last play. Tapos nag-undergoal shot si Mon nun kaya nanalo sila,” said Patrimonio, who briefly played with Fernandez during the early years of the Purefoods franchise in the late 80s.
“Pero exciting yung game kasi ang highlight nun is ‘yung winning shot ni Mon tapos assist pa ni Sen. Jaworski,” he added.
Now the Purefoods team manager, the 48-year-old Patrimonio, holds Fernandez in high esteem, citing the lanky center from Maasin, Leyte as one of his mentors and basketball idols.
“Si Mon kasi one of the rare players who play in any position. Eh siyempre, star struck ka kasi naging playing coach ko siya (at Purefoods) tapos first team ko pa sa PBA,” shared Patrimonio, who shares the record with ‘El Presidente’ as the league's only four-time MVPs.
“Ang All-Star naman talaga is fan voting yun. Para mapasama ka, kasi gusto ka mapanood ng fans. And kapag All-Star, pakitaan ng talent,” he said. “Pati na din attitude and leadership mo (are important), kaya malaking responsibility talaga na mapasama ka.”