Does having an NBA-caliber import guarantee a PBA title? Let's see

Aug 12, 2019

TERRENCE Jones proved as good as advertised and became the benchmark for imports in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Jones arrived armed with an impressive resume, highlighted by an NCAA championship with the University of Kentucky and a first-round selection by the Houston Rockets in the 2012 NBA rookie draft.

The turnaround he spurred at TnT Katropa, which made it all the way to the finals as the top-seeded team, had the rest of the field suddenly scouring for imports with NBA experience.

One by one they came, from Greg Smith (Blackwater), Rakeem Christmas (Magnolia), to Chris McCullough (San Miguel), all in the hope of equaling, if not surpassing, the storm created by the 6-foot-9 Jones.

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    McCullough, a first-round selection by the Brooklyn Nets in 2015 and a late import replacement for San Miguel, kept up with Jones by guiding the Beermen to the finals and arranged a title showdown with the Katropa.

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    The Jones-McCullough match-up marked the first time in 32 years two former NBA first- round picks are in a PBA finals - or since David Thirdkill of Tanduay and Great Taste’s Michael Young battled for the Open Conference championship in 1987.

    So does having an NBA-caliber import guarantee a PBA title?

    To some, it may not, but there are loads of proof in the past that having one did lead to victories, and, eventually, championships.

    Below are just some of past PBA imports who had prior NBA experience before taking their act to - and finding success in - the Phiippines.

    NBA-caliber imports who played in PBA

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    BILLY RAY BATES

    Many considered him the greatest import ever to set foot in the PBA. The high-flying, eccentric 6-foot-3 guard was an iconic figure at Portland, where he played for three seasons and led the Blazers in scoring during the 1980 and 1981 playoffs, respectively. The Mississippi native, whose rise to stardom with the Blazers was chronicled in David Halberstam’s book ‘The Breaks of the Game,’ also suited up for Washington and LA Lakers before taking his act to the PBA in 1983 with the fabled Crispa Redmanizers. Christened the ‘Black Superman,’ Bates led the franchise to its second grand slam that same season while winning back-to-back Best Import award during the Reinforced and Open conferences. He returned to the country three years later, and in tandem with Michael Hackett, gave Ginebra San Miguel its first-ever league championship in the 1986 Open Conference. He averaged 46.2 points in 98 career games with Crispa and Ginebra.

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    NBA-caliber imports who played in PBA

    TONY HARRIS

    Harris was once teammate with Sir Charles Barkley, Mario Ellie, Johnny Dawkins, and the late Manute Bol with the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1990-91 NBA season. By 1992, ‘The Hurricane’ blew into town and took the PBA by storm. Playing for Swift under coach Yeng Guiao, Harris was the most prolific import ever seen by local basketball fans after Bates, who can shoot from the outside or drive strong to the basket. The native of Monroe, Louisiana created a stir by shattering the league record for most points scored, pouring 105 big points in a 151-147 win over Ginebra in an out-of-town game in Iloilo. He surpassed by two points the previous record of 103 owned by Michael Hackett. Harris almost broke the century mark again after erupting for 98 points in another road game in Davao as Swift demolished Presto, 179-161. Overall, ‘The Hurricane,’ owned four of the league’s all-time one-game individual records to help the Mighty Meaties and Guiao win their breakthrough championship in the Third Conference. Swift dominated 7-Up in the finals, 4-0, to complete a sweep of the first ever best-of-seven title series in PBA annals. As expected, Harris ran away with the Best Import award, beating 7-Up counterpart Dell Demps, who would later become the general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. Harris returned for the Mighty Meaties a year later and suited up in the 1993 Governors Cup but Swift lost to Kenny Travis and San Miguel in five games of the finals.

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    GLENN MCDONALD

    He was one of the early imports with legit NBA pedigree to invade the PBA in the late 70s. A first-round pick of Boston in the 1974 draft, the 6-foot-6 McDonald played three seasons with the Celtics and made his mark in franchise history when he scored eight points in the third overtime period of Game 5 of the 1976 NBA finals won by Boston over Phoenix, 128-126, in what was highly-regarded as the greatest game ever played in league annals [See video]. The Celtics won the title series in six games. McDonald went on to reprise his heroics when he hooked up with the U-Tex Wranglers in 1978. The native of Illinois powered the team to its first-ever championship that same year in the Open Conference with a 3-0 sweep of Crispa in the finals, becoming the first PBA ballclub to win a title outside of the stranglehold of the Redmanizers and the Toyota Tamaraws. But McDonald distinguished himself in the memorable 1980 Open Conference title series against the Tamaraws when the Wranglers rallied from a four-point deficit in the final 16 seconds of regulation to send Game 5 into overtime. It was McDonald’s two free throws that forged the extra period, with U-Tex eventually winning its second championship, 99-98. McDonald, who also played for Milwaukee Bucks after his stint with the Celtics, became coach of U-Tex in 1981 when Tommy Manotoc left the ballclub for San Miguel Beer. Under his watch, the Wranglers advanced to the finals of the Reinforced Filipino Conference, but lost to Crispa, 3-1, in what turned out to be the ballclubs’ final hurrah. The Wranglers played out their final season in 1982 before disbanding the following year.

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    ROB WILLIAMS

    The burly long-range bomber from Texas came over in 1986 to play for Tanduay in the PBA Reinforced Conference, carrying with him an impressive resume as a decorated player at University of Houston, where he formed part of the explosive Phi Slama Jama that featured future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and later on, fellow PBA imports Michael Young and Benny Anders. After the Cougars lost in the 1982 NCAA Final Four in Williams’ final year against Michael Jordan and the North Carolina Tar Heels, he made himself available for the NBA draft and was selected in the first round (19th overall) by the Denver Nuggets, where he played for three seasons. Williams’ outside shooting and ball-handling savvy proved to be a perfect complement to the Rhum Masters’ talented local crew led by the great Ramon Fernandez. Playing alongside fellow reinforcement Andre McKoy under the two import-format, Williams was an unstoppable force for Tanduay with his deadly three-point shooting that keyed the franchise’s first-ever PBA championship, defeating Great Taste in six games of the finals. Williams also walked away with the Best Import award. He later returned for the Open Conference where he hooked up with former college teammate Anders in a bid to help the Rhum Masters complete a grand slam. Williams failed to replicate his earlier success though, as Tanduay could only reach the semifinals. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 52 due to congestive heart failure.

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    NBA-caliber imports who played in PBA

    DAVID THIRDKILL

    He’s one of the few imports to come over who owns an NBA championship ring. Thirdkill was a member of the 1986 Boston Celtics unit which defeated the Houston Rockets in six games in the finals. Nicknamed ‘The Sheriff,’ the import was a high first-round pick (15th overall) in the 1982 draft by Phoenix. Later, he also played for Detroit, Milwaukee, San Antonio, and finally the Celtics. The Rhum Masters brought him in for the 1987 Open Conference. The 6-foot-7 Thirdkill was an imposing presence in the middle for Tanduay with his dominant scoring and intimidating defense. The St. Louis Missouri native guided the Rhum Masters to the finals opposite Great Tastes that boasted the deadly scoring trio of Ricardo Brown, Michael Young, and a rookie named Allan Caidic. The Rhum Masters bested the Coffee Makers in five games to win their third championship in four conferences. Thirdkill as expected, ran away with the Best Import trophy.

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    NBA-caliber imports who played in PBA

    NORMAN BLACK

    The native of Baltimore, Maryland had a brief stint with the Detroit Pistons in 1980. A year after, he found himself accepting an offer by defunct team Tefilin to play in the PBA. Black was a workhorse of an import, who later steered San Miguel to the 1982 Invitational crown, where he also emerged as the tournament Best Import. While he’ll have stints with Great Taste in which he formed the dreaded `3Bs’ along with Bogs Adornado and Ricardo Brown, it was with the Beermen that ‘The Old Black Magic’ enjoyed immense success as a player and more so, as a coach. He won a total of nine championships with the SMC franchise including a grand slam in 1989 as the Beermen became the first team to achieve the special feat outside of Crispa. Black was also adjudged Best Import in the 1985 Open Conference and was the first-ever recipient of the league’s Mr. 100% Award.

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    ANTONIO LANG

    The Batang Red Bull import had a productive collegiate career as part of Duke’s back-to-back NCAA champion teams in 1991 and 1992 under coach Mike Krzyzewski. He was a second-round pick of Phoenix in the 1994 NBA draft and played for Cleveland, Miami, Toronto, and Philadelphia before the call from the PBA came. Lang had a bad league debut, but when he finally settled down, the Thunder made the finals for the first time in franchise history. The stint culminated in a breakthrough championship as Red Bull stunned favorite San Miguel in six games, with Lang emerging as Best Import. The Thunder brought back Lang the following season in their bid to retain the mid-season title. The team did advance to the finals opposite Talk ‘N Text and American coach Bill Bayno. But Lang found himself being sent home in the middle of the title series amid allegations of game-fixing, with Sean Lampley taking his place. The Thunder went on to win the championship in seven games.

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    LAMONT STROTHERS

    The 6-foot-4 Strothers was a second-round pick of Golden State in the 1991 draft, but never suited up for the Warriors, and instead spent time playing for Portland and Dallas. It was in the 1996 Governors Cup that the product of little-known Christopher Newport arrived in the country to reinforce San Miguel in the season-ending conference. But it wasn’t until his third tour of duty with the Beermen that Strothers would enjoy success with the franchise after being adjudged Best Import and guiding the team to the 1999 Governors Cup championship at the expense of Alaska. The Suffolk, Virginia native came back in 2000 to help the team in its title retention bid by beating Purefoods in the finals. For the third straight season, Strothers would lead the Beermen anew to the 2001 finals of the same season-ending meet, but couldn’t overcome a highly-motivated Sta. Lucia team which would win its first ever league championship in six games.

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    OTTO MOORE

    At 6-foot-11, Moore is among the early giants to play in the league in the late 70s, suiting up for Royal Tru-Orange (San Miguel’s original franchise) in the Open Conference and was a batchmate of U-tex’s Glenn McDonald. Although not as explosive as import partner Larry Pounds, Moore obviously had the better resume, having been the No. 6 pick overall in the 1968 NBA draft by Detroit and suited up for four other ballclubs before finding his way with the Orangemen. He did prove to be the perfect complement to the high-scoring Pounds with his shot blocking ability and imposing defense down low. Their partnership was a standout and turned an Orangemen side into title contender. Supported by unheralded locals Jess Migalbin, Tony Torrente, Marlow Jacutin, Rudy Lalota, Marte Samson, and Yoyong Martirez, Royal Tru-Orange clinched a first-ever finals stint by beating the mighty Crispa Redmanizers in the semis. And with Moore and Pounds doing most of the damage, the Orangemen went on to stun the Toyota Tamaraws in the title series, 3-1, to win the very first championship in San Miguel franchise history. Royal Tru-Orange joined U-Text as the only other ballclubs outside of Crispa and Toyota to claim a PBA title in the 70s.

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    WES MATTHEWS/MICHAEL YOUNG

    These two imports never won a PBA championship during their stint here, but they sure electrified basketball fans with their skills and athleticism. To most of the millenials today, he is just the father of NBA player Wesley Matthews. But for diehard Ginebra followers, Matthews was the explosive, 6-foot-1 guard known for his scoring ability who eventually led the Gins to the 1991 Third Conference finals. Ginebra however, lost to Alaska in four games, though Matthews was named Best Import of the tournament. A first-round pick by Washington (14th overall) in the 1980 draft, the guard out of Wisconsin played for six different teams in the NBA, including the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was part of the ballclub’s back-to-back championship unit in 1987 and 1988, respectively. Young meanwhile, was a key member of the Houston Cougars’ deadly Phi Slama Jama unit, who was Boston’s first-round pick (24th overall) in the celebrated 1984 draft. The towering 6-foot-7 lefty gunner played for three different NBA teams prior to taking his act overseas to play for Manila Beer. Young edged out the popular Billy Ray Bates in the highly-disputed race for the Best Import Award, but the ‘Black Superman’ had the last laugh as Ginebra Gins defeated the Brewmasters, 4-1, in the 1986 Open Conference finals. After a year, Young returned for a second PBA stint, suiting up for the Great Taste Coffemakers in the 1987 Open Conference where he guided the team to the championship series, but lost to David Thirdkill and the Tanduay Rhum Makers in five games.

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