SPIN.ph selects its 25 Greatest PBA Players

Mar 15, 2020
ILLUSTRATION: Echo Antonio

ON the occasion of the 45th anniversary of its founding, the PBA, Asia's first professional basketball league, is lining up a series of activities to celebrate its fabled past and re-introduce its pioneer teams and great players to present-day fans.

We at SPIN.ph felt it is as good a time as any to come up with our long-delayed list of the 25 greatest PBA players. So we sat down as a team a few weeks ago, deliberated for hours, voted on some choices, and came up with this list.

Just some notes. The 25 Greatest Players and 40 Greatest Players lists which the PBA put up back in 2000 and 2015, respectively, served as guides for the SPIN.ph staff. But we made sure to go beyond the scope of those lists to make our own choices.

Also, these selections were based purely on the personal preferences and judgement of the SPIN.ph staff. Most of the choices were unanimous; those that were not, as in the case of Arwind Santos, were voted upon.

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[Editor's note: The list was random and the players were not ranked from 1 to 25]

Here are the results of that deliberation:

25 Greatest PBA Players

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1) Robert 'Bobby' Jaworski

The Living Legend. The Logo. Big J. The Hand. By whatever name, he deserves to head any 'greatest' list in the PBA. He was the talismanic leader of two fabled franchises, standing at the forefront of Toyota in its epic rivalry with Crispa and later becoming the heart and soul of generations of never-say-die Ginebra teams. He played until he was 51 and capped his career by serving as the coach of the first all-pro team that took part in the Asian Games, leading the side to a silver medal.

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2) Ramon Fernandez

To this day, the PBA has not seen a big man with the skill set of Mon Fernandez, who was so nimble and coordinated he made triple doubles look routine and the sight of centers bringing down the ball look nothing out of the ordinary. He won four league MVP awards in a long, one-of-a-kind career studded with championships with Toyota, Tanduay, and San Miguel.

3) William 'Bogs' Adornado

He belonged to the league's first batch of gunners, the Philippines' answer to Korean deadshot Shin Dong Pa in the '70s. But the league's first MVP showed during the course of his career that he was more scorer than pure shooter, bedevilling defenders with his classic pump fake and ability to score from the post. He did all these while weaving the league's biggest comeback story, returning from a career-threatening knee injury to star for U-Tex and later Great Taste.

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4) Alberto 'Abet' Guidaben

Guidaben and Mon Fernandez redefined the center position in the course of their rivalry in the league's early years. Before them, the prototype slotman was big but largely uncoordinated and awkward. Guidaben gave the indomitable Fernandez a worthy adversary in the glory days of the Crispa-Toyota rivalry, and was one of the key reasons why the Redmanizers got to collect all those championships.

5) Alvin Patrimonio

'Cap' lorded it over the league in the '90s, becoming the face of the PBA at the tailend of the careers of Robert Jaworski, Mon Fernandez, and the Crispa legends. He became the league's premier power forward - unstoppable on single coverage at the post, with a pure touch from the outside. Patrimonio matched Fernandez's four MVPs and made Purefoods one of the league's marquee teams.

25 Greatest PBA Players

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6) Venancio 'Benjie' Paras

He is the only player to win the MVP award in his rookie year, taking the league by storm with his brute strength and skill set so rare for a player his size. Paras was an overpowering presence inside the paint, yet had the quickness and touch of a small forward. At Formula Shell, the 6-4 slotman teamed up with college teammate Ronnie Magsanoc to form one of the best guard-center combinations seen in the league.

7) Fortunato 'Atoy' Co

A Top Three of the best PBA scorers won't be credible without the name of this former Crispa hotshot, who was almost impossible to stop with his deadly jumper and versatility that enabled him to attack the basket with either hand, and with equal deft. He was the most prolific scorer in that fabled Crispa team, which was no small feat considering the Redmanizers were blessed with players like Freddie Hubalde and Bogs Adornado, not to mention Abet Guidaben and Philip Cezar.

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8) Ricardo Brown

The Fil-American guard was one of the first players of mixed race to see action in the pro league together with Willie Pearson, and he left an indelible mark with dribbling skills and impeccable shooting that, until then, no one had witnessed from a non-import. His playmaking was remarkable, too. He led a Great Taste side that challenged the Toyota-Crispa strangehold before starring for a star-studded San Miguel side.

9) Philip Cezar

Cezar wasn't as prolific as Atoy Co or as intimidating inside the paint as Abet Guidaben, but he did a little of everything as he served as the glue that kept the Crispa Redmanizers together. His calling card was defense in a long, legendary career that also included memorable stints with Formula Shell, Presto, and Ginebra.

10) Freddie Hubalde

It spoke volumes of Hubalde's game that he was able to emerge from the giant shadows of Crispa teammates like Atoy Co and Philip Cezar and win league MVP. He came into his own after Bogs Adornado suffered a knee injury and enjoyed a long, successful career that distinguished him as one of the best scorers in the league of all time.

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25 Greatest PBA Players

11) Renato 'Ato' Agustin

Agustin was the first - and so far only - second-round draft pick to win the league MVP award. The crafty guard out of Pampanga was buried deep in a talent-rich 1989 draft pool, largely regarded as the best in league history, but managed to gain a spot in a San Miguel backcourt led by the legendary Hector Calma and longtime backup Franz Pumaren. Agustin went on to have an accomplished 12-year career where he distinguished himself as one of the best inside-outside scorers in the league.

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12) Johnny Abarrientos

Without a doubt, Abarrientos will be in any conversation about the best point guard in the PBA of all time. He's the consummate playmaker who can score in a variety of ways yet is better remembered for making the people around him better. No more than 5-foot-7, he stood as a giant in the Alaska team that dominated the pro league in the '90s and completed Tim Cone's first grand slam back in 1996. He later quarterbacked the PH Centennial Team in the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.

13) Hector Calma

Largely regarded as the best pure point guard in league history, Calma broke into the national consciousness as the hero of the Philippine team that defied the odds to win the 1982 Asian Youth Championship under Ron Jacobs. 'The Director' later starred for the NCC-backed national team and the San Miguel team that won multiple championships in the '80s and early '90s, including a grand slam in 1989.

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14) Allan Caidic

To this day, Caidic remains the yardstick by which all other shooters are measured. Safe to say, no one has come close to marksmanship of 'The Triggerman' during his glory days with Presto and San Miguel in the PBA. The former University of the East star still holds most of the scoring records in the pro league, including most points (79) and three-pointers made (17) in a single game. He also played for the national team in four Asian Games, from the all-amateur side that won bronze under Joe Lipa in 1986 to the 1998 Centennial Team of Tim Cone.

15) Jerry Codiñera

If Scottie Pippen can join Michael Jordan in the Hall of Fame, Codiñera deserves to be with longtime Purefoods partner Alvin Patrimonio on any 'greatest' list. The former UE star was among the premier big men of the league. Defense was his forte, which explains the 'Defense Minister' moniker, but he was no slouch on offense, complementing Patrimonio with his power moves in the lane and soft touch around the perimeter.

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25 Greatest PBA Players

16) Avelino 'Samboy' Lim

He will go down as one of the most exciting players in league history. 'The Skywalker' was unstoppable on the break and on the isolation, thanks to a spring that allowed him to stay in the air longer than defenders, a killer crossover and amazing grace and imagination with each shot. If you don't believe us, go to YouTube. Each Samboy Lim shot wasn't just a basket; each one was a highlight to behold. The best ones, and there were many, left fans breathless. Truly a remarkable athlete.

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17) James Yap

A two-time MVP, James Yap was a sublime scorer who stood out from the rest because of his unique ability to make the shots in the clutch, which explains the 'Big Game James' moniker. Yap was at his best during a memorable stay with Purefoods highlighted by a grand slam season with Tim Cone in 2014. A winner, indeed.

18) Jimmy Alapag

At 5-foot-8, Alapag hardly looked like someone who could stand out in a PBA game, let alone dominate. But the US-born guard did more than that while turning TnT into one of the premier franchises in the league. Alapag was a vital cog in the Gilas Pilipinas side that brought the Philippines back to the World Cup in 2014 and ended his career by surpassing the great Allan Caidic for most career three-pointers.

19) Vergel Meneses

There were few players in the PBA that you'd pay a lot of money to watch, and one of them was Meneses, The Bulacan high-flyer left defenders bewildered with his killer first step and aerial artistry. He exploded into the scene as a slam dunk artist and transformed into one of the most flamboyant scorers in history. Like Samboy Lim's, his highlights were a hypnotic sight.

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20) Danny Ildefonso

Ildefonso was one of the most dominant big men in an era that saw an influx of foreign-born players that were taller and bigger than him. Yet the pride of Pangasinan more than held his own against this new breed of players, winning consecutive MVP awards and a number of championships at San Miguel with Danny Seigle and Olsen Racela.

25 Greatest PBA Players

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21) June Mar Fajardo

Fajardo has staked his claim to being the greatest PBA player ever even before he could turn 30. Few would dare dispute that assertion. The humble giant from Cebu has won the last six MVP awards and presided over San Miguel's dynastic reign. He is currently out with a broken right tibia, but the 6-foot-10 slotman is far from finished. Look for him to keep raising the bar for Filipino players in the years to come.

22) Nelson Asaytono

During his career, Asaytono always had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had to play back-up to Alvin Patrimonio at Purefoods, then had to settle to being the second option at Swift behind Vergel Meneses. But once 'The Bull' was unleashed by Ron Jacobs at San Miguel, Asaytono put on display a dazzling repertoire of shots that few could match. He was left out of the PBA's two 'greatest' lists, but we feel he belonged in both.

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23) Arnulfo 'Arnie' Tuadles

Not a lot of present-day fans may know this guy, but Tuadles was a unique talent that should never be forgotten. The former Rookie of the Year at Toyota could hardly jump higher than a can of coke, was no means quick, and had more baby fat than muscles in his 6-2 frame. But the Cebuano forward was a match-up nightmare at the post and could go by any defender big or small. He wasn't a deadshot from afar like, say, an Allan Caidic, but he made the shot when he had to. Truly one of a kind.

24) Jayson Castro William

Castro was underappreciated early in his career, but that changed once he donned the Gilas Pilipinas colors. Thriving in the dribble-drive system that Chot Reyes put in place at TnT and Gilas, the Pampanga-born guard metamorphosed into an explosive scorer and wily playmaker. He was twice adjudged the best guard of Asia. Enough said.

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25) Arwind Santos

Santos was one of the most polarizing figures in the league, and got into trouble for his words and actions more times than he cares to remember. But from a purely basketball standpoint, the former FEU standout from Pampanga stands out as one of the best two-way players in the game. His long arms and athleticism enables him to impact every single aspect of the game, from defense to rebounding to scoring to the intangibles, like only a few can.

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ILLUSTRATION: Echo Antonio
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