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by Henry Liao
More than 140 players crossed their Rubicon in shedding their amateur status to turn professional in the inaugural season of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in 1975.
A total of 182 games were played during the regular season and playoffs. Squeezed into the three-conference schedule from April to December were exhibition games against scores of National Basketball Association (NBA) players, led by two-time championship guard Walt (Clyde) Frazier from the New York Knickerbockers, and a U S. NCAA All-Star selection.
The three conferences in PBA Season One saw an extension of the heated rivalry between the Crispa-Floro Redmanizers and Toyota Comets (then Tamaraws) in the final years of the league it preceded, the multiple-sport Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA).
In the end, all three conference championships were contested by Toyota and Crispa, with the Comets winning the first two and the Redmanizers taking the third and last.
All in all, the two decorated franchises played 21 games against each other in the PBA’s opening salvo.
During the First Conference dubbed as All-Filipino, three teams ironically were allowed to employ an American on their roster – Noritake (Mariwasa)’s Israel (Cisco) Oliver throughout the conference; and Toyota’s Byron Glaster (Snake) Jones and Universal Textile Mills’ Charles Walker, a former import of tradition-steeped Yco in the old MICAA, both starting in the second round of the two-round eliminations.
The first two conferences involved all nine charter franchises, namely, CFC (Consolidated Foods Company) Presto Ice Cream Makers, Crispa-Floro, Concepcion Carrier Weathernakers, Noritake Porcelain Makers, Royal Tru-Orange Orangemen, Seven-Up Uncolas, Tanduay Distillers, Toyota and Universal Textile Weavers.
The third conference, on the other hand, featured only the top four finishers after the first two conferences based on their win-loss ledgers.
Noritake’s Israel Oliver, who torched Concepcion Carrier for 48 points during the PBA’s first-ever game on April 9, 1975, averaged a league-best 36.3 points during the two-round, 16-game elimination phase.
The 6-6 Oliver out of Norfolk, Virginia racked up 49 points against 7-Up in first-round action and drilled in a career-high 64 in a loss 1970s to Crispa in second-round play (June 10, 1975)
But the Porcelain Makers of the 10th-round Portland Trail Blazers draftee posted a pedestrian 8-8 record and failed to advance to the Final Four playoffs that involved Toyota (13-3), Crispa (12-4), U-Tex 11-5) and Royal Tru-Orange (10-6).
Together with Noritake, Carrier (6-10), Tanduay (5-11), Presto (5-11) and Seven-Up (2-14) exited early.
The Redmanizers held out their best players – veterans William (Bogs) Adornado, Fortunato (Atoy) Co Jr., Philip Cezar, Alberto (Abet) Guidaben, Rodolfo (Rudy) Soriano and Johnny Revilla and three players from the 1974 PH Asian Youth unit in Alfredo (Freddie) Hubalde, Bernard (Bernie) Fabiosa and Virgilio (Bong) Dela Cruz – at the start of the first-round hostilities.
Following an 0-3 start, all players, except for Adornado (who held out for one more game), gave up their amateur status to join the PBA.
Crispa completed the first round with five straight wins, including a 139-133 overtime defeat of Toyota, who was unblemished at the time at 7-0 and was set to complete the initial round with a perfect slate.
In the second round, Crispa was upset by Tanduay, 122-121 – its only setback in the second round – but it pinned the Comets with their second of just three losses in the elimination round with a repeat 143-139 overtime decision before some 27,000 fans at the Araneta Coliseum, which was one of the biggest crowds that ever witnessed a basketball match in the country at the time.
U-Tex, behind the brilliance of Danilo (Danny) Florencio, Rudolf (Boy) Kutch and Lawrence (Larry) Mumar, was a title contender with a 6-2 record in the round but its reinforcement, Walker, fared badly with only 13.3 ppg and 11.0 rpg in eight elim games. The Weavers eventually were relegated to a third-place duel with Royal Tru-Orange (0-6)) following a playoff loss to Crispa for the second finals berth – both teams owned a 3-3 record – behind pacesetter Toyota (6-0) in the Final Four standings. Walker, who sat out five of U-Tex’s final 11 outings in the conference, including a 3-1 advantage over the Orangemen in the battle for third place, finished his career locally with paltry norms of 16.0 ppg and 12.8 rpg in 14 appearances.
In the best-of-five final series, Crispa jumped the gun with a hard-earned 107-103 victory over Toyota in Game One as Adornado netted 29 points and Cezar outplayed Jones. In the second game, the comets bounced back with an 88-87 squeaker on a pair of free throws by sharpshooting Rodolfo (Odie) Segura with 10 seconds remaining.
Toyota seized the series advantage, 2-1, with another close 109-105 win.
A third consecutive victory by the Comets put the series in the freeze. Before a record crowd at the Araneta Coliseum on July 31, 1975, Jones struck for 20 points and plucked down 18 of Toyota’s 56 rebounds as the club coached by popular car racer Dante Silverio dumped Crispa, 117-96, in Game Four to crown itself as the first conference titlist in PBA annals.
Segura was outstanding in Toyota’s combined record of 9-1 in the double-round Final Four and four-game title playoffs, pacing the Comets with a 24.6-point average. However, it was the star of Jones that shone best.
The 6-8 native of North Carolina, who was a fifth-round draft choice of the Boston Celtics in the 1973 NBA grab-bad out of the University of San Francisco, registered averages of 19.1 points – trailing only Segura and Francis Arnaiz (19.2 ppg, 7.0 apg) – a league-high 16.2 rebounds (including a 32-rebound effort against U-Tex in the Round of Four) and 8.5 assists – just a shade behind Fernandez’s league-best 8.6 apg.
For the record, the top six local scorers in the All-Filipino Conference were the following: Adornado, 27.5 ppg in 19 games; Royal Tru-Orange’s Manuel (Manny) Paner, 26.9 in 22 games; Segura, 25.0 ppg in 26 games; Universal Textile’s Danilo (Danny) Florencio, 22.5 ppg in 27 games; Royal Tru-Orange’s Ernesto (Estoy) Estrada, 22.3 ppg in 26 games; and Crispa’s Co, 22.1 ppg in 24 games.
The second conference ended with a finals script identical to the first – plus some extracurricular activities.
That’s because the best-of-five titular series between Toyota and Crispa was not played to completion. Behind 2-1, the Redmanizers decided to forfeit Game Four after complaining of bias officiating in the third game, effectively handing the Comets a second consecutive conference crown on a silver platter.
The Second Conference offered a serving of imports without any height restrictions. The nine pioneer PBA clubs played a single round-robin format during the elimination segment.
The final elims standings produced three sets of three teams with identical win-loss records. Crispa, Toyota and Royal Tru-Orange shared the leadership at 6-2. Next were Noritake (Mariwasa), Universal Textile and Concepcion Carrier at 5-3. And hogging the outhouse were Tanduay, Presto and Seven-Up with identical 1-7 ledgers.
Since the conference format called for only the top six teams to advance to the second round, Tanduay, Presto and Seven-Up went on early vacation.
The Round of Six (quarterfinals) had a single-round format as well, with the top four earning tickets to the Final Four or semifinals.
Crispa and Toyota once again paced the quarters with both posting 4-1 records. Royal, Noritake and U-Tex were deadlocked at 2-3. The Orangemen automatically advanced with a superior quotient but the Porcelain Makers, who were led by Americans Billy Robinson (a long-time Philippine resident who took over the roster slot of Oliver) and James Cornelious, had to beat the Weavers in a playoff to join the party through the backdoor. Carrier finished last in the round and together with U-Tex, the Weathermakers exited with a 1-4 card.
In the Final Four with a double-round format, Crispa went 4-2 to snare the first finals berth. Toyota and Noritake tied for second place at 3-3 but the Comets joined the Redmanizers in the finals with a 112-108 playoff success against the Porcelain Makers. Royal landed fourth and last with just two wins in six outings.
Behind Jones and 6-6 Stanley Rey (Sweet) Cherry, Toyota grabbed the finals opener with a 98-96 verdict over Crispa. But Crispa, behind its own imports 6-6 Johnny Burks and 6-8 Peter Crotty (a look-alike of martial arts actor Chuck Norris), tied the count at 1-1 with a 101-91 win in the second game.
The first two games of the best-of-five championship series were marked by physical play from both sides. There were several skirmishes, including one where Cherry was caught punching Soriano in a scramble underneath the basket.
In Game Three, Toyota seized a 2-1 series lead, a 115-102 win by the Comets that Crispa felt was a 7 vs. 5 contest. It turned out to be the final contest in the conference finals as the Redmanizers forfeited the fourth game in protest against alleged incompetent officiating.
Even the best-of-five battle for third place between Noritake and Royal was abruptly halted because of Crispa’s forfeiture. The Porcelain Makers were ahead, 2-1, in the series and thus were declared the third-place winners.
Crispa’s Adornado was the runaway scoring leader among the locals during the Second Conference. The 6-2 forward out of the University of Santo Tomas hit at a 28-point clip in 22 games, easily outdistancing Royal’s Estrada, who normed 25.9 ppg in 22 appearances.
The Third Conference, which had been billed as the All-Philippine Championship even though imports were still allowed to suit up, also produced a dramatic ending.
Only four teams punched tickets to the conference competitions. These are Toyota, Crispa-Floro, Royal Tru-Orange and Universal Textile.
They qualified for the brief tournament on the basis of their combined win-loss records in the two previous conferences.
With a single-round format, Crispa topped the field with a 3-0 record, including a 118-109 shellacking of arch rival Toyota, which ranked second at 2-1. Tru-Orange was third at 1-2 and U-Tex hogged the cellar at 0-3.
Crispa and Toyota advanced to the best-of-five finals while Tru-Orange and U-Tex clashed in their own three-to-win duel for third place.
In the finals opener, Toyota slipped past Crispa, 99-97, as Jones outplayed his American counterparts, Crotty and Burks, by chalking up a dozen markers in the last eight minutes, including four free throws in the final minute.
The Redmanizers, however, deadlocked the series at 1-all with a thrilling 111-107 victory in Game Two. Notable was the fact that Crispa head coach Virgilio (Baby) Dalupan gambled with an all-Filipino unit in the final 12-minute quarter to secure the win.
A sellout crowd of nearly 32,000 trooped to the Araneta Coliseum to witness the third game, which was taken by the Redmanizers, 101-93, when the Comets self-destructed in the second half with a frigid performance from the charity stripes. Missing 11 of 12 free throws in the third quarter. Toyota center Ramon Fernandez sustained a broken nose in that game, courtesy of Crispa’s Rodolfo (Rudy) Soriano.
With its backs against the wall, Toyota regrouped to carve a close 79-77 triumph in the fourth game, highlighted by endgame baskets by Orlando (Orly) Bauzon and Segura, to set up for a winner-take-all fifth meeting. Crispa again gambled on an all-Filipino lineup at crunch time but this time it backfired.
By then, the tension between the two rivals had reached a boiling point. It would take only a single roughhousing incident in the deciding Game Five for hell to break loose.
And, unfortunately, all hell, indeed, broke loose in the series finale when Toyota’s Oscar Rocha and Soriano slugged it out to spark a free-for-all in the second quarter. The two gladiators were thrown out of the game and had lumps on their faces due to the punches unloaded.
Violence again reared its ugly head near the end of the game, when Crispa’s Philip Cezar took a swing at Ramon Fernandez. For a second time, the contest was stopped for several minutes. A fallen Soriano also was the victim of the raging fists of brothers Alberto (Big Boy) and Cristino (Tino) Reynoso.
Crispa won, 96-91, to corral its first-ever PBA crown but the soft-spoken league commissioner Leopoldo (Leo) Prieto was distraught over the violence that marred the final game of the inaugural 1975 season.
The brawl-plagued title-series finale also produced far-reaching repercussions.
Additionally, four days after the game, then-President Ferdinand Marcos placed the PBA and all other professional sports – including jai-alai and boxing – under the control of the Games and Amusements Board.
Crispa’s Adornado was officially named the PBA’s 1975 Most Valuable Player. He was joined on the five-man Mythical Team by Toyota’s Arnaiz and Crispa’s Co at guard, Royal Tru-Orange’s Paner at center, and Royal Tru-Orange’s Estrada at the other forward position.
Arnaiz was voted the Pro Basketball Player of the Year during the 1975 Seven-Up All-Filipino Sports Awards. Toyota’s Dante Silverio, with a pair of PBA conference titles under his belt, and Crispa’s Virgilio (Baby) Dalupan, with one championship hardware in his pocket, shared Coach of the Year honors.