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by Henry L. Liao
Exactly 50 years ago on December 19, the music died. On that fateful day of December 19, 1971, the festive local basketball scene was rocked by the physical mauling of a pair of referees in an All-Filipino game in the country’s No. 1 commercial league, the Manila Industrial Commercial and Athletic Association (MICAA), by a pair of prominent players from the Meralco club who had donned the national colors in the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
A month before (October 30-November 10), Robert (Sonny) Jaworski and Alberto (Big Boy) Reynoso had even suited for the Philippine national squad in the 1971 Asian Basketball Confederation tournament in Tokyo, Japan where the Nats, skippered by the Big J, finished second to the host nation but qualified for the 1972 Munich Olympics just the same.
Disgusted with the alleged biased officiating against the Reddy Kilowatts in an elimination-round MICAA All-Filipino game with the powerhouse Crispa Floro Redmanizers, Meralco stars Jaworski and Reynoso took matters into their own hands to kick and punch whistletooters Jose (Joe) Obias and Dr. Edilberto (Ting) Cruz before an overflowing crowd at the cool-turned-hot Rizal Memorial Coliseum midway through the infamous game that was eventually called off.
Following the assault, Jaworski and Reynoso were meted a lifetime ban by the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP), then the basketball-governing body in the country, and the MICAA. Or so it seemed.
In one of the darkest episodes in Philippine basketball history, a full-blown melee erupted halfway through the second half of a rugged All-Filipino elimination-round duel between Meralco and Crispa Floro, a pair of heavyweights who months earlier had engaged in a finals confrontation in the MICAA Reinforced (Open) tournament that the Reddy Kilowatts took, 65-58, in July under coach Lauro (The Fox) Mumar.
No, it was not a player-to-player fracas that occurred. Rather it was all about the mauling of the referees by players Jaworski and Reynoso.
The violent skirmish happened with the game over 28 minutes gone and Crispa ahead, 65-50. It seemed that the Reddy Kilowatts were getting the shorter end of the officiating. All hell broke loose when a Meralco player was whistled a charging foul by Obias off Crispa’s big man Rudolf (Rudy) Kutch.
Taking umbrage, the burly Reynoso furiously chased Obias in anger over the perceived questionable call, issuing a running kick that barely missed. An equally enraged Jaworski went after a running Obias and floored the latter with a right-straight punch in front of the Meralco bench before the two ganged up on the fallen Obias.
Jaworski and Reynoso, of course, were subsequently ejected from the game that was never completed. Meralco conceded the game a day later.
Then came the punitive action from the MICAA and the BAP. The principal instigators of the mauling, Jaworski, and Reynoso, expectedly bore the brunt of the punishment.
The MICAA meted a two-year ban on the two but the BAP raised the ante by slapping a lifetime ban against the pair.
Another Reddy Kilowatt, the coach’s son Lawrence (Larry) Mumar, and the younger brother of Big Boy, Cristino Reynoso, were given lighter penalties for taking part in the melee.
Crispa went on to beat the San Miguel Braves for the MICAA All-Filipino title that season.
Unknown to many people, Jaworski was leading the MICAA Most Valuable Player race at the time of his maul-related ban.
In the previous Reinforced (Open) Conference, The Big J owned the highest Player’s All-around Value by a Filipino player – the top nine on the list were imports – with averages of 15.2 points (highest on the team, even besting American Bob Presley’s 12.4 ppg), 10.6 assists, 6.2 rebounds in 13 games with the Reddies for ninth place overall.
Among the Filipinos, Yutivo’s Rogelio (Tembong) Melencio ranked a close second to Jawo – 11th overall – in the MVP race with norms of 11.0 scores, 11.0 dish-offs, and 7.5 rebounds in 13 outings.
In the All-Filipino competitions, Jaworski was averaging 15.7 points (eighth-best in the league), 10.1 assists (second only to Yco’s Freddie Webb), 8.5 rebounds, and 3.0 steals (fifth-highest in the league) in eight games when the roof caved in following the assault on the referees.
What was to be a lifetime ban on Jaworski and Reynoso lasted only for 13.5 months as it turned out. Thanks to the intercession of then-presidential assistant Guillermo de Vega, the BAP lifted the ban in February 1973 and, after some resistance, the MICAA followed suit thereafter.
And Jaworski and Reynoso merrily continued with their intertwined roundball careers. In 1973, the duo picked up the pieces to spearhead the newly-organized Komatsu Komets and tag along Francis Arnaiz, Cristino Reynoso, and Orlando (Orly) Bauzon from the remnants of the disgraced Meralco club that quietly disbanded after the mauling incident. (Note also that the Marcos government had taken over the Meralco public utility franchise following the declaration of martial law in September 1972.)
The Delta Motors Corporation-owned Komets, mentored by Nilo Verona initially took part in the National Open (Seniors) and the Fred Elizalde-organized Panamin competitions. Later, they were renamed the Toyota Comets in the MICAA Reinforced (Open) tournament, which the Comets eventually won, 2-1, in the best-of-three finals against the Concepcion Industries Motorolas, in their maiden participation in the commercial loop.
That lifetime ban, as it turned out, was merely a brief suspension for a transgression of that magnitude. For good measure, Jaworski and Reynoso were even reinstated into the national team. The duo saw action with the PH team that triumphed in the 1973 ABC games held in Manila in December 1973. A year later, Sonny and Big Boy were part of the Nats that played in the (July) 1974 World Basketball Championship (now called the FIBA World Cup) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Reynoso had called it quits, at least on the international front, when Jaworski was again called upon to skipper the national squad during the Asian Games in Tehran, Iran that same year (September 1974).
Then there was their extended stint in the Philippine Basketball Association, Asia’s first professional league. Jaworski and Reynoso were teammates once more with the Toyota Comets when the PBA first saw the light of day in April 1975. The following year, they separated ways when an aging Reynoso hooked up with the Mariwasa/Noritake and Jaworski opted to remain with Toyota.
Regardless, that infamous December 19, 1971 assault on the referees somewhat tarnishes Jaworski’s legacy. Whatever succeeding accomplishments he had accumulated through his years in the PBA with the Toyota Comets/Tamaraws and Ginebra franchises could never obliterate this sad episode in his roundball life.