Toyota’s Demise came on Valentine’s Day

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by Henry L. Liao

Francis Arnaiz
Francis Arnaiz

It was to be an enchanting Lovers Day get-together. Ouch, it was not to be. There were no lollipops and roses on Valentine’s Day of 1984 for players and team staff of the Toyota Super Corollas (Tamaraws) who were told of the shocking news of the disbandment of the Delta Motors franchise in the PBA after a nine-year stay in the pro league during a team gathering for what was supposed to be a happy occasion for all.

Just a refresher: Toyota first saw the light of day in 1973 as the Komatsu Komets in the old MICAA. It was bannered by former Meralco standouts Robert (Sonny) Jaworski and Alberto (Big Boy) Reynoso at the time following the lifting of a “lifetime” ban that lasted for only 13.5 months as a result of a punching incident with the referees in the Reddy Kilowatts’ MICAAA All-Filipino encounter with arch-nemesis Crispa Floro.

Jaworski remained with the Toyota franchise from thereon and was loyal to the core until its untimely demise.

Sonny Jaworski barrels his way for a lefthanded layup.
Sonny Jaworski barrels his way for a lefthanded layup.

Exactly what happened on that fateful day of Feb. 14, 1984, is a narrative worth retelling to Toyota fans, as well as to Crispa fanatics, as the first great rivalry came to an abrupt halt. Unable to exist without the other, the Redmanizers franchise also closed shop at year’s end of 1984.

According to the 1983 PBA Annual, Toyota died Feb. 14 (1984), in the early evening when Valentine’s Day celebrants were sipping wine and knifing medium-rare steaks on some dimly-lit corner of Manila’s plush eateries.

The public announcement came at noon the next day and, on the morning of February 16, Toyota star guard Francis Arnaiz was jolted from his sleep with the screaming headline in the sports pages of the national dailies declaring the death of the Toyota franchise. Arnaiz was not present when Jack Rodriguez, Toyota’s erstwhile team manager, broke the news to the team during the February 14 gathering. “I was really shocked,” said Arnaiz. “I thought everything was fine. I thought my team could hang one despite the hard times.”

Jack Rodriguez
Jack Rodriguez

Unfortunately, like most prominent business entities, Delta Motors company, the owner of Toyota’s PBA franchise, was hard-hit by the economic crisis brought about by the capital flight following the assassination of opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino Jr. months earlier (in August 1983). A couple of thousands of its workforce were laid off due to the lack of funds intended for player salaries even as the company was maintaining a multi-million peso basketball team. It did not help that the nine-time PBA champion failed to land a finals seat in all three conferences in 1983 wherein grand-slamming Crispa took home all three titles.

According to Rodriguez, he got instructions from Delta Motors owner Ricardo C. Silverio on February 3 that authorized him to sell the team. On the evening of February 14, a deal was struck with billionaire taipan Lucio Tan, who owned Fortune Tobacco, Asia Brewery, and Allied Bank among other businesses. It was done in “deep secrecy” so as not to jeopardize the transaction.

Abe King, here hoisting a jumper, was one of the vital cogs of the fabled Toyota team.
Abe King, here hoisting a jumper, was one of the vital cogs of the fabled Toyota team.

With the sale, the Super Corollas team was disbanded and its players were dispersed. The players, though, contested the decision. Among them were Jaworski, Arnaiz, Joaquin (Chito Loyzaga), and Arnulfo (Arnie) Tuadles. They had questioned the sale to Beer Hausen, branding it as “grossly immoral.” Arnaiz was even quoted as saying, “ano kami, por kilo?”

They centered their contention on the following grounds: 1-That on January 26, Silverio gave the players P1 million in his bid to salvage the team; 2-Bill Warne, a multimillionaire-friend of the ballclub, offered another P1 million; 3-with that, the players agreed during a meeting to establish a players cooperative, meaning they would run the team themselves with Leopoldo Herrera and Edgardo Cordero as interim officers.

With these developments, the players thought the team would be kept intact. Instead, the franchise was sold to Beer Hausen.

Jaworski and company raised a howl.

Backcourt duo SonnyJaworski and Francis Arnaiz joined Gilbey's Gin during the 1984 PBA season following the disbandment of Toyota.
Backcourt duo SonnyJaworski and Francis Arnaiz joined Gilbey’s Gin during the 1984 PBA season following the disbandment of Toyota.

Said Arnaiz: “If Mr. Silverio, indeed, told Rodriguez on February 3 that he wanted the team sold, at least delicadeza dictated that Rodriguez should have informed them about the decision. “Between February 3 and February 14 is 11 days,” said Arnaiz. “We are not kids, anymore. If he (Rodriguez) did not want the transaction leaked to the press, that’s no problem. All he had to do was tell us, ‘Guys, this is all off the record.’ We’re grown-up men now, not kids. You know.”

Ramon Fernandez, the No. 2 man on the fabled Toyota team, meekly hooked up with the Beer Hausen Brewmasters to become their centerpiece. He was joined on the team by old Super Corollas mates Ed Cordero, Tim Coloso, Herrera, Emerito Legaspi, Nicanor Bulaong, and Ricardo Relosa.

Jaworski and Arnaiz subsequently were shipped to the Gilbey’s Gin Tonics, the harbinger of the Ginebra San Miguel franchise (then owned by La Tondena Incorporada boss Carlos “Honeyboy” Palanca III before the company was sold to Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco of San Miguel Corporation).

Abe King Jr. went to Gold Eagle Beer (of SMC) and Loyzaga and Tuadles latched on with the Great Taste Coffeemakers.

With the transfers, Toyota’s demise became complete.

Sadly, its death certificate was signed and sealed on Valentine’s Day.

Henry Liao
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