The Philippine Basketball Association has seen many great imports in its 37 years of existence. But one name — Billy Ray Bates — holds a special place in the hearts not just of PBA fans, but of its greatest players.
“Madami na akong nakitang import na dumating, umalis at bumalik, pero walang katulad si Billy Ray Bates,” said Philip Cezar, who played with the man dubbed “The Black Superman” in Crispa’s 1983 Grand Slam run. “He’s not only a great import, but he also made his teammates better. Hindi niya pinupuwersa yung galling niya kasi natural na lumalabas.”
Cezar’s partner-in-crime in those legendary Redmanizers squads, Atoy Co, concurred.
“Bates is the greatest import I’ve ever seen,” said Co. “He can play inside and out and he’s unstoppable, especially during the time he played for Crispa. And he was up against a group of great imports, such as Norman Black and Lew Massey.”
Even opponents remain in awe of Bates’ exploits in the league. Three-time PBA Most Valuable Player Bogs Adornado, who starred for the Great Taste team that battled Bates’ Crispa squad in 1983, shares the opinion of Cezar and Co.
“Definitely, Billy Ray Bates is the best import,” he said.
“Billy is a superb import that you will need more than just one player to stop him. We had difficulty doing that because Crispa at that time was a superb team and even if we double up on Billy, he had this ability of jumping over his defenders using his athleticism.”
Adornado’s teammate Ricardo Brown, who won the Rookie of the Year honors the same season Bates debuted in the PBA, is just as impressed.
“Billy Ray Bates was a one-man wrecking crew on a powerhouse PBA team,” said Brown. “Bates had unlimited shooting range, could post up smaller players, and drove to the basket with great power and force. He was also a good rebounder, and he was playing with a Crispa local force that were at the top of their game in 1983.”
Back in Manila
Bates was back in town this weekend for his induction into the PBA Hall of Fame. And even though his last stint in the league came in 1988, fans still came to mob one of the greatest players to ever grace the Philippine hardcourts.
“I felt happy that I’m still not forgotten through these years,” said Bates. “They were asking me, Black Superman, how long you’re going to be here? It feels good to be remembered.”
Bates also did some reminiscing of his own, talking about former coaches, teammates, and opponents. He spoke fondly of his old Crispa coach, Tommy Manotoc, who also a Hall of Fame inductee.
“Manotoc was so good, particularly in scouting his opponents,” he said. “Coaching had never been scientific at that time, but Tommy was doing extra work, studying our opponents.”
From the other side of the court, Bates recalled competing against the legendary Maestro of Philippine basketball, Baby Dalupan, who led Great Taste in classic battles against Crispa.
“Man, Coach Baby hated me, but he was one of the main reasons why Great taste was successful.”
Bates also talked about his rival reinforcements, and the first name he uttered — Norman Black — was no surprise. In 1983, Bates’ Crispa and Black’s Great Taste met in the finals twice, with the Redmanizers winning twice to complete their Grand Slam.
“Norman Black is the first person that comes to my mind when I’m being asked as who are the greatest imports I played against,” said Bates. “He was one of the reasons why we had difficulty beating Great Taste. In fact, the series was stretched to five games before we won.”
But there were other opposing imports who still linger in Bates’ memory
“My man, Lew Massey, was prolific scorer. He does it so well. All he does was shoot the basketball and leads his team to victory,” said Bates. “Of course, several names were also there even before I came — Glen Hagan and Larry McNeil — they were household names.”
“There was one guy in 1986 who I can never forget, Michael Young. Man, he gave me nightmares when we played against Manila Beer in the ’86 finals. And Bobby Parks was exceptional. Even his son, Ray-Ray, is a good player. I’ve played against him in the States.”
When asked about the best local players he played with, Bates rattles off a roll-call of some of the greatest names in Crispa lore.
“[Philip] Cezar, [Abet] Guidaben, [Freddie] Hubalde, they’re great players and we did the right things then in beating Great Taste in 1983,” said Bates.
Bates also identified opposing players who gave his team fits.
“Ricardo Brown was also a great player. Crispa was waiting in anticipation to get Brown, but he played for Great Taste. Had we played together that time, Crispa would have been unbeatable,” he said.
“[Ramon] Fernandez is probably one of the best all-around players I’ve seen. He could dribble the basketball, can make great passes and can score as well.”
The Big J
In a 1983 game between Toyota and Crispa, Bates got a rude PBA welcome from the toughest player in the league: Robert Jaworski.
“He ran by me, and I was grimacing in pain when he hit me in the abdomen area,” said Bates. The crowd, meanwhile, enjoyed the scene of local hero Jaworski sending the fabled Black Superman down to the canvas.
Three years later, Jaworski and Bates would join forces in Ginebra to lead the crowd darlings to the first championship in franchise history.
“He took me in, and we led the team to the championship. I could never forget the crowd. They were practically all cheering for us.”
On Sunday, Bates got to relive part of that glory, as he soaked up cheers from an adoring crowd.