This series, which takes a look back at Robert Jaworski’s four titles as playing-coach of Ginebra, is part of 7 Days of Jaworski, InterAKTV’s special tribute to the Living Legend, whose jersey will be retired on Sunday, July 8.
The 1988 All-Filipino Conference finals between Añejo and Purefoods was one of the most hyped championship series in PBA history. People saw it as the battle of former Toyota teammates and arch-rivals Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez, who were facing each other in the finals for the second time.
While the two teams split their games in the semis, Purefoods was the odds-on favorite coming into the series after leading the standings all through the eliminations and semifinals to earn the first finals seat. Añejo, on the other hand, had to survive an epic sudden-death match against San Miguel, 102-100, to earn the second championship seat.
Purefoods was a powerhouse, with Fernandez backstopped by the core of the disbanded Tanduay squad led by JB Yango, Willie Generalao and Padim Israel. More importantly, they were bannered by top rookies Jojo Lastimosa, Alvin Patrimonio, Jerry Codiñera, Glenn Capacio and Jack Tanuan.
Añejo, on the other hand, had old reliables such as the Loyzaga brothers Chito and Joey, Rudy Distrito, Leo Isaac, Dondon Ampalayo, Romulo Mamaril, Dante Gonzalgo and Harmon Codinera teaming up with the Big J.
Game One was close all throughout. It was a seesaw battle until the dying minutes, and Fernandez uncharacteristically buckled under pressure and missed two crucial free throws late in the game. Añejo was able to convert on the next play, and went on to shock Purefoods, 111-105.
Game Two was rocked with controversy. Purefoods coach Cris Calilan benched Fernandez for the entire game despite being on the bench. No one at ULTRA had any inkling why Fernandez was not fielded in, but it didn’t stop the Hotdogs from exacting vengeance against the 65ers, winning 117-112 after getting 54 free throw attempts. Lastimosa top-scored for Purefoods with 27 points while Jaworski led Añejo with 20.
In the post-game interview, Calilan revealed he received instructions from top management just before the start of the game not to play Fernandez. This instruction apparently covered the entire finals series.
Despite playing without the team’s spiritual leader, Purefoods remained competitive, as its rookies more than held their own against Añejo. But what was sorely missed was the veteran leadership and presence of their former playing coach. With Game Three closely fought, Añejo eked out a 112-110 victory courtesy of the Big J’s two made free throws, negating Totoy Marquez’s heroic 30-point performance.
With a 2-1 lead, Añejo was poised to win the championship but it didn’t come easy. Before the game, reports filtered out that Añejo forward Dondon Ampalayo just came from the hospital, having been on dextrose because of apparent exhaustion.
Purefoods was ahead practically the entire game, posting a commanding 76-57 lead in the third quarter. But Añejo made its move in the fourth. With the Hotdogs ahead 114-107 with a little over two minutes left in the game, Ampalayo strung together eight points, including a crucial follow-up off a Chito Loyzaga miss to tie the game at 117 with 36 seconds left.
After a Jerry Codiñera jumper with 22 seconds to go, the Jaworski mystique came to fore once more. The Big J missed a defended three point shot but collared the offensive board and went up for a twinner to knot the count amidst an explosion from the crowd with 2 seconds remaining. The game went to overtime.
In the extra period, Jaworski led the 65ers, scoring four clutch free throws, stealing the ball twice, feeding Mamaril for the go-ahead basket, and drawing the last foul of Generalao, earning for himself Best Player honors. The 42-year old Big J led all scorers with 28 points to earn his second championship for a team best described by late broadcaster Pinggoy Pengson as put together by “Spit, Guts, and Jaworski pride.”