When NBA superstars led by Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul play in a series of exhibition games in the Ultimate All-Star Weekend on July 23 and 24, it will be the first time in 14 years that active NBA stars will play in a competitive match against the Philippines’ best basketball players.
NBAers haven’t played against local players since 1997, when a touring group led by Shaquille O’Neal went up against Robert Jaworski-mentored squad composed of Alvin Patrimonio, Johnny Abarrientos, Bonel Balingit and Noli Locsin among others.
But there has been a long tradition of the PBA and its players hosting their stateside brethren for exhibition games dating back to the local league’s founding in 1975. In fact, in the very first season of the league, more than 30 NBA players played alongside the PBA’s finest.
“Walt Frazier, Clifford Ray, Randy Smith, Mel Counts, George McGinnis, and Ron Behagen, among others, played [in Manila] in 1975,” said Percival Flores, an amateur basketball historian. The NBA players played with different PBA teams as imports — Hall of Famer “Clyde” Frazier even had donned the classic Crispa Redmanizers jersey. While the experience left Pinoy fans excited, it left a bad taste in the mouth for some of the NBA players, who claimed they were cheated out of salaries by unscrupulous promoters.
In 1979, the Washington Bullets bannered by Hall of Famers Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes also played against the PBA Selection composed of local players and imports. At the time, it was a major coup, as the Bullets were just a year removed from winning the NBA championsip.
“The local players were composed of Atoy Co, Mon Fernandez, Rudolf Kutch, Rene Canent, Lim Eng Beng, and Manny Paner, among others,” Flores recalled. “Larry McNeil, Dean Tolson, Larry Pounds, Glen McDonald and Cyrus Mann were some of the imports.”
But the exhibition game wasn’t exactly friendly. Crispa superstar Co nearly got involved in a fistfight with Dave Corzine, a burly 6-foot-11, 250-lb. center.
The NBA has slowly made a return to playing in the Philipines. For the past two years, a legends team of retired NBA players led by Dominique Wilkins, Chris Webber, and Vlade Divac have played exhibition games in Manila.
And this weekend, there will be perhaps the biggest gathering of NBA superstars in our country at the Araneta Coliseum. Here’s hoping it starts a new tradition of the world’s best players coming over to our basketball-crazy shores.