In the current Fiesta Cup, it’s easy to spot Purefoods’ Darius Rice, Coca-Cola’s Jason Dixon, Red Bull’s Adam Parada and Sta. Lucia’s Wesley Wilson as standouts among the field of 10. They’re not only filling up the boxscores but are also helping their teams get headway in the tournament. Rice is the optimum shooter while Wilson is the classic shotblocker. Parada is the perennial team player while Dixon the consummate interior operator. How do they stack up against the best of all-time? Well, I have compiled a list of imports who, I think, have made a great impression in our shores. Check it out. In no particular order…
Billy Ray Bates (6’3″ Crispa, Ginebra) â€“ Nicknamed the â€œBlack Supermanâ€, he’s probably the most exciting import to grace Philippine shores. He’s a two-time Best Import awardee and led Crispa to its second grandslam in 1983. He returned to the PBA in 1986 to form a monstrous tandem with Michael Hackett in the Open Conference and led the Gins to its first PBA crown. A power slammer and a feared rainbow hitman, he’s the only import to win two Best Import awards in the same season. He bowed out of the scene in 1988 due to drinking problems, but still no one can deny, he was the ultimate showman among all imports of all time.
Tony Harris (6’2″ Swift) â€“ The â€œHurricaneâ€ bursts into the PBA basketball scene in 1992 and made mincemeat of all defenses thrown at him en route to Swift winning the PBA 3rd conference and the Best Import honors. He broke the 7-year record of Michael Hackett for the highest individual score in a single game with 105 points on October 10, 1992. Has scored 60+ points 14 times in his PBA playing career. He’s a true offensive machine with unlimited range, great quickness and handles and awesome leaping ability.
Bobby Parks (6’3″ San Miguel, Shell) â€“ A seven-time Best Import awardee, Parks has practically achieved it all while playing 13 years in the PBA. He first played in the PBA for San Miguel in 1987 and the rest of the seasons with Shell. He was the ultimate import, one who exhibited great leadership, poise and explosiveness down the stretch. He even tried coaching full-time in the 1990s.
Sean Chambers (6’1″ Alaska) â€“ He played for only one team (Alaska) in his 10-year tenure as an import in the PBA. Chambers is considered the epitome of a true professional, he never complained about anything and was like a true boy scout on the court – always ready for anything the coaching staff and management asked him to do. He first made waves here in 1987 when he upset the highly-fancied Billy Ray Bates in a dunk contest while with the visiting 6’4″ and under US team. Won the 1996 Governorâ€™s Cup Best Import award and a recipient of the second 100% Award (handed initially to Norman Black).
Norman Black (6’5″ Tefilin, Alaska, Great Taste, San Miguel, Pop Cola) â€“ There was no question, he was the most hardworking import to ever play here, which is why the PBA didn’t hesitate in giving him a 100% Award in 1983. Played for Magnolia/San Miguel, Tefilin, Alaska, Great Taste and Pop Cola (only one game). He’s a two-time Best Import awardee (1982, 1985) and the third all-time winningest coach in PBA history. He coached San Miguel to its grandslam season in 1989. He currently coaches the Ateneo Blue Eagles team in the UAAP.
Michael Hackett (6’5″ Ginebra) â€“ Wreaked havoc for Ginebra in 1985 holding once upon a time the league’s highest individual scoring in a single game (103 points) before Tony Harris broke the record 7 years later. Won the 1985 Best Import plum despite Ginebra landing only 3rd place. A true low post operator, he made his way back with the team the following year, this time with the awesome Billy Ray Bates on his side. Together, they were the most formidable import duo and carried Ginebra to its first PBA crown in 1986 3rd conference. He still holds the league record for most rebounds in a single game (45), most turnovers (14), and most two-point shots made (45).
Artemus McClary (6’2″ Mobiline, Coca-Cola, Alaska) – Tim McClary was only short but had a knack for grabbing rebounds and doing all the dirty work inside. The former Jacksonville University star was a double-double artist in college averaging 18.5 ppg and 10.6 rpg in his senior season. McClary has been a regular import for PBA teams, especially in the short import tournaments because he can do so many things on the floor. McClary was the Best Import awardee in 2003 after leading Coca-Cola to the Reinforced Crown.
Derrick Brown (6’3″ Purefoods, Sta. Lucia) – Brown was a helluva import. He played hard-nosed ball, rebounded, played tough defense, and was the consummate go-to-guy. The ex-Providence standout was a two-time Best Import awardee who played 5 seasons for Purefoods and Sta. Lucia. Nicknamed “The Flight” because of his awesome leaping ability, Brown reminded everyone of Billy Ray Bates because they had the same built and explosiveness. Brown led Purefoods to the 2002 Governor’s Cup crown.
Winston Crite (6’5″ Alaska, Presto) – During the heydays when imports were restricted to 6’5″ and below, Crite stood tallest with his incredible shotblocking ability. Nicknamed “The Human Eraser”, the former Phoenix Sun is a true defensive gem. He played for Alaska and Presto and led the league in shot blocks twice (1990 and 1992).
Andy Fields (6’8″ Toyota) – Those who have followed the PBA in the early 80s knows what kind of a player Andy Fields is made of. He’s the first recipient of the Best Import award (the PBA began to hand it only in 1981) and terrorized the paint for the Toyota Comets, leading the team to two titles. Fields is a great shotblocker and ruled the department for four straight years (1979-82). He’s one of the all-time shotblock leaders in the PBA despite playing in only for 4+ seasons.
Byron Jones (6’8″ U-Tex, Honda, Crispa, Toyota) – the goateed import earned he nickname “Snake” because of his snake-like moves inside the shaded area. He was the very first import hired by Toyota and almost led the team to a grandslam in the league’s inaugural season. He also had stints with U-tex and Honda and Crispa.
Billy Robinson (6’6″ U-Tex, Philman Bank, Mariwasa) – He’s the first import to be allowed to play in the All-Filipino for Mariwasa during the early years of the league. Big Billy starred in an Alaska commercial with top honcho Wilfred Uytengsu. One of the league leaders in points, rebounds and shotblocks from 1976-79.
Cyrus Mann (6’9″ Crispa) – Led Crispa to the 1976 Grand Slam season. Defensively, one of the best imports to ever play in the PBA. Crispa discovered him in 1975 when he played for the visiting Brazilian squad in an exhibition game.
Glenn McDonald (6’6″ U-Tex) – Who could ever forget McDonald’s exploits on the basketball court? Sank two crucial free throws to send Game 5 of the 1980 Finals into OT after Toyota led by four with 16 seconds left in regulation. U-Tex controlled the game in OT and won the championship 99-98. That performance was reminiscent of his heroic 8-point spurt in the 3rd OT of Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, carrying the Celtics to a 128-126 victory, which paved the way for a 4-2 championship rout. Led U-Tex to two crowns before coaching the team in the 80s. He played three seasons for the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks before coming over here.
Bruce King (6’8″ Toyota) – Nicknamed “Sky”, Bruce King took over the Toyota reins after Byron “Snake” Jones left for U-Tex. The stratospheric King led the Comets to three titles (1977-80). His 72-point output was the highest individual output in a single game by a Toyota player.
Larry McNeil (6’9″ Winston, Gilbey’s Gin) – Once held the all-time highest individual score in a game with 88-point explosion in a 167-163 OT win by his team Winston against Great Taste in 1983. McNeil was one of the most offensive-minded imports of all-time, constantly filling up the boxscores with 50 points or more. He was first import of Gilbey’s Gin.
Jerald Honeycutt (6’8″ Talk N Text) and Lew Massey (6’5″ Gilbey’s Gin) – I was having a hard time selecting between Massey and Honeycutt because both players play nearly identical. Both are wide-bodied (ok fat) big men with a soft touch from mid-range. Honeycutt was a two-time Best Import awardee for Talk N Text while Massey played for Gilbey’s Gin and had games where he was almost unstoppable.
Henry James (6’7″ Ginebra) – James is a gunner without conscience. There were numerous occasions he bailed Ginebra out of trouble with his clutch shooting and incredible resilience. An undrafted rookie out of Saint Mary’s University, the 6’7″ small forward had stints with Cleveland, Sacramento, Utah, the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston and Atlanta. In 1997, while with the Hawks, he hit seven 3-pointers in a quarter, tying a record at the time. He’s regarded as one of the best pure shooters to come out and play in our shores.
Larry Robinson (6’3″ San Miguel, Pepsi) – He’s the first cousin of the legendary Robert Parish. Robinson is an NBA veteran who played for eight different NBA teams (Washington, Golden State, Boston, Houston, Vancouver, Cleveland, Atlanta and New York) from 1990 to 2002. His versatility and experience was very apparent in the way he played the game. He was named Best Import in the 1997 Governor’s cup even though San Miguel finished only third in the tournament. In an interesting swap of imports, he was “traded” by San Miguel to Pepsi for the 6’5″ Terquin Mott in 1999 after playing the previous two seasons with the Beermen.
Francois Wise (6’5″ Manila Beer, Great Taste) – in terms of physique, no one comes close to Wise. Built like a football player, Wise is a true terror inside the paint. In an era, where big men were only as tall as 6’4″-6’5″ and with very slender frame, Wise came to dominate the league and made quite an impression here.
Mike Jones (6’4″ Purefoods) – Former Rutgers’ University star had an auspicious debut with Purefoods, leading the team to the finals in the 1997 Governor’s Cup. He had a great work ethic, always came like a man on a mission. He was doing everything for Purefoods – scoring, rebounding, defending the ball and had an infectious aura and will to win. Sadly, his efforts went for naught as they succumbed to the stronger Alaska Milk squad in five games.
Ennis Whatley (6’0″ San Miguel) – he’s best remembered for leading San Miguel to a grandslam season in 1989. Whatley was a no-nonsense playmaker who carried the team on his back when the going got tough for the Beermen. Whatley was the Kansas City Kings’ first round pick (13th overall) in the 1983 NBA Draft. Whatley was an NBA veteran who play 10 seasons for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Bullets, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers.
Jamie Waller (6’4″ Ginebra) – the Mike Tyson-lookalike is one of the 6’4″ dudes in the paint. He played for crowd darling Ginebra and was naturally one of the team’s most popular imports of all-time. Despite his short stature, Waller makes up for the deficiency with his great rebounding instincts and leaping ability. He seemingly has nose for the ball and offensive rebounding is his specialty. He pulled the rug from under Norman Black and David Thirdkill in 1988, when he won Best Import honors despite Ginebra landing only third. Waller was a former New Jersey Net reserve and won the CBA slam dunk contest in 1987.
David Thirdkill (6’6″ Tanduay, Purefoods) – The Sheriff of Bradley was virtually unstoppable when he first played here for Tanduay, leading the team to the 1987 First Conference, winning Best Import honors. He came back the following year for newcomer Purefoods and almost duplicated the performance. He lost the award to Jamie Waller and was listless in the final two games of the championship game, scoring 18 and 16 points, raising suspicions that he was involved in game-fixing.
Carlos Briggs (6’1″ Anejo) – the red-haired scoring dynamo had several offensive outbursts. He owns the 4th highest scoring output in a single game with 89 points in 1989, and had equally explosive nights like scoring 87, 81, 78, 77, 75, 71 and several others in the high 60s. A pure scorer, Briggs makes his living from outside of the arc, en route to an all-time best 62.1 ppg in a season. He was the Best Import awardee in 1989.
Ken Redfield (6’5″ Pepsi, Shell, Purefoods) – “Mr. Triple-Double” has played virtually all positions (from center to point guard) on the floor. Twice he was named Best Import (1994, 1996). In one conference for Pepsi, he set a record of sorts by pulling off 18 triple-doubles. The ex-Michigan State star was the ultimate team player, one who made people around him better. He led Purefoods to the championship in the 1994 Commissioner’s Cup.
Kenny Travis (6″2″ Purefoods, San Miguel) – Was a disappointment when he first came to the league in 1988. In 1993, he made a grand return to the PBA via San Miguel, powering the team to the Governor’s Cup crown, winning Best Import honors. Made great strides with his physique and shot selection when he joined the Beermen and had been a regular fixture on the team in “short import” tourneys ever since.
Lamont Strothers (6’1″ ) – Nicknamed “The Helicopter” because of his uncanny ability to suspend himself in air and peforming acrobatic shots. He first set foot on local soil in 1996, since then he has established himself as one of the most prolific scorers the league has ever seen. He returned in 1999 with a championship and a Best Import award. He finished his PBA career with over 3,900 points. His retirement ends an era of brilliance in six years and seven conferences as a San Miguel import.
Wes Matthews (6’1″ Ginebra) – In terms of sheer excitement, “Wild wild Wes” ranks up there with the best. He was a blur with the ball, capable of doing 360s in the air and was almost automatic from the three-point area. There were a lot of hail mary shots that Matthews managed to make and it never failed to bring great joy to the Ginebra faithfuls. Matthews was a member of the 1986 and 1987 NBA Champions the Los Angeles Lakers. The Washington Bullets first round pick (14th overall) in the 1980 NBA Draft, he played nine seasons in the NBA with the Bullets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Matthews carried Ginebra to the finals in the 1991 third conference but couldn’t make past Alaska Milk. He was nonetheless adjudged as the Best Import of the tourney.
Michael Young (6’5″ Manila Beer, Great Taste) – At 6’5″ with great outside shooting, Michael Young was one of the best imports to hit town during the late 1980s. The Boston Celtics first round pick (24th overall pick) in the 1984 NBA Draft, Young played in three NBA seasons: 1984-85 (Phoenix Suns), 1985-86 (Philadelphia 76ers), and 1989-90 (Los Angeles Clippers). He formed a solid tandem with Harold Keeling on the Manila Beer frontcourt in the 1986 Open Conference but couldn’t stave off the rampaging Ginebra led by Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett. He was back the following year for the powerhouse Great Taste team but couldn’t led the team to the title.
Honorable Mention: Marques Braggs, Ronnie Grandison, Derrick Canada, Rossel Ellis, Stevin Smith, Russel Murray, Terq Mott, Chris King, Julius Nwosu, Antonio Lang, John Best, Larry Pounds, Joe Binion, Mitchell Wiggins, Ansu Sesay, Damian Owens, Ray Tutt.
Could have been:
Lenny Cooke (6’6″ Purefoods) – The former HS phenom live up to his reputation. He was a virtual one-man wrecking crew for Purefoods – doing all the scoring, rebounding, defending, and playmaking for the team. He entertained cage fans with his great ballhandling ability and explosive first step, often leaving defenders eating dusts in transition. If only he could finish a conference without getting hurt, he would have been a surefire box office star.
Dexter Shouse (6’2″ Purefoods, Shell) – He aptly named the Ultra as the House of Shouse, Dexter “The Molester” gained a reputation in the PBA as a very tough offensive player. He rocked the rim like no other import had. For all his exploits in the PBA hardcourt, he left a bitter taste in the mouth. In 1989, he deserted a Purefoods team when it was were a mere one game away from making a trip to the finals, after receiving an invitation from the Philadelphia 76ers. A season ago, he did the same thing, abandoning a Shell team to attend NBA tryouts. The double infraction necessitated a lifetime ban for the talented guard.
Ronnie Thompkins (6’5″ Swift) – He came here as a virtual unknown but did not waste time to prove he was a special player. A former gymnast, Thompkins played with so much grace on the hardcourt unlike any other imports 6’5″ and taller. His specialty was a twisting shot which defied the impossible. On the other side of the floor, he was intimidating shotblocker who challenged every shot in the lane. He led Swift to the 1993 Commissioner’s Cup crown and in the process, copping the Best Import trophy. He made his way back to the PBA, this time via the Purefoods route. While he was still in his usual dominating self, he couldn’t carry Purefoods on top of the totem pole. The league banned Thompkins and another import Alaska’s Derek Hamilton after failing drug tests.
Walker Russell (6’3″ Presto, Purefoods) – He was the consummate showman, a playmaker par excellance. He played point guard but rebounded like a center. He was a triple-double waiting to happen. First played for Presto in 1989 and led all players in assists and triple-doubles. He returned a year later, this time he played for Purefoods opposite ex-Ginebra import and former Lehigh standout Darren Queenan. Together they were an awesome pair and a delight to watch. Russell, however, was sacked, because his game got bad as season progressed and developed bad antics. Too bad. He was one of the most versatile players to ever play the game here.
Others: Derek Hamilton (6’5″ Pepsi, Alaska) and Willie Bland (6’5″ Alaska), Joe Bunn
Best over 7 feet
7’0″ Earl Barron (Red Bull)
Notes: Well, there weren’t a lot of quality 7-footers in the league
Best under 6 feet
5’10” Tony White (Presto)
5’11” Michael Anderson (Sarsi)
5’11” Steve Smith (Swift)
Note: Big credits to Asia-basket.com, Eurobasket.com, NBA.com, and respective links for the photos. If you have images of imports, or would like to report an inconsistency, email ghmercado at gmail dot com.