The San Miguel Beermen accomplished something that has never been done in the PBA by winning four-straight Philippine Cup titles. The starting unit is one of the best the country has ever seen. Headlined by four-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo with former MVP Arwind Santos, Finals MVPs Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, and arguably the league's best shooting guard in Marcio Lassiter, this edition of the Beermen may be one of, if not the best team, ever assembled.
ESPN5 asked some coaches of former Philippine Cup champions to compare the rosters they fielded to coach Leo Austria's personnel, and possible tactics they would use to defeat the Beermen.
This time we caught up with coach Norman Black who led the San Miguel Beermen to four straight championships from 1988 to 1989, winning a Grand Slam in the process.
As one of only five Grand Slam teams in PBA history, the 1989 SMB team will always be in the discussions about the best team ever formed. Anchored by Ramon Fernandez who was already a four-time PBA Most Valuable Player before the season started, the Beermen had a deep rotation.
The strength of the squad was that the offense was generated by everyone, which meant the defense was always guessing where the ball would go.
The Beermen were the most consistent team in the league back then. In the 1988 season, they won the Open and Reinforced Conferences. They failed to make it to the finals of the All-Filipino Cup as they lost by two points to Anejo in a one-game playoff for the right to take on Purefoods.
However, in 1989, they dominated. Playing without Ricardo Brown in the first two conferences, the Beermen marched their way to two titles including the All-Filipino Cup, which they won 4-2 against Purefoods. They completed the Grand Slam and became the first team outside of Crispa to win this honor.
With many of the Beermen already playing together for the Northern Cement squad coach by the legendary Ron Jacobs, their chemistry was second to none.
Here are coach Black's thoughts about his players back then and how they match up with the current version of the Beermen.
Ramon Fernandez vs. June Mar Fajardo
"Of course, we will have problems with June Mar's size but Ramon Fernandez is also a four-time MVP for a reason (Fernandez was a Mythical First Team member in 1989 but lost MVP honors to Benjie Paras, who was also the Rookie of the Year). He brought so many things to the game. SMB fans now will say that June Mar is the best player ever but fans of SMB back then will disagree with them. It's a different era with a different set of rules and both of them are once-in-a-generation type of players who changed the landscape of the league.
"Ramon Fernandez led the league in everything. At some point in his career, he led the league in scoring, rebounding, assists, and blocked shots.
"He's a legit 6-foot-5 center who played like a guard. He could rebound, push the ball, and finish it. He was versatile and he was also strong. The one thing I respected about Mon was that he worked hard in practice. He worked on his game and that's why he was so good."
Alvin Teng vs. Arwind Santos
"Alvin Teng was a great defender. His defense was important for us especially with the way basketball was played back then. We needed a post defender to be successful and that was what Alvin gave us.
"He was consistently on the All-Defensive Team (from 1989 to 1994 -- only Jerry Codinera, Glenn Capacio, Chito Loyzaga, Marc Pingris, Chris Jackson, and Santos have more).
"And while Arwind is a PBA MVP, Alvin was also part of many (Second) Mythical Teams during his time."
Elmer Reyes vs. Marcio Lassiter
"Elmer Reyes was a good scorer in his own right. He had his best year with with us during the Grand Slam (Second Mythical Team member)."
Samboy Lim vs. Chris Ross
"The Skywalker. He was fearless. One of the most athletic guys to ever play in the league. Outside of Sonny Jaworksi he was the most popular player in the league back then because he was so explosive. He can dunk on anyone."
Hector Calma vs. Alex Cabagnot
"The Director. One of the best point guards to ever play the game. The thing I love about Hector was his toughness. He was the quietest guy on the team but when he told you to do it, you better do it. If not, he'll be in your face because he demanded the best from everyone in the team.
"He was always efficient with his scoring. He was shooting 50-60% from the field. He didn't take a lot of shots because he was a great playmaker but he made the ones that he took."
"We were stacked. After Samboy and Hector we still had Franz Pumaren and Ato Agustin, who was a rookie then. We also had Yves Dignadice coming off the bench. Of course, I'll pick my SMB team to win. Coach Leo (Austria) has done a great job with his team now and there are many similarities between the two teams but I'm picking my team to win.
"The question is not if we could match up with them but if they could match up with us."