Editor's note: This was originally published on January 14, 2019.
After June Mar Fajardo won his sixth straight MVP award at the start of the year, many were already considering him to be the greatest player to ever play in the PBA. But a lot of fans and pundits who witnessed Ramon Fernandez play would beg to differ.
So who is the true Greatest of All-Time (GOAT) of the PBA? ESPN5.com's Chuck Araneta and Charlie Cuna make their cases.
The case for June Mar Fajardo
To some historians of the game, and connoisseurs of the PBA, labeling June Mar Fajardo the GOAT might seem like blasphemy.
He hasn't even played in the league for a decade. There are different rules now. He's bigger than everyone else. He plays on a team with a star-studded supporting cast.
And while those might be valid reasons not to bestow the title to him, it's also missing out on what makes Fajardo the greatest of all-time in the PBA.
In the history of the Association, there are players who can shoot better than June Mar. There are specialists who can rebound with ferocity like the Kraken. And there are savvy scorers who can work in the post better than Fajardo. Heck, because of Bonel Balingit and EJ Feihl, there are men who are even bigger than June Mar.
But there is no one in the 45 years of the PBA that has come close to putting all that together to make one unstoppable package. Fajardo can overpower everybody with his size, but he's just as adept at going around bigs with a quick spin and hook, or even an unguardable fadeaway jumper. He gobbles up rebounds to complete defensive sequences. And in the past few years, he has also become a much better defender, able to anchor the middle and read the opponent's offense to know where to be at all times.
There has never been a player so dominant and physically overwhelming as Fajardo. His impact on the game is unprecedented. Others may have won more games, trophies or titles, but on a possession by possession basis, Fajardo is without peer.
Not that Fajardo doesn't have the hardware. Beyond the unprecedented six straight MVPs, Fajardo is already an eight-time champion, a three-time Finals MVP, an eight-time Best Player of the Conference awardee, and the list goes on. Just google it. We're going to run out of space.
If you see someone's resume and he boasts of these kinds of accolades, you'd be impressed because of the accomplishments achieved in such a stellar career. But that's not the case for June Mar. What makes him the best of all time is that all those accomplishments have come in eight seasons so far in the PBA. Aside from his recent shin injury and the freak injury during his rookie year that no one should ever Google, Fajardo has been more durable than anyone who has had to play the number of minutes he has, and shoulder the load he's had to bear.
We're comparing Fajardo to legends like Ramon Fernandez, Sonny Jaworski and Alvin Patrimonio for Greatest of All-Time. We're singing of their accomplishments, and waving them all to see. They've had incredible bodies of work that will stand the test of time.
But their books have been written already. There's a compelling argument that Fajardo's story hasn't even reached the climax yet. He's won championships, MVPs and BPCs left and right, but his legend continues to grow, and his greatness continues to overwhelm any case against him.
The great Ramon Fernandez has been the unofficial GOAT for the longest time in the PBA. A total 19 titles, a near triple-double season average in 1984, and being the PBA's all time leader in scoring, rebounding and blocks will get you that title.
There's no doubting Fernandez's greatness, in a career that saw him as one of the pioneers of the PBA when it opened shop in 1975 and still an All-Star in 1994. His sustained excellence is unmatched, and will stand the test of time.
Those are all milestones and numbers that have prevented us for so long to find someone that could match or even exceed Fernandez's achievements.
But we've found him in Fajardo, who is building a legacy that is already exceeding the greatest players in PBA history.
That's why he's the GOAT. -- Chuck Araneta
The case for Ramon Fernandez
Is June Mar Fajardo the most dominant PBA player ever? Over the course of his relatively short pro career so far, the only answer is, "Yes!" He has made 20-20 games routine, has consistently led his team deep into the playoffs, and has won his sixth straight MVP trophy, a PBA record. With a combination of size, strength, and skill never before seen at the center position, Fajardo is surely the most unstoppable force of his time. But, is he the best the PBA has ever had?
Some say the number of MVP awards he has won clinches the argument in June Mar's favor. I say that that would be oversimplifying the matter. I believe proclaiming him the best-ever PBA player, despite the six straight MVPs, would still be premature at this point.
There have been many greats in the 45 years of the PBA, among them multi-MVP trophy winners such as Ramon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio (four each), and Bogs Adornado (three). Surely, there are arguments in favor of each, and others, as the league's best-ever, but none are stronger than in the case of Fernandez, who won four his MVP awards with four different teams.
Acknowledged by most (including fellow PBA greats) as hands-down the best ever until Fajardo's recent MVP run made the affable Cebuano giant part of the conversation, Fernandez played for 20 seasons and was practically unguardable up until the end. The overall skill set of Don Ramon, El Presidente, the Money Man, Mr. Elegant Shot, The Franchise, The Best in the Land (on nicknames alone, he is second to none) set him apart from everybody else. He was listed as a center, but played every position (yes, including point guard - I saw it myself at the ULTRA, when he was with Tanduay!) and was effective, if not equally deadly, in all five. He could hit from anywhere inside the three-point arc in myriad ways - turn-around jumpers, up-and-unders, reverses, hooks using the left or right, spin moves, and the famous Elegant Shot that all big men then emulated and tried to imitate. He ended his career as the league-leader in practically every major category (Look it up!).
Amidst the greatness year in and year out, Fernandez had the season of seasons in 1984, where his year-end statistics accentuated the versatility and all-around brilliance and court smarts only he could exhibit. At the age of 31, in 64 games where he averaged about 41 minutes, he produced 27.8 points, 11.17 rebounds, and 9.92 assists per game - the closest to a triple-double average for a season. He was just six assists shy of that achievement. He shot 52 percent from the field and 81 percent from the line that year. He added more than one and a half steals and more than two blocks a game, too.
Note that Fernandez won his four MVPs in a period of seven years, 1982-1988, every two years within such span, with, as earlier stated, four different teams - Toyota ('82), Beer Hausen ('84), Tanduay ('86), and San Miguel ('88). Regardless of whom his teammates were, he came to play every day, putting up outstanding numbers whether he had a mediocre supporting cast or some of the best around him, and whether he had to carry much of the load or step back to blend in with all the other talent. He could and would adjust his game accordingly.
He was constantly winning championships (19 total) of which he was a big part, including a ride with the 1989 San Miguel Grand Slam squad. Aside from his MVP awards, his individual trophy room is overflowing with 13 Mythical First Team selections (the last in 1992, just a couple of years before he retired) and three Mythical Second Team inclusions. He was also a six-time All-Star, which may not seem like much, but since All-Star Games were only held beginning 1989, he was one in all the last six years of his career and probably would have been one in his first 14, too.
Don Ramon played in 1,071 games in the PBA. Fajardo has played in less than 400. While the dominance of the six-time MVP these past six seasons is unquestionable, is he the best PBA player ever? Not yet. Maybe soon, but, not yet. -- Charlie Cuna