Leading up to the opening of the PBA's 45th season on March 8, ESPN5.com writers will take a look at the history of the six oldest franchises in the PBA and name the four players from each who have achieved the most with the franchise; mention their name to any fan and that team immediately comes to mind. This is ESPN5's Mount Rushmore series featuring the top players of all time from San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra, Magnolia, Alaska, TNT, and Rain or Shine.
The franchise that entered the PBA 41 years ago in 1979 as Gilbey's Gin has such a storied history, especially since 1984, the year after the Toyota franchise folded and its bevy of star players were scattered among the other remaining teams.
Ginebra was a direct beneficiary of the Toyota disbandment, as it acquired its most storied character out of it, which began the rise of the Barangay faithful and the team's unprecedented popularity. When you talk of Ginebra's best four players all-time, there are so many from whom to choose and, inevitably, so many to leave out. This one was really tough. Let's get right to it.
Robert "Sonny" Jaworski
He is called the Living Legend, the iconic embodiment of a spirit that began, they say, in 1985, after he was knocked down by a wayward elbow, had to leave for medical attention, but returned with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, and led his team to a come-from-behind victory against what was considered then as the superior squad.
"Jawo" was the undeniable leader of a squad that won the hearts of millions with its rough-and-tumble style of play. His contagious charisma flowed into his teammates, who were also his players, as he was the team's playing coach. The Big J's passion on the floor and sidelines was always apparent and, even if his best days were behind him, he always led by example and by instruction. His passing remained impeccable and his three-point shooting prowess improved as years passed. Most importantly, he had the uncanny ability to bring out the best from his teammates/players and motivated them to fight until the end. He was also the greatest intimidator of his time.
The team won four championships during his tenure. Individually, with Ginebra, he earned three Mythical Team selections (first once, second twice), two Defensive Team honors, and four All-Star selections. He was enshrined in the PBA Hall of Fame in 2005. Jaworksi belongs in the PBA's all-time Mount Rushmore, and not just for Ginebra.
Joaquin "Chito" Loyzaga
He joined Ginebra after two productive seasons with Great Taste, which gave former Toyota fans another reason to cheer for the Gins. Loyzaga was Jaworski's alter ego on the court whenever the playing coach opted to focus more on coaching. He was a do-it-all, two-way player, capable of playing all five positions, and, similar to Jawo, had one of the highest basketball IQs in league history.
Known as one of the greatest defensive players of all time, he was a seven-time member of the All-Defensive Team. As such, he was an important member of the first all-PBA national team formed to play in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games where he stood out as the man who contained North Korea's 7'8 Ri Myung-Hun (Michael Ri) and forced him to foul out in the resounding 98-82 Philippines victory.
Loyzaga's overall brilliance was perfect for Ginebra - he personified the unyielding Gins' one-on-one physical defense and ability to throw 3-point bombs in clutch situations. With his burly frame, he defended against the best locals and imports alike. A three-time champion for the franchise, Chito averaged 9.3 ppg and 4.4 rpg in eleven PBA seasons, seven of them with Ginebra. More than the numbers though, Loyzaga epitomized the Ginebra never-say-die spirit with his all-around play, leadership, resolute defense, and intelligent game.
He transferred to Ginebra in his fourth season, after putting up monster numbers in his first three years in the league with Tanduay. For the next 10 seasons, though his overall scoring and rebounding totals slightly dropped, he would patrol the paint for the never-say-die brigade, with sweeping right and left-handed hook shots, barrel his way to the basket, and muscle himself into position for putbacks and rebounds. He also provided intimidation on defense.
"Major Pain" was undoubtedly the thorn in opponents' sides, an almost immovable force that the team could count on every game. He was the constant, the lunch-pail guy who did the dirty work, took no prisoners, and came out successful. It would be hard to deny that Menk could score on any defender down low, whether a local or an import. With him, Ginebra won four championships and Menk collected three Finals MVPs (one shared with Ronald Tubid), two Best Player of the Conference awards (he already won one with Tanduay), a Mythical First Team selection, several All-Star appearances, and a season MVP in 2005.
Late in his Ginebra stint, as his minutes and numbers dropped, he served as a mentor for younger players, but would provide quality minutes even in crucial situations, still ready and steady, as he had always been. In a franchise with quite a history when it comes to big men, Menk might have been the best of them all.
Still active today, he came into the league in 2001 as the third overall pick, but with many question marks because he had come from the US and for many, was a sight unseen. He was not the biggest player or the most explosive, and still had to prove himself. Well, he surely answered every single question that the PBA community had about him, and then some. Next to Jaworski, Caguioa is undoubtedly the most popular Ginebra player ever, achieving almost god-like status to the team's faithful.
His flamboyant character, with changing hairstyles and hair colors, fashion statements, and no-nonsense answers to interview questions made Mark the Spark an icon to supporters, but perhaps the most-reviled character for everyone else. But, what affected everyone the most, whether for or against him, was his game. He can still shoot from practically anywhere and has an uncanny knack to score the ball in any which way. He has an entertaining quality to his offensive approach, i.e., thrilling yet efficient. Defense was never his strong suit, but he competes hard enough on that end as well. He is, again like Jaworksi, one of the best rebounding guards in PBA history.
He has played his entire career with this team -- a rare feat. In that time, Ginebra has won eight championships. Caguioa was named Rookie of the Year and has garnered countless All-Star appearances, five Mythical Team selections (first thrice, second twice), three Best Player of the Conference plaques, and an MVP trophy in 2012. He was among the top scorers in the league for several seasons. When he decides to call it quits, number 47 will probably never be worn again by a Ginebra player. Nobody has played for this franchise longer than Caguioa, and probably, no one else ever will.
There are many unforgettable players in Ginebra's history. Fans have their favourites aside from the four on the Mount, but we had to narrow it down. Amidst all the great names in the never-say-die family, after studying numbers and intangibles, the players that made the biggest impact but just did not crack the top four are a trio of guards: Bal David, Jayjay Helterbrand, and LA Tenorio.
David is a Ginebra fan favourite and legendary clutch performer who won the team several games at the buzzer in spectacular and unforgettable fashion. Helterbrand ran in tandem with Caguioa and also won a league MVP while playing his entire career with this franchise. Tenorio is the current heart and soul and floor general of the squad, who has been named Finals MVP twice with Ginebra in four recent championship runs. He may crack the top four eventually, but is still carving his position in Ginebra history at this time.