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.
As the only remaining franchise out of the nine that started in the PBA in 1975, the San Miguel Beermen boast of the richest history in the league. They have earned an unmatched record of 27 championships, including nine from all-Filipino conferences. Not only was this a product of the franchise's longevity, it was also a result of having the some of the most legendary players in the history of Philippine basketball.
Through 44 seasons in the PBA, the SMB franchise remains inevitable. It continues to add chapters to its history, winning championship after championship, season after season. Again, largely because of the standard of talent that the team upholds.
Putting together the top four players of the SMB franchise felt impossible. There were just so many legends. But here we are, presenting the Mount Rushmore of the San Miguel franchise.
June Mar Fajardo
Five MVP awards. Five straight years.
Eight PBA championships. In only seven seasons in the league.
Eight-time Best Player of the Conference and 3-time Finals MVP.
Those are just excerpts from his incredible resume.
June Mar Fajardo is without a doubt the easiest player to include in SMB's fab four. Whether it's about timing or talent, The Kraken is the most dominant local player the PBA has ever seen. He's been at the core of the Beermen's supremacy over the last few years as opponents have been scrambling for ways to match up with the big man.
In Fajardo's earlier years in the PBA, many had already predicted him winning multiple MVP awards. They said only an injury would slow him down. Unfortunately, June Mar did recently incur a fractured tibia that will force him off the court for a significant time. The Beermen certainly hope that when Fajardo comes back, he can return to his dominant form.
In 1998, San Miguel was in the middle of one of the longer title droughts in the history of the franchise. They had not won a championship since the 1994 All-Filipino Cup. They knew they had to make a move so they traded their second overall pick, Noy Castillo, plus cash to Formula Shell in exchange for the first overall pick, Danny Ildefonso.
San Miguel found what they were looking for - a player that could bring them back to their glory days. They pinned their hopes on the 6-foot-5 rookie and made him the centerpiece of the team. Winning did not happen immediately though. While Ildefonso was named Rookie of the Year for helping San Miguel to two Finals appearances, they came up short both times against Alaska.
In his sophomore year though, Danny I powered the Beermen to championships in the Commissioner's Cup and the Governors' Cup. In his third season, he led them in defending both titles. Ildefonso spent 15 years with the San Miguel franchise, winning a total of eight titles on top of being named MVP in 2000 and 2001.
It was a beautiful romance between Ildefonso and SMB and few could have predicted its ending. In 2013, when the PBA released rosters prior to the start of the season, Danny I's name was not under the Beermen's roster. Not long after, the two-time MVP inked a deal with the Meralco Bolts.
In spite of that ending, the contributions of Danny Ildefonso to the San Miguel Beermen remain immeasurable. He even mentored Fajardo before his departure in 2013.
After a couple of big men, we move on to a guard.
Samboy Lim was a 6-foot-1 shooting guard, but his game was built different from guys his size and his position. He was famous for his daredevil drives and gravity-defying moves, rightfully earning the moniker "The Skywalker".
More than bringing excitement, Lim also brought wins to San Miguel. He is a nine-time PBA champion and was part of SMB's 1989 Grand Slam team. He was also a five-time All Star and was even named the 1990 All Star MVP after scoring 42 points in the exhibition game.
Lim's playing style came at a price though. His nine-year PBA career, spent entirely with the Beermen, was injury-plagued. But whenever he was healthy and ready to play, he always made big contributions to his team. In 1988, he led San Miguel to the Third Conference title and was named Finals MVP.
Even when he was still playing, fans already pondered on how much more he would have achieved and how many more titles and awards he would have won if Samboy's career was not hampered by injuries. But through those roadblocks, Lim still played his way onto the list of the best San Miguel Beermen of all time and into the PBA's 40 Greatest Players.
It was 1999 and San Miguel was all-in in making sophomore center Danny Ildefonso the centerpiece of the franchise. With the PBA allowing every team to acquire one Filipino-Foreigner as a direct hire, San Miguel used theirs to sign another Danny - Danny Seigle, brother of Andy Seigle who was with the Mobiline Phone Pals at the time.
Little was known about the younger Seigle before coming into the league, but reports of him being a 6-foot-7 small forward was enough to create some buzz. It didn't take long before Danny S introduced himself gallantly in the PBA.
In his first year, he instantly became a pivotal piece in the Beermen's championships runs in the Commissioner's and Governors' Cups. He was named Finals MVP in both series. With little competition, Seigle was also hailed Rookie of the Year.
The success that San Miguel had in Seigle's first year was only a taste of what he would eventually help the Beermen achieve. The team won seven titles with Seigle before he was traded to Air21 Express in 2011.
From people barely knowing anything about him, Danny Seigle became one of the most recognizable names in the PBA after winning four Finals MVPs, two Best Player of the Conference awards, eight All-Star appearances and three Mythical First Team selections.
Allan Caidic, Ato Agustin, Ramon Fernandez, Hector Calma, Manny Paner, Olsen Racela.
San Miguel has had so many legends play for the franchise that you can come up with toughest cuts for the toughest cuts list. If Mount Rushmore had enough space for a dozen heads, the SMB franchise would easily fill it up. But there are only four slots and cuts needed to be made.
Paner was one of the first main men of the franchise. Caidic is undoubtedly one of the best shooters the country has ever had. Agustin and Racela orchestrated the Beermen to multiple championships. Fernandez is unanimously one of the best Filipinos to ever lace them up. Many other Beermen greats have their own cases and arguments as to why they should land on the magic mountain. That's San Miguel for you, a celebrated franchise that has been graced by some of the most legendary players in Philippine basketball.