Since its inception, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has seen a lot of amazing imports who have contributed a lot to its success. With the league's 45th anniversary nearing, ESPN5.com writers decided to identify 45 talented imports who have left indelible marks on Filipino hoop fans.
When the PBA first opened in 1975, fans flocked to the venues not only to see the likes of William "Bogs" Adornado, Robert Jaworski and Atoy Co in action, but also the reinforcements each of the member teams brought in to help them compete for the titles.
During the inaugural conference of the PBA, three teams opted to field in American "imports" to help beef-up their rosters while the six other member teams chose to play with an all local line-up.
Noritake's 6'6" Cisco Oliver was the first to see action right on opening day when the Porcelain Makers edged the hard-fighting all-Filipino crew of the Carrier Weather Makers, 101-98. The Toyota Comets paraded Byron "Snake" Jones of the University of San Francisco, while Charlie Walker suited up for the U/Tex Weavers. In the second conference, all teams brought in reinforcements, but Jones and the Comets still emerged victorious.
Since then, it was apparent that imports not only brought a growing number of curious fans to the games, but also served as a conduit in the transfer of western basketball technology first hand to the local players by virtue of their playing style and different training methods.
Here are five memorable and impactful PBA imports in the 1970s, in no particular order.
Israel "Cisco" Oliver (1975-1978)
A burly, undersized center, Oliver had the knack of posting up and using his heft to get easy points in the paint, while also having decent free throw shooting. This product of the Elizabeth City State University was a 10th round selection by the Detroit Pistons in the 1970 NBA Draft but went unsigned so he sought his fortune abroad and ended up being among the pioneer PBA reinforcements.
Oliver averaged 34.1 PPG in his four seasons servicing Noritake, Presto, Honda and finally with Great Taste in 1978. But what endeared him to the fans was his outgoing nature and desire to always be with the Filipino fans. Oliver had a bright smile and was so amiable that the Alaska Milk Company had him do a series of commercials to endorse their products. Alaska would not join the PBA ranks until years later, but already saw the marketing potential of PBA players and had ads with Oliver playing one-on-one with Wilfred Uytengsu, Sr.'s son Michael and later on even losing in a tennis match with the boy to show his human side.
Oliver also had some cameo appearances in a few films during his stay in the Philippines.
Bryon "Snake" Jones (1975-1981)
After failed attempts to land a roster spot in the NBA, this 6'8" versatile forward wound up at the doorstep of Toyota in 1975 and promptly helped his PBA squad capture the crown in the first two PBA conferences.
Because he was so versatile, Jones turned out to be a hole-plugger in the Comets' system as most of the firepower fell on the hands of Jaworski, spitfire guard Francis Arnaiz and prolific big man Ramon Fernandez. His 16.8 PPG was hardly an impressive mark, but because of the cohesion he instilled with Toyota, the squad was practically unbeatable, even to its arch nemesis the Crispa Redmanizers.
Jones' true scoring prowess came when he transferred to the Wranglers, a team which needed an offensive boost, as his scoring numbers jumped to 28.0 PPG. He won his then unprecedented third championship along former Boston Celtic Glen McDonald in the 1978 First Conference.
With a style akin to a blend of Moses Malone and George Gervin, Jones would eventually wind up with Crispa in 1980 and have his swansong in 1981.
Glenn McDonald (1978-1980)
Before coming over to Philippine shores, McDonald was most remembered for his heroics in the 1976 NBA Finals where the Boston Celtics outlasted the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime. The Long Beach State swingman, however, was released by the organization the following season and in 1978 he got signed by U/Tex and immediately helped the franchise cop its first ever title alongside Jones.
The 6'6" McDonald went on to play three seasons with the Wranglers, averaging 30.0 PPG and won another title in 1980, this time partnering up with youngster Aaron James. McDonald later "retired" as a player to became U/Tex's head coach when erstwhile mentor Tommy Manotoc moved to Crispa.
He attempted a comeback in 1983, but lasted only 2 games with the expansion franchise Sunkist.
But during his prime with the Wranglers (he was only 26 when he entered the PBA), McDonald froze defenses with his quick moves to the hoop and his uncanny ability to hit accurate mid-range jumpers. He was also an underrated defender who would be assigned to guard the craftiest opposing locals.
Cyrus Mann (1976-1979)
This agile 6'11" behemoth helped Crispa become one of the most dominating teams in the 70s, helping the Redmanizers win two of the three trophies necessary to achieve the first ever PBA Grand Slam in 1976. As if that wasn't enough, this shot-blocking and rim-rattling expert was the centrepiece which aided the team to the defense of its Second Conference title (now named the Open Conference) by dispatching U/Tex in the Finals.
Mann entered the PBA as a fresh 20-year-old upstart out of Illinois State and was among the last players cut by the Celtics in 1975.
Although averaging only 16.5 PPG in his 32-game stint with the Redmanizers in 1976, Mann's inside presence drove offenses bonkers as they just couldn't score over him. Even imports close to his size had difficulties in the interior because Mann knew how to be a defensive presence without committing many fouls. Broadcaster Dick Ildefonso actually once referred to Mann as a "Mann-child" because he was so young and had all this energy, but at the same time played so ahead of his years that has was truly the "man" in the middle for Crispa.
Bruce "Sky" King (1977-1980)
Nicknamed "Sky" after a deadly hook shot patterned after that of then Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, King an uprising for Toyota after archrival Crispa had now attained the league's "favorite" tag.
King had to be more prolific with the Tamaraws and once even came within a bucket of tying the league-record set by Carl Bird in 1976, but had to settle for 73 points.
During the 1977 PBA Invitational Conference, King led the way for Toyota which claimed its first PBA championship after six fruitless efforts since winning the first two conferences of the inaugural season. In all, this University of Texas alum won three titles with Toyota and his eventual partnership with defensive specialist Andrew Fields allowed him to become one of the most renowned scorers in PBA history, doing it with unabashed emotions and a killer's instinct that could only be quelled by his "mentor" on the team, none other than Jaworski himself.
The 6'8" tour de force also holds the distinction of being the only PBA player in history to wear three digits on his jersey for a regular season when he was allowed to don number 111 in the 1979 Open Conference as rookie Arnie Tuadles selected the number 11 jersey (King's usual number of choice) in the previous All-Filipino Conference.
King passed away in 2010 after suffering a heart attack while working out. He was inducted into the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in February of this year.