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.
The 1980s were probably the heyday of PBA imports as far as credentials were concerned. There were former NBA players who came in frequently, and a great number of the foreign recruits were US NCAA Division I performers, including All-Americans and NBA first-round draft picks. Surely, most fans have their own memorable imports, especially ones who played on teams they supported, but here is a list of 10 imports from that decade, who should be memorable to any PBA fan, regardless of affiliation.
Francois Wise (U/Tex, Tanduay, Manila Beer, Hills Bros)
Playing Years: 1981-1987
A product of Long Beach State, Wise was a 4th round draft pick of the Washington Bullets in the 1980 NBA Draft. Built like a halfback, Wise was actually one of the smoothest interior gladiators with dazzling pivot and pump fake moves that drew several "and one" plays. The late broadcaster Joe Cantada described Francois Wise as a Sherman Tank, the most commonly-used battle tank of the United States in WW2. There were even rumors that the LA Rams of the NFL were recruiting him. This was not surprising as Wise, all 220 lbs of him in a 6'4 frame, was a bruiser inside the court, scoring at will using his massive frame and brute strength to get his way inside.
Wise, recently-retired from the LAPD, led the Manila Beer Brewmasters to the 1985 Reinforced Conference Finals, only to lose out to guest national team Northern Cement in a series sweep. Wise may not have won a PBA title, but he was so good that four franchises - U/Tex, Tanduay (with whom he scored his PBA career-high of 79 points), Manila Beer and Hills Bros - tapped him to be their import from 1981 to 1987. There's no denying Wise, whose son, Eric, played for Barako Bull in the 2014 Governors' Cup, of his hallowed place as one of the most memorable and highly-recruited imports of all time.
Norman Black (Tefilin, Magnolia/San Miguel, Great Taste, Alaska, Pop Cola)
Playing Years: 1980-1998
"That Old Black Magic" is a shoo-in in any list of the PBA greatest imports is a given. Perhaps the most familiar PBA import in the league's history, the 6'5 product of Saint Joseph's College in Pennsylvania had a short-lived, three-game NBA stint with the Detroit Pistons, despite being undrafted in 1979. When he entered the PBA in 1981, he was an absolute beast on the floor, averaging 51 points per game in his maiden conference with the Tefilin Polyesters in 1981, before taking his act to San Miguel Beer and leading the franchise to its second PBA title in the 1982 Invitationals. He is regarded as one of the most hardworking imports of all time. A picture of efficiency, Black averaged a double-double in scoring and rebounding in his unmatched (for an import) 17-year PBA career.
The two-time Best Import awardee and the first player in league history to cop the Mr. 100% award in 1983, Black was recruited by Great Taste in the 1983 season, leading the Coffeemakers to two runner-up finishes against the Grand-Slamming Crispa Redmanizers, part of a formidable "3Bs" troika with three-time MVP Bogs Adornado and sensational rookie Ricardo Brown. Black was able to stretch his career by learning to adjust quickly to the brand of play that the PBA offered. It was not surprising to see Black succeed as a coach (he started out as a playing coach), winning 11 titles for three different teams, including a Grand Slam with San Miguel and five straight UAAP titles with the Ateneo Blue Eagles. To date, Black remains as the gold standard among imports when it comes to skill, talent, smarts, and attitude.
Lawrence "Lew" Massey (Presto, Gilbey's Gin)
Playing Years: 1981-1983
An alum of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Massey was a second-round draftee of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1978 NBA Draft but failed to suit up. He took his act to the Continental Basketball Association before finding his way to the PBA. Fans wondered how a massive, un-athletic, 215 lb, 6'5 mastodon like Lawrence Massey could glide his way around the court and score at will. One of the most prolific players in league history, "Sweet Lew" scored from practically everywhere, whether inside by posting up or facing the basket, or from the perimeter and even beyond the three-point line. Massey was almost unstoppable such that no defender, local or foreign, could stop him from scoring.
He joined the Presto Fun Drinks in the 1981 Reinforced Conference, curiously, as Coach Jimmy Mariano's second choice, the first one being Norman Black. He was then hired by Coach Turing Valenzona to suit up for Gilbey's Gin in the Reinforced and Open Conferences the succeeding season, during which time he beat the six-year old scoring record of 75 points by Harry Rogers, as he came up with a sizzling 85-point performance against the Crispa Redmanizers. Playing alongside another prolific import in Larry McNeil in the Open Conference, the duo towed the overachieving Gins to their first Finals stint, losing out to the Toyota Super Corollas. He came back a year after to tow the Gimlets to a Final Four appearance in the Reinforced Conference. Massey passed away in 2014.
Billy Ray Bates (Crispa, Ginebra San Miguel)
Playing Years: 1983-1988
A third round pick of the Houston Rockets in the 1978 NBA Draft, Bates took the NBA by storm by averaging 25 and 28.3 points per game as a reliever in the 1980 and 1981 NBA playoffs, respectively. Off-court problems kept him away from the NBA, but enabled him to end up in the PBA. Possibly no other import in league history had the same talent, skill, all-around play, and athleticism that Bates possessed. The product of Kentucky State set the bar so high that other teams frantically searched for imports who could compete with Bates. Still regarded by many as the greatest import to don a PBA uniform, when Crispa secured his services for the 1983 Reinforced Conference, he became an instant superstar. In his very first game, he scored 64 points and hauled down 20 boards in a tight 120-119 victory against the Norman Black-led Great Taste Coffeemakers. He became an overnight hero and sensation, and became an endorser for several consumer products, including Grosby shoes, which released a signature shoe under his name.
The Black Superman's high-flying acts catapulted the Redmanizers to their second Grand Slam in 1983 despite, by Coach Tommy Manotoc's description, Bates utilizing only 70% of his talent. In 1986, his erstwhile rival at Toyota, Sonny Jaworski, then coaching Ginebra San Miguel, recruited and paired him with Michael Hackett, and, together, they snared the Open Conference title. He returned in 1987 and 1988, but was merely a shadow of his old self brought about by his nocturnal sprees and alleged drug habits. Though he failed to carry the team to another championship, no one can dispute that Bates is included in the GOAT discussion among all PBA imports. He was certainly one of the most celebrated and memorable ever.
Andrew Fields (Toyota)
Playing Years: 1979-1983
Drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in the second round of the 1979 NBA Draft, Fields failed to earn a roster spot with the Blazers and later took his act in the PBA that year. The pride of the 1978 NCAA Division II champions, Cheyney State in Pennsylvania, where he won playoff MVP honors, Fields' determination and drive to continuously improve his craft made him an easy fan favorite and worthy of every opponent's utmost respect. His skill set and playing style remain relevant and would make him an intimidating force even in today's game. To date, Fields is generally regarded as one of the greatest fellow import defenders of all time, and he was the first-ever recipient of the PBA Best Import Award in the 1981 Open Conference.
When he played for Toyota the first time in 1979 alongside Bruce "Sky" King, Fields was a mere backup for the sweet-shooting resident import of the Tamaraws. Barely 21 years old then, Fields slowly grew out of the shadows of his more illustrious import teammate and became the next resident import of the franchise, playing until Toyota's last season in 1983. The 6'8 center-forward was the perfect reinforcement for the Silverio-owned team, essaying his role as the last line of Toyota's interior defense and the catalyst of the team's fabled fastbreak plays, with his unparalleled court-to-court "baseball" pitches to his favorite recipients - Francis Arnaiz, Arnie Tuadles, and Sonny Jaworski. Toyota won three championships with Fields as one of its reinforcements.
Rob Williams (Tanduay)
Playing Year: 1986
A former Houston Cougar of Phi Slama Jama fame, Williams was a first round draft pick of the Denver Nuggets (19th overall in 1982), but due to poor conditioning, he did not last long under Coach Doug Moe's system. He had incredible talent though. With long arms and outstanding ball-handling skills (he would bring the ball up while dribbling it behind him the entire time), his NBA pedigree shined brightly when he played In the PBA. He loved to entertain the crowd and would put on dribbling displays and run inside-out as he befuddled his defenders. He made his teammates better with pinpoint passes and he would exuberantly celebrate after every successful play.
A pure point guard with a knack for knocking down the long ball (he had at least 10 3-pointers in a game a couple of times) and slashing his way to the hoop, he found himself on the Tanduay Rhum Makers lineup in the 1986 Reinforced Conference, teaming up with less-heralded Andre McKoy. Together with a powerful local crew led by season MVP Ramon Fernandez and fellow mythical team member Freddie Hubalde, Williams spearheaded Tanduay's first championship run. He was named the conference's Best Import. Coach Turo Valenzona recalled Williams for duty in the third conference, the Open, but Tanduay could not find him a suitable big import partner, as former college teammate Benny "The Outlaw" Anders and replacement Andy Thompson, Klay's uncle, could not make the grade. As such, the team succumbed to eventual runner-up Manila Beer, led by Michael Young, in the semis. Williams passed away from heart failure in 2014.
Michael Hackett (Ginebra San Miguel)
Playing Years: 1985-1987
Drafted in the third round of the 1982 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, Hackett never made it onto an NBA roster. The former Jacksonville Dolphin was undersized for his playing style - he was a 6'5 bruiser who liked to post up and hit shots in the paint. Burly and bull-strong, he first played in South America and in Israel before landing in the Philippines, and Filipino fans will never forget Hackett's exploits during his stints in the PBA. He asserted himself from the get-go, bullying opponents to get easy, high-percentage shots inside, some of which he would just seem to throw up from any angle, even while off-balance, but he would still make them.
Appearing first for Ginebra San Miguel in 1985, "The Mighty Bucket" showed everyone how he could pile up points without stepping out past eight or ten feet from the basket. He earned a Best Import award and, in the process, scored a then league-record 103 points in a game (later broken by the legendary Tony "Hurricane" Harris, who had 105, in 1992). Hackett was also a tenacious rebounder, and he still holds the import record of 45 in one game. In the 1986 Open Conference, Hackett formed a perfect import combination with Billy Ray Bates to lead Ginebra to the crown. He took care of the interior, while Bates handled everywhere else. Some said Hackett resembled heavyweight prizefighter Joe Louis. Undoubtedly, Hackett packed a punch and gave opponents fits.
Michael Young (Manila Beer, Great Taste Coffee)
Playing Years: 1986-1987
Young was a first-round NBA draftee (24th overall, 1984, Boston Celtics), but he never played for the team that drafted him. He had short stints with the Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers, and the LA Clippers in his fifteen-year pro career. Young graduated from the University of Houston, where he was part of the Phi Slama Jama fraternity and teammates with three other PBA imports (Rob Williams, Benny Anders, and Alvin Franklin), and NBA legends Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. A lefty, Young had a strong upper body, and he could hit outside shots and go strong to the basket as well. A clutch player who had unlimited shooting range, he towed his teams as far as he could take them, and he was unafraid to carry the load on those broad shoulders.
In the 1986 Open Conference, he and import partner Harold Keeling brought upstart Manila Beer all the way to the finals. Young had hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, top of the key, to oust Grand-Slam seeking Tanduay. Alas, the Brewmasters fell short against Bates-Hackett-led Ginebra in the Finals. Young won Best Import honors in that tournament. In 1987, the PBA started with the Open Conference, and Young returned, but this time with the Great Taste Coffee Makers. Again, he led his team to the Finals, but unfortunately for Young, his team faced Tanduay and David Thirdkill (the last time two NBA first-rounders faced off in a PBA Finals, until Terrence Jones and Chris McCullough faced each other in the 2019 Commissioner's Cup Finals), and his team fell yet again. He will always be remembered for his inside-out playing style and his scoring ability.
David Thirdkill (Tanduay, Purefoods)
Playing Years: 1987-1988
A Brave from Bradley University drafted as the fifteenth overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft, Thirdkill played on five NBA squads during his playing career, including a season with the 1986 NBA Champion Boston Celtics, for which he has a championship ring. While his NBA career did not blossom, his two stints in the PBA were surely memorable ones. He was known for his defensive skills (hence his nickname, "The Sheriff"), but his scoring skill was showcased as he exhibited an impeccable short and mid-range game, hardly missing with deadly jumpers, whether facing or turning around. His quickness, for his size, was also an advantage, as he would blow by defenders for slam dunks and lay-ups with either hand.
In the 1987 Open Conference, The Sheriff led Tanduay to the crown it had missed the season before, in some sort of a Grand Slam (as Tanduay had won the Reinforced and All-Filipino Conferences in 1986), giving the franchise one trophy for each yearly conference before it exited from the PBA. His stellar play resulted in his being named Best Import of the Conference. The Purefoods franchise entered the PBA in 1988, and it absorbed most of the key players from disbanded Tanduay. Purefoods brought back Thirdkill as its reinforcement in the Open Conference. He was his usual productive self all conference long and led the fledgling team to an immediate Finals berth. However, in a controversial series against San Miguel, his performance dipped considerably, and San Miguel went on to win the series in seven games. Thirdkill's image had been tarnished and he never returned to the PBA, but he surely left a lasting imprint.
Carlos Briggs (Añejo Rum 65)
Playing Year: 1989
The former Baylor Bear never played in the NBA despite being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth round of the 1986 NBA Draft. A scoring standout at the Junior College level, he averaged 20 points per game at Baylor. He had long range before long-range became an in-thing. He could pretty much heave from anywhere on the floor and find success. His game did not have much flash, but the rate at which he could put points on the board was staggering. The few times he dunked would send the crowd into a frenzy, as he normally would be content with just pulling up from anywhere and letting it fly. Flamboyant and energetic, he enjoyed the response he got from PBA fans as his point-total climbed higher and higher each game.
He only played one conference in the PBA in this decade, the 1989 Reinforced, for Añejo Rum 65 (formerly, and now again, Ginebra), but practically every game he played was one to remember. Every night, he would put up staggering numbers in the points department, thrilling the fans all along the way. He eventually finished with a mind-boggling average of over 62 points per game, topped with an 89 point performance, one of three 80-plus point binges. Memorable not only for his performance but also for his appearance (a light-skinned African-American with pronounced freckles and red hair), Briggs was not all for show. The guy was a winner. He towed his team all the way to the Finals, where they fell to the San Miguel Beer juggernaut, which had former Chicago Bull Ennis Whatley as its import and won a Grand Slam in the process. While Briggs did not take the championship trophy, he earned the Best Import award.