In the 45-year history of the PBA, beginning with Toyota beating hated rival Crispa 3-1 for the 1975 First Conference crown up to last January's Governors' Cup series that saw Barangay Ginebra defeat Meralco 4-1, there have been a total of 129 championship series. We take a look back at the most memorable ones, five from each decade of the league's existence. We've already gone through the 1970s, and we've tackled the 1980s. Now let's see what the 1990s had to offer.
The 1990s saw the emergence of a new PBA dynasty as Alaska introduced itself as a new basketball juggernaut by winning a Grand Slam in 1996.
During the decade, the Milkmen, under head coach Tim Cone, collected nine championships including the rare treble behind Johnny Abarrientos, Jojo Lastimosa, Bong Hawkins, Jeffrey Cariaso, and resident import Sean Chambers.
But the decade was also marked by a few classic championship series that down to a deciding game, including one that ended with an iconic shot from Rudy Distrito.
Here are some of the most notable finales during the 1990s, four of which were best-of-seven affairs.
1990 All-Filipino Conference: Presto bucks Caidic's absence, routs Purefoods in Game 7
The 1990 All-Filipino Conference finals was a nip-and-tuck series, with both teams trading wins over the first six games. It also saw Purefoods coach Baby Dalupan square off against his former team, then known as Great Taste, which he had coached to five championships in the 1980s.
But in the last game of the conference, Presto and Purefoods were both undermanned. On paper, the Tivolis had suffered the bigger blow: leading scorer Allan Caidic, who would win his only MVP award that season and who had poured in at least 29 points over Games 2 to 5, was out after injuring his shooting hand in Game 6. Meanwhile, the Hotdogs would have starting center Jerry Codiñera for just seven minutes after he contracted hepatitis.
Caidic was obviously the bigger loss, and as such Purefoods was the heavy favorite heading into Game 7.
Even without their best scorer, though, Presto proved doubters wrong and turned to veteran Willie Generalao in a decisive third-quarter assault to claim their sixth title.
Generalao sparked a 22-10 run to turn a close game into a breakaway, 71-55. During that stretch, he had eight points and two steals while earning the praise of Presto coach Jimmy Mariano, who got his first title as coach.
It was 34-year-old veteran Arnie Tuadles who took care of the scoring cudgels in the absence of main man Caidic. He scattered 33 points, including 20 in the second half, as the Tivolis coasted to a 115-96 win.
Presto's sixth title turned out to be its last as the franchise left the PBA following the 1992 season.
1990 Third Conference: Purefoods erases 0-2 deficit for first title
As the 1990 PBA season drew to a close, the Purefoods Hotdogs, which had joined the league in 1988, had yet to win a championship despite a loaded line-up that featured budding superstars Alvin Patrimonio, Jerry Codiñera, and Jojo Lastimosa. And in the 1990 Third Conference, the Hotdogs faced the specter of another fruitless season.
The Alaska Air Force, meanwhile, were also on a quest for their first PBA title since joining in 1986. It was against this backdrop that the two teams met in a best-of-five series for the final championship of the 1990 season.
Alaska raced to a 2-0 series lead after outplaying Purefoods in crunchtime in Games 1 and 2, putting the Air Force on the verge of their first championship. The Hotdogs stayed alive with a 14-point win in Game 3, which was marred by a conference-ending Achilles injury suffered by Bong Alvarez.
Purefoods took a 104-99 overtime thriller in Game 4 behind Daren Queenan's 44-16 double-double to set up a winner-take-all Game 5.
In a game that saw both teams exchange big runs, the Hotdogs found themselves on top 99-95 after an Al Solis triple with less than 30 left. Frankie Lim answered back with his on trey to make it 99-98 with eight ticks left, forcing Alaska to foul. The Air Force, however, were not yet in penalty, and time ran out without any Purefoods player getting sent to the stripe.
The Hotdogs finally got the monkey off their backs with their first PBA championship. It would also be the last PBA title of the legendary Baby Dalupan. In an ironic twist, the victory came at the expense of Tim Cone, the man who would later break Dalupan's record for most titles. It also marked the second time Dalupan would steer a team to a championship after falling behind 0-2 in a best-of-five finals.
1991 First Conference: Distrito's basket lifts Ginebra over Shell
Almost three decades before San Miguel pulled off their "Beeracle," Ginebra staged a similar, and arguably more dramatic, finals comeback.
It was a signature Ginebra never-say-die performance. With legendary import Bobby Parks leading the Turbo Chargers, Ginebra found itself in a 1-3 hole.
But Ginebra's resolve flipped the script.
In the pivotal Game 5, Ginebra mustered every ounce of energy left to put up a telling 32-0 run to come away with a 116-90 win. To this day it remains the biggest scoring run in league history.
Led by Jervis "Burning" Cole's 51 points, the Gins then overhauled a 14-point deficit in Game 6 to take a 123-119 win and set up a do-or-die Game 7.
What happened in the deciding game would go down in PBA history as one of the most dramatic Game 7s of all time. With five seconds remaining and the game deadlocked, Rudy Distrito caught an inbound pass from playing coach Robert Jaworski, drove along the baseline, and sank a tough fallaway against Benjie Paras and Jojo Martin to give Ginebra a 104-102 lead with one second remaining.
Cole then sealed the improbable comeback after blocking Ronnie Magsanoc's three-pointer at the buzzer.
1996 Governors' Cup: Alaska completes a grand slam at Ginebra's expense
The 1990s saw the rise of a franchise which entered the league in 1986. Under head coach Tim Cone, Alaska etched itself as one of the greatest teams by winning a grand slam in 1996.
Everything was going Alaska's way in the season-ending Governors' Cup. Despite losing three of its first four games, Alaska managed to come out on top after the elimination round to gain an outright semifinals berth. The Milkmen then swept Shell in the semifinals, 3-0, to arrange a finals showdown against crowd favorite Ginebra.
Oozing with confidence, Alaska took the first three games of the finals to extend its winning streak to 13.
Ginebra needed some changes to avert disaster and brought in import Derrick Rucker to replace Fred Cofield in Game 4. Rucker made an impact and hot a crucial basket with 29.7 seconds remaining and the Gins went on to steal the match, 97-96.
Alaska, though, was bent on finishing off Ginebra in Game 5. Saddled by foul trouble in the first half, Johnny Abarrientos knocked down four crucial shots in the final period to fend off a Ginebra uprising and give Alaska an 89-82 lead entering the final two minutes.
The Gins had no answer from there. The Milkmen went on to become the third team to complete a Grand Slam after the 1976 Crispa and 1989 San Miguel Beer.
1998 Governors' Cup: Shell rallies to stun Mobiline
In a conference where most of the league's top dogs were playing for the Centennial team in the Asian Games, a Shell squad led by import John Best zoomed to the top.
But it wasn't a cakewalk for the Zoom Masters. Shell had to overcome a 2-3 deficit in the best-of-seven finale to claim its third PBA championship.
Shell took Game 6, 80-77, to set up a Game 7 that would go down the wire.
In a see-saw battle, it was Benjie Paras who made a world of difference for Shell as he dropped 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. He strung together eight straight points to turn an 82-86 deficit into a 90-89 lead with a little over 90 seconds remaining. A jumper by Gerry Esplana extended Shell's lead to 92-89 with 27 ticks to go.
The Phone Pals crept to within 93-91 and had a chance to win it all, but Patrick Fran muffed a three-pointer as time expired.