PBA Imports Fantasy Tournament Round 1: Ivan Johnson vs. John Best


We continue the PBA Imports Fantasy Tournament, where we picked 24 imports from across eras and grouped them into two brackets, with eight seeded directly into the second round. The remaining 16 will duke it out in our online polls. Our writers will preview each match-up, and you get to vote for the winner here and on One Sports PH's Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

For the fifth match-up, Jan Ballesteros profiles two imports who led their teams to championships but never won the Best Import plum: Ivan Johnson and John Best.

It will be a battle between prolific reinforcements who never won a Best Import plum in the PBA. John Best and Ivan Johnson are similar in more ways than one but the former's outside sniping could make a world of difference in this matchup.

Johnson, though, is not one to back down from a challenge. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve that could also throw his foe off especially when the game is on the line.

It's speed and range against brute strength and resolve.


The first thing that comes to mind when someone floats Ivan Johnson's name is the inadvertent - or not? - elbow on Paul Lee that sent the latter's front tooth to the parquet floor in Game 3 of the 2015 Commissioner's Cup finals between TNT and Rain or Shine.

In his next tour of duty for TNT, Johnson was initially banned for life from the PBA after an altercation with then commissioner Chito Narvasa in a game against Meralco during the Commissioner's Cup in 2016. After he apologized to Narvasa days later, it was reduced to a ban for the rest of the season and a fine of P150,000. The 6-foot-8 import from San Antonio, Texas hasn't played in the PBA since.

What most people forget, though, is that there's actually more to the man than the ejections and fines. For starters, the temperamental Johnson, undrafted in the 2007 NBA Draft, made the Atlanta Hawks roster for two seasons (2011-2013) where he averaged 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds off the bench.

He decided to play overseas anew then went to the Philippines a couple of years later as replacement for former PBA Best Import Richard Howell of TNT.

The hulking Johnson was quick to prove his worth for TNT and then head coach Jong Uichico, providing the much-needed inside presence for the team's razor-thin frontline. He was tough and imposing, which were qualities that strike fear among his opponents inside the paint. His brute strength allows him to maneuver his way into the basket to score with ease or corral some boards.

Undersized as he may be, Johnson, who last played for Tanduay Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League in 2017, dominated the paint in 2015 to steer TNT to the championship at Rain or Shine's expense.


John Best was tabbed in the second round of the 1993 Draft, but things didn't pan out well and he didn't get to play in the NBA. He looked elsewhere, first taking his talents to France before finding his way to the Philippines in 1995 for the San Miguel Beermen.

The lanky import, though, is best remembered for his tour-de-force performances for the Shell franchise years later. He led the team to a championship and a finals appearance in the late 90s.

During the 1998 Governors' Cup, Best stood out especially when the going got tough for a Shell side seeking its third title.

In a year where most of the best players in the Philippines played for the Centennial team, the former Tennessee Tech standout joined forces with Donald Williams to lead the squad to the finals. That team was also not lacking in talent with Benjie Paras, Victor Pablo, and Gerry Esplano in the fold.

With head coach Perry Ronquilo at the helm and Best at full strength, Shell pushed the Eric Altamirano-led Mobiline Phone Pals to the limit and forced a Game 7 that turned out to be one of the most memorable deciding matches in PBA history.

Shell won its third championship that year, thanks in large part to a missed three-pointer at the buzzer by Mobiline guard Patrick Fran.

Although lacking in heft, the 6-foot-8 Best overwhelmed opponents with his energy, speed, and strength. He could bully his way into the basket in various ways and also pull up from the 3-point area, giving locals like Paras, Pablo, and Chris Jackson more room to operate inside the paint.

An import of his caliber was almost unstoppable in the late 1990s. He was a handful even for fellow reinforcements. But for all his scoring exploits, the proficient import never won a Best Import award.

Who wins this matchup, Johnson or Best? Cast your vote below or on our Facebook page.