Long before he took over for a San Beda team that in 2006 ended a 28-year NCAA title drought, Frankie Lim was an important cog for a Red Lions squad that searched for its own breakthrough in 1977.
Alongside established collegiate standouts in Chito Loyzaga, Chuck Barreiro, JB Yango, Cholo Martin and twins Noel and Joel Guzman and under the late Loreto "Bonnie" Carbonell, Lim helped San Beda end 18 years of futility and win a much-awaited title against Ateneo de Manila University in a best-of-three finals series.
But aside from the fact that the 1977 title helped the Red Lions get over the hump after failing one season after another, what made that championship unique was the circumstances under which it was won. Due to rowdy crowds that nearly completely disrupted Game 2, this San Beda-Ateneo finale was played without an audience present inside the Araneta Coliseum.
"The people were wild. They were throwing stuff at each other. It was worse back then. People were watching with umbrellas on inside the Araneta Coliseum," Lim said in Filipino on An Eternity of Basketball by ESPN5.com's Charlie Cuna, Sid Ventura and Noel Zarate.
San Beda won a memorable Game 3 by two, 77-75, in an empty arena, but the lasting images of objects being hurled around the Big Dome also stuck in Lim's mind.
"It wasn't just coins," Lim laughed. "They were throwing marbles, batteries, rotten eggs. I was even a victim. I was sitting on the bench and a rotten egg landed on me. It smelled terrible. I never understood how they were able to smuggle them in. And golf balls, too."
These were pretty popular choices of small artillery in the NCAA during the '70s, where Lim thrived as an amateur player for the latter part of the decade. According to Lim, fights breaking out outside of games and property being destroyed were so commonplace that students and fans just got used to it as time went on.
"Guys were crazy after the game too. Car mirrors would get smashed, there would be fistfights in Vito Cruz, all that stuff which you don't see now in the NCAA. Students have toned down today," he said. "But that was the case back then wherever teams played -- in Araneta (Coliseum), in Rizal Memorial (Stadium), and sometimes even at the Loyala Center, people would chase each other in Katipunan."
"I even knew some of the people who'd get into fights. I saw them around the school. But that's very dangerous," added Lim.
Lim was also no stranger to being in the middle of a feud that involved Ateneo. With Don Bosco, where he first took up basketball, the future coach found himself facing the school in a juniors' division finals that ended in a fracas.
"There was a commotion. The game didn't finish, so we went home. When we went to our bus, the wheels were flat and the windows were busted," he shared.
The fight may have kept him off of the Blue Eagles' squad entering college, where Lim recalled coming across his opponents when he tried to enlist himself in Ateneo.
Frankie Lim's five favorite teammates
Frankie Lim names the five favorite teammates he had in his 15-season PBA career.
"When I graduated, I was supposed to go to Ateneo to play and to study. I was with my sister and we headed to Katipunan. We took a bus and a jeep that went inside Ateneo. When I went to the admissions' office, I saw everyone I played and fought in that game and they were also in line. I told my sister to back up," Lim cracked.
Lim wound up instead in his dad's alma mater in San Beda and stumbled into success despite the rampant violence throughout those years. A year after beating Ateneo behind closed doors, the Red Lions were able to go back-to-back after beating a De La Salle team that had eight future PBA players in the likes of Jay Lucido, Kenneth Yap and Alex Marquez, among others.
His collegiate success later earned him some very important spots with the national youth team. In 1980, Lim was rostered in an RP Youth Team that had the likes of Leo Isaac, Yoyoy Villamin, and Arturo Cristobal in a silver finish in the Asian Youth Championships held in Bangkok, Thailand. He also won a Southeast Asian Games gold that year when he played with the likes of Franz Pumaren, Ed Cordero, Ricky Relosa, and Teddy Alfarero for a Philippine team that swept the competition.
All his work in the amateur ranks eventually brought him to the Tanduay franchise, which added him to their PBA roster in 1982.
Getting into coaching
After a 15-year career that saw him win seven titles and play for six PBA teams, Lim found it hard to leave basketball completely.
"Since I was seven, I was already playing the sport. And I loved the game," Lim shared. "I said to myself, 'Maybe coaching would be nice.' But I just had to learn the ropes and I had to start from scratch. Coaches had a lot of responsibility that I didn't realize while I was playing."
Even as a player, Lim had displayed the aptitude to be a coach one day. That potential was realized in 1997, when Eric Altamirano added Lim alongside fellow future head coaches Louie Alas and Ryan Gregorio to his coaching staff with the Purefoods Tender Juicy Hotdogs. After two years together, Altamirano later moved to the Mobiline Phone Pals, leaving the job for Lim to take.
Lim said he refused because he was only going to be appointed on an interim basis.
"They wanted to install me as head coach, but only for a short time because they were waiting for Derick Pumaren. In the meantime, I'd be the coach. I talked to Eric and I lamented about how my first time coaching a team would only be cut short, so I just joined him in Mobiline," he shared.
His stint as an assistant coach with the Phone Pals was short-lived, however, as Manny V. Pangilinan took over the franchise.
"We all got fired. The team was owned by the Cojuangcos, then Manny V. Pangilinan came in and we could not win. They fired us all. In the morning, we had no more jobs. Then boss Manny called one Sunday and offered me to manage the team. That's how I got into managing Talk 'N Text," he said.
The job didn't really keep Lim away from reaching his destiny as San Beda's best coach in modern NCAA history.
Lim steered the Red Lions to a title 2007 and coached the college to a three-peat in 2008, where league MVP Sam Ekwe, as well as Ogie Menor and Borgie Hermida, starred for the squad.
San Beda fell short of a fourth consecutive title in 2009, but Lim and the Red Lions bounced back a year later, when the team -- now led by a new MVP in Sudan Daniel and backed by Garvo Lanete and other household standouts -- completed an 18-game sweep on their way to the title.
Lim led San Beda to back-to-back crowns after another successful year in 2011 before resigning after a preseason scuffle with San Sebastian women's volleyball team coach Roger Gorayeb gave him a two-year ban league ban.
Lim's best players in San Beda
Lim was reluctant to name the best players he coached in those four title teams given the sheer level of talent present in his stay.
"In my first year where we won the title, Sam Ekwe was there. That was two years with Sam. In my third year, we had Sudan Daniel. We lost there. The following year, we won the title and Sudan was the MVP. It was a complete turnaround. In my last year in 2011, we won with an all-Filipino lineup," he said. "I think Garvo Lanete was good. I had a good point guard also in Borjie Hermida.
"There's a lot of them. I don't pick just one to carry us all. That's not who we were. Whatever you could bring to the table, you bring it."
When also asked if there was any current PBA player who resembled his game during his heyday, Lim couldn't provide a name -- and even jokingly balked at the suggestion that his former player in Baser Amer fit his mold.
"I didn't turn the ball over like him," he laughed. "He played under me in his first year. He was a young player, and kids like him really threw away the ball often. He'd turn the ball over two or three times in a row so I'd pull him out. But just as a new player was about to sub himself in at the table, he'd hit a big three. What are you gonna do? He'd come up with something - a fantastic steal, then he'd hit a three. Nakakaasar. Papag-isipin ka, 'Ilalabas ko ba 'to o pagbibigyan ko?'"