The infamous walkout staged by Añejo Rhum 65 in Game 6 of the the 1990 PBA First Conference Finals against Formula Shell was not the first time a championship was won via forfeiture in the league.
That distinction belongs to the Toyota Comets in the 1975 Second Conference when archrivals Crispa opted not to play Game 4 of their best-of-five series after Redmanizers team manager Danny Floro wrote the league and stated that his club was "voluntarily conceding" the championship, citing the league's selection of referees for the series as a major reason for the team's decision.
What makes the first-ever PBA crown of the Zoom Masters different is that Añejo chose to forfeit the match with still 2:52 remaining in the first half.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of what many refer to as the darkest day in league history. On May 15, 1990, the country's most beloved team headed to the locker room in protest over what they felt was biased officiating. Añejo playing coach Robert Jaworski, quoted in the following day's newspapers, called it a "well-designed stage play".
The championship series itself was highly anticipated. Both teams finished the preliminary round tied with the best record and cruised through the semifinals to arrange this storied duel.
Añejo paraded a line-up that had its veteran core of former MVPs Freddie Hubalde and Philip Cezar along Rudy Distrito, Chito Loyzaga, Dante Gonzalgo, Rey Cuenco and former Rookie of the Year Dondon Ampalayo. Of course, they were coached by the charismatic Jaworski. Their import was former Miami Heat forward Sylvester Gray.
Shell was only in its sixth season in the league and was gunning for its first championship. The Zoom Masters were led by its young core of former Rookie/MVP Benjie Paras, playmaker Ronnie Magsanoc, heady forward Romy de la Rosa and a phalanx of veterans in former Añejo reserve Ed Ducut, feisty guard Jerry Ruiz and a pair of former Rookies of the Year in Arnie Tuadles and Leo Austria. Their American reinforcement would go down in history as the greatest import ever: Bobby Parks. Arlene Rodriguez was Shell's mentor.
In one of the highest scoring titular encounters in league history with both teams going above the century mark in the five outings, Shell took a commanding 3-1 lead before Añejo scored a convincing 130-101 triumph in Game 5 marred by a clothesline hit by Distrito on Magsanoc and Tuadles decking Loyzaga later on as the series began to get quite physical.
As Game 6 ensued, the partisan crowd at the ULTRA (now known as the PhilSports Arena), hoped that the Game 5 win would fuel their "Never Say Die" squad to send the series to a decider, but it was the Zoom Masters who raced to a 40-26 lead at the end of the first quarter behind a blistering 13-0 run.
Gray responded at the onset of the second period by knocking in 12 markers to trim the lead to eight points, 45-53. But Gray, who had been called for three fouls in the first quarter, picked up his fourth with still 5:42 remaining in the half. Jaworski gambled and left him on the floor and sure enough, the import was called for his fifth with still over four minutes to go.
"The next day when I went to the Shell office, I found out from the Shell Security Office that they received three death threats for me." Charlie Favis, former Shell team manager
Down 47-62 with 2:52 remaining in the second quarter, Cuenco was whistled for what many felt was a "thin" foul against a driving Parks. It was Cuenco's fourth and as he complained about the call, referee Rudy Hines slapped him with a technical foul. Cuenco lost his cool and poked Hines on the nape which incurred a second technical foul, leading to his ejection from the game.
Añejo called for a timeout and it was during this time that Jaworski approached the officials' table as the disgruntled crowd began pelting the court with coins, prompting officials to halt proceedings until order could be restored.
What followed was the scene of Añejo team manager Bernabe Navarro leading the team to the locker room. At this point, the Añejo fans grew more disruptive and began hurling debris at the direction of the Shell bench, prompting the Zoom Masters to retreat into their locker room to avoid getting hurt.
After a semblance of order had been re-established, PBA Commissioner Rudy Salud gave both teams ten minutes to return to the court. Shell emerged, but Añejo never did.
Salud went on to give Añejo two 90-second ultimatums to return, but when the 65ers did not reappear, the league declared Formula Shell the champions.
Añejo was fined a whopping 550,000 pesos by the league. Hines was declared Public Enemy Number One by the team's followers and Shell's first ever franchise title was bittersweet because of the nature of the victory.
"Coming out of ULTRA (was) bad," recalled Formula Shell team manager Charlie Favis. "I did not ride in my car. I left with another friend as I got word that (Añejo) fans were waiting for me to pass by so they can throw stones at my car. I had reclined the seat so they wouldn't see me."
Favis, who would remain with the Zoom Masters until accepting the Commissioner position of the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) in 1994, recounts that he never thought Añejo would walk out.
"I was interviewed (during the lull) by (Vintage Enterprises "Man on the Ball") Romy Kintanar when (Añejo) went to the dugout," he explained. "I told him, 'Sonny (Jaworski) and his boys are known to be fighters. I'm sure they'll come back.' I was proven wrong."
He also recalls being hit by one of the coins thrown by fans.
"During the walkout, I got hit by a 2-peso coin (which at the time was made from a combination of copper and nickel and was decagon-shaped)," he said. "It hurt."
But it didn't stop there.
"The next day when I went to the Shell office, I found out from the Shell Security Office that they received three death threats for me," Favis said. "That same day, my telephone did not stop ringing. (I got) calls and visits from media, TV and radio personalities. They wanted to know how true the story was that I wrote a check for PhP800,000 to the refs using my BPI checkbook. (It's) true my checkbook is BPI, but I didn't have that much cash balance."
As for the officiating team of Hines, Ernie de Leon and crew chief Genaro "Bay" Ledesma, the latter two continued in the league until retirement while Hines eventually turned to coaching in the PBL.
The following year, Añejo (now reverting to the Ginebra San Miguel brand) would get their revenge over the Zoom Masters, overcoming a 1-3 deficit and leaning on a Distrito game-winner in Game 7 to dethrone Shell and capture their third title in franchise history-effectively silencing the memory of that controversial chapter in league history that resurfaces when May 15 comes around.