Abe King, underrated PBA legend, still touching lives in retirement

Abe King's rude PBA welcome (1:25)

Abe King describes how Abet Guidaben welcomed him to the PBA with an elbow to the throat, and how he retaliated. (1:25)

Basketball great Abe King took fans back to his championship years with Toyota, Great Taste, and Purefoods during his interview on the podcast An Eternity of Basketball Friday.

King, whose full name is Abraham Columbus King, Jr., is considered by many as one of the most underrated players in the pro league's history. Unfortunately, his name was excluded from the 40 Greatest Players named by the PBA in 2015 despite his winning 13 championships in an 18-season career.

At 6-foot-3, King battled against some of the league's greats, including Toyota teammate-turned-foe Ramon Fernandez, Philip Cezar (who also became his teammate at Great Taste), and Abet Guidaben, along with a throng of top-caliber imports like Norman Black, Billy Ray Bates, and Glenn McDonald, among others.

But despite his defensive talents and consistent play at a high level, King made the Mythical First Team and Mythical Second Team only once, a sign that he was underappreciated throughout his playing career.

Early years with Toyota

King entered the league in 1977 as a 19-year-old forward. He was just a year removed from helping the San Beda Red Lions to a runner-up finish in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

His entry boosted the stock of the Comets, who were smarting from four consecutive bridesmaid finishes behind the Crispa Redmanizers dating back to the 1975 season.

"As a newcomer, I simply played my game. I just simply do what I need to do to help the team win and try to jump and grab those rebounds," King recalled of his rookie year.

Having honed his basketball skills in various inter-town and inter-color tournaments in his province of Cavite, King admitted he was a bit surprised at first by the pro league's style of play and was at the receiving end of rough plays as a young player in the PBA's formative years.

"I had an attitude back then that if you hit me in the game, I'll retaliate quickly. My veteran teammates then were teaching me to not retaliate quick," shared King, in between laughs of his experience as a young pro. "But I did tell my teammates that I simply can't let that slip by if ever because if I get hurt, I might retire young."

In fact, in one of the highly-anticipated Toyota-Crispa matches in the 1970s, King remembered a time when the 6-foot-5 Guidaben elbowed him in the throat during a rebound sequence.

"Actually, Abet elbowed me in the throat and I remembered I couldn't breathe. We were like in the free throw area," he said, turning serious.

"After that, I told him (Guidaben) be ready because before I let you ruin my career, I'll make the first move. And that basically was my reasoning as a young player, though later on, I began to mature and just let the rough plays pass," explained King.

As the years went by, King began gaining experience. Eventually, he earned his stripes as a defensive player, guarding bulkier, stronger imports.

He reasoned that he didn't really have to score that much since Toyota had a vast array of scorers led by Sonny Jaworski, Fernandez and Francis Arnaiz.

King won a total of seven PBA titles with Toyota from 1977 to 1982.

The Super Corollas would have registered a rare Grand Slam in 1982, according to King. But they failed to bring their A-game during the PBA Invitational Tournament, which San Miguel Beer eventually won. Toyota ruled the 1982 Reinforced and Open Conferences with imports Donnie Ray Koonce and Andy Fields.

Foes to teammates

Following his short but uneventful stint with Gold Eagle in 1984, King joined Great Taste Coffee the following season. His presence simply reinforced a Coffee Makers side that had already won back-to-back PBA titles in the 1984 season.

"I was happy because when I came to Great Taste, I immediately won two championships in 1985," King said with a big smile.

Mentored by the venerable PBA coach Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan, King fit in well with Great Taste right away as the team ruled the Open and All-Filipino Conferences. The Coffee Makers were already eyeing a Grand Slam finish. But his team fell short of its attempt when import Corey Blackwell sustained a foot injury towards the crucial juncture of the tournament.

Great Taste eventually settled for fourth place with the amateur squad Northern Consolidated Cement ruling the Third Conference after beating Manila Beer in the Finals.

As the team prepared for the 1987 season, King saw himself playing on the same team with former Crispa stars Philip Cezar, Bernard Fabiosa and Atoy Co at Great Taste.

But King said he and three former Crispa stars, being the consummate professional players they were, learned to put the bad blood behind them as they played under Dalupan, incidentally a former Redmanizer coach.

"Critics were saying we wouldn't win a championship because we we're a bunch of old superstars in the team. What they overlooked was the combined experiences and championships we all had at Great Taste," said King, who was named team captain that year.

That team, bannered by King, Cezar, Co, former Toyota teammate Arnie Tuadles, RIcardo Brown and a rookie by the name of Allan Caidic finished second in the 1987 Open Conference won by Tanduay, which had a super import in David Thirdkill.

But the following conference, the All-Filipino, the Coffee Makers lost just five games in total as they swept Hills Bros., 3-0, in the Finals en route to the franchise's fifth title.

"They (critics) overlooked our combination. But me, Philip, Atoy and Bernie talked. And those who thought we wouldn't win the championship, well we did it," he said.

"I'd say that year was one of the fondest memories and enjoyable years I had with Great Taste because we won a championship with the help of Philip and Atoy," added King.

His only regret was not being able to get the proper recognition in 1987 despite what he feels was one of his best PBA seasons.

"I think majority of the games we won in the quarterfinals and semis, I was named Best Player so I had a lot of those Walkman (units)," King said, laughing. Back then, the best player of the game received a Sony Walkman as a prize.

"I was also named the MVP of that conference by SCOOP (Sports Columnists Organization of the Philippines). I just wondered why I wasn't even included in the Mythical Second team," he said in a tone of regret.

Nonetheless, Ricardo Brown, the 1985 PBA MVP held King in high esteem.

"Fans who did not see this man play have no idea how great he was. I do and can tell you first hand because we did battle together many times over winning multiple titles with Great Taste," Brown said in a Facebook comment.

"I have said this about Abe - he was six-foot-three inches of power forward who played like he was six-eight. One of the best ever!"

The partnership between Brown, nicknamed the "Quick Brown Fox", and King produced three PBA championships during their years together from 1985 to 1987.

To this, King reciprocated Brown's glowing compliment: "What more can I say? I'm really thankful that Ricky became my teammate. He's one of the best point guards I've ever played with. And with him around, basketball became a lot easier."

Final years and retirement

After spending seven seasons with Great Taste, where he won his last PBA title with the franchise in the 1990 All-Filipino Conference, King joined Purefoods where he served as a guide to Alvin Patrimonio and Jerry Codiñera.

King, then a 36-year-old forward, served his role well as a tutor to Patrimonio, and came off the bench to guard imports. "I've always been willing to share and I was never selfish in sharing whatever I have learned in the game," stressed King.

"And although I play the same position with Alvin and even Jerry at times, I shared everything I know about the game with open arms and gave them advice on how to read game situations," he added.

King's unselfishness and willingness to make his teammates better was not lost on his peers. In previous episodes of the same podcast, guests such as Caidic, Frankie Lim and Ricky Relosa all named him among their five favorite teammates.

King eventually won his last two PBA championships when he helped the Hotdogs to the 1993 All Filipino and 1994 Commissioner's Cup, before retiring at the close of the 1994 season.

King and his family relocated to the United States in 1998 and now live in Gig Harbor, a city in Washington State. Even in retirement, he continues to lend an assist to those in need. He organized the PBA Legends tour in the US to help raise funds for former cagers Rudy Distrito and Guidaben. He also supports numerous charities and funds a scholarship for poor but deserving students in the Philippines. The current scholarship recipient is from Surigao.

"My wife is already angry at me for all these expenses," King said with a laugh, adding he funds his charitable causes with his own money.

Abe King may have been out of the PBA limelight for over two decades now, but he continues to be a major influence in the lives of many.