Former PBA import Francois Wise battled a number of great players, both locals and imports, during his five-season stint from 1981 to 1987. But he admitted the player who gave him the most trouble back then was Norman Black.
Black, named the PBA's first-ever "Mr. 100 Percent", had a lengthy career as an import. And a lot of that had to do with his ability to score, rebound and defend players, even those taller and bulkier than him.
Wise, then weighing somewhere between 225 to 240 pounds as Manila Beer's import during 1985 PBA Reinforced Conference, recalled that Black gave him fits on the defensive end because of his solid motor skills on the floor.
"We were friendly on the court. But we didn't hang out or anything. I know he was tough to guard because he's always moving," Wise said in recounting his hardcourt battles with Black, who was then playing as Magnolia Quench Plus' reinforcement in 1985.
"I'm used to guarding at the post but he's more of a forward and he moves non-stop, always moving so that made it tough," he added. "Constantly moving, great shooter, can post up, stayed in shape, great leaper. He was a tough guard."
That year, Black averaged 43.5 points per game, including a career-best 76 points in a loss to Ginebra.
"I used to say, 'Put somebody on him (Black)'. I'm not gonna keep guarding him and chasing him around. He's constantly moving, trying to get the ball," Wise said, laughing.
"But he's a nice person. We never had (a fight), and I have nothing but respect for him. But I don't want to be guarding him."
Wise did well that season and helped Manila Beer reach the 1985 Reinforced Conference best-of-seven finals series against amateur team Northern Consolidated Cement.
The Brewmasters, though, were swept in four games by NCC in the finals as they had no answer for coach Ron Jacobs' two naturalized players Jeff Moore and Dennis Still.
Meanwhile, the subject of PBA imports wouldn't be complete without talking about Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett.
Bates took the PBA by storm during his first year in the pro league, leading Crispa to a second Grand Slam championship in 1983, winning a pair of Best Import awards along the way.
But his off-the-court activity was also legendary, particularly his proclivity for drinking.
"That guy was crazy," Wise recalled. "On the court he was a terror, but when you see him off the court, or around town, and I didn't drink, (he'd say) 'Come on drink with me, man'. I don't drink. He can put down some alcohol," Wise said of Bates.
Stories of Bates drinking even prior to the game circulated during his stay in the PBA. And Wise, who admitted taking his job as an import seriously, steered clear of Bates' antics.
"You won't be around when he had a lot of alcohol. You'd start to leave. He wanted to probably drink before the game and come out there. But you see what he did, he was unbelievable. Same thing he did like he was in Portland," he added.
As for Hackett, who scored 103 points in a game in 1985, Wise said the Ginebra import had the referees' backing, which made it doubly hard to defend him.
"(I also pick) Hackett because you couldn't breathe on him. He was a fan favorite. Ginebra was a fan favorite. You even got close, the refs would be blowing the whistle," said Wise laughing.
Aside from Manila Beer, Wise, who began his PBA career with U-Tex, also played for Hills Bros before eventually retiring a few years after to serve as police officer at the Los Angeles Police Department.
Among the PBA locals during his time, Wise picked Ramon Fernandez as the toughest player to defend because of his high basketball IQ.
"Ramon was hard. I was surprised but he was a hard guard. Tough. He was crafty," shared the 62-year-old Wise.
Wise admitted that Fernandez was great at controlling the game even if he did things in "slow motion".
"He didn't do anything fast. It's kind of it was almost slow motion, but he would get to where he wanted to get to score and he would make you foul."
Aside from Fernandez, Wise named Abet Guidaben, Lim Eng Beng, Bogs Adornado, Mike Bilbao, Yoyoy Villamin, Abe King and Frankie Lim among his favorite PBA players.
Beng and Adornado were the team scorers during Wise's initial foray in the PBA in 1981 with U-Tex. Adornado, in particular, impressed Wise with his offensive moves. "I'm glad I didn't have to face Bogs because he got to the free throw line a lot. He had that little pump fake, he would lean up under you. He was good."
Eric and Bonita Wise crash dad Francois' interview
Former PBA import Francois Wise's son Eric also played in the PBA while daughter Bonita suited up in the PSL.
On the other hand, Wise credited Bilbao for setting up plays for him in the post every time the former La Salle guard manned the point when they were teammates on Tanduay in 1983.
Wise described former Manila Beer teammate Villamin as the "punisher" for his bruising plays. They later reunited when they both saw action for Hills Bros. in 1987.
Wise's last basketball activity in the Philippines though happened shortly after his stint with Hills. Bros when he was taken in as an import by Cebuano businessman Michel Lhuillier in Cebu.
There, Wise got to play with future PBA star Jojo Lastimosa, then known for his aerial plays and dunks.
"He was a great leaper," Wise said, in describing Lastimosa, who donned the national team colors during the 1980s before winning the PBA's Rookie of the Year in 1988.
"It was unbelievable when I first saw him. He was in Cebu. That's how I ended up playing with him, while playing with Michel Lhuillier's team," recalled Wise.
"We end up playing in two tournaments with Jojo. I was amazed with this guy who could jump out the gym. I was amazed," he added.