The name Andrew Fields may no longer ring a bell to today's generation of young Filipino basketball fans. But a quick visit into history books will reveal that Fields was the first-ever player to win the Best Import award, which he did during the 1981 Open Conference.
Standing six-foot-eight, Fields, a standout from Cheyney University, would spend five seasons playing for the great Toyota squad that had PBA stars like Robert "Sonny" Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Francis Arnaiz, Abe King and a young, talented Cebuano guard by the name of Arnie Tuadles.
Like every American college player, Fields had his sights set on playing in the NBA. He belonged to 1979 NBA draft class led by Los Angeles Lakers' top overall pick Earvin "Magic" Johnson, big man Bill Cartwright, and high-scoring guard Sidney Moncrief.
Fields said Toyota manager and erstwhile coach Dante Silverio spotted him in a preseason mini-camp in Los Angeles.
Though Fields was selected 40th overall by the Portland Trailblazers in the 1979 NBA Draft, the team elected to just sign one player, Jim Paxson, whom they selected 12th overall.
"That's (in the LA League) when they saw me. He (Silverio) saw me playing. He saw my ability and he had interest in me and he approached me and he took me on from there," Fields recalled during a conversation on An Eternity of Basketball on Saturday.
These were back in the days when the PBA allowed imports that stood six-eight and up, and Fields, fresh out of college and just 22 years old, managed to let his game do the talking.
"I think I held my own to be honest. There's a lot of people who were talented imports who were there. But in time, I demonstrated to them what kind of player I was," said Fields, who led Toyota to three championships before leaving the PBA in 1983 when the team disbanded.
As a lean American reinforcement, Fields did his work pretty much on the defensive end. He ranks fifth all-time among PBA imports with a career average of 13.5 rebounds in 148 games played. He's also still in the record books as his 13 shot blocks registered on April 21, 1981 remains an all-time single-game league record.
"I try to demonstrate it (his game) by example and even if guys try to intimidate me in any way, then I just have to show them by playing the game the way I know how to play," Fields said.
"That's how to gain the respect and I went on have an 18-year career and that's pretty much the respect I gain around the world. I let my game show more than my words."
PBA stars he respected
As a new guy for Toyota, Fields said he grew to admire the plays of Toyota teammates Ramon Fernandez, Sonny Jaworski and Arnie Tuadles.
In fact, Fields said he was no longer surprised to see the tons of records and statistics Fernandez was able to compile in his 20-season pro basketball career.
Nicknamed "El Presidente", Fernandez won a total of 19 PBA titles and is the all-time leader in points scored, rebounds, blocked shots, free throws made and playing minutes.
"When you pretty much ran off his stats, I wasn't surprised anymore because Ramon, he could probably go (play) anywhere else in the world. That's how talented he was. He just had good skills and he knew how to use it," said the 62-year-old American.
The former Atlantic Cape Community College coach said Fernandez was a cerebral player who used his elbows well to try to carve out some space whenever he attacked the basket to score.
"He knew how to use that (elbow) to get some space to take a shot or in going to the basket," noted Fields.
Fields said he never had problems working and playing with Fernandez because of his excellent basketball IQ.
And he could only speak the same of Jaworski, who Fields describes as the team's floor director.
"Sonny embraced everything. He was a good leader and we knew his talent. We knew he could shoot. We knew he could pass and dribble but he knew how to direct us," Fields said in describing Jaworski's play
"That was one of the things that made (him so good) even without me there, even successful in the All Filipino because he knew how to direct us," he said. "That's what kept him playing the game because he loved to organize."
No wonder, Fields would rather describe his game as complementary to his Toyota teammates.
"I knew the talent around me, so I wasn't trying to take over the show and trying to show an X amount of points a night because Ramon can do this, Sonny can do that, or Francis can do this," he stressed. "I wasn't there to try to take it away from them. I was just there to enhance their abilities even more."
As for Tuadles, Fields said he shed a lot of tears upon learning of the death of the 1979 PBA Rookie of the Year, who was shot in the head in 1996 following a heated card game in Greenhills, San Juan.
"He was a true talent, a raw talent," said Fields. "When I heard about his situation, I cried because he was a good person. When I heard about what happened, I could understand what happened in situations like that because he was a confident person and I know that gambling sometimes can get a little fierce for people when they get it wrong. I teared up a lot for him, he had a good heart and was pretty good man."
Among opposing players, he remembered how good William "Bogs" Adornado was as a shooter. "Boy, let me tell you, Adornado was a good player. He was a real good player. I had a lot of respect for him. He was a bad boy, he was bad."
Getting back at a referee
Other than the rough and physical plays that characterized the PBA games, Fields remembered how Toyota players "got back" at a referee that they perceived was giving them the short end of the calls.
"One time Sonny had the ball out there, on top of the key in that area. I don't know, it might have been Abe or probably Ramon, and they were like hollering underneath for the basketball and asking for the ball inside," recounted Fields.
"The referee was at the baseline, all bent down, looking at the zone area. And the guy was asking for the basketball, Sonny took it and threw one baseball pass. And I think it was Abe, and he just moved out of the way and the ball smashed the referee because he was calling bad calls on us," Fields said, drawing laughs from him and the hosts.
"So like I said, I'm dumbfounded and I'm not understanding what was going on so the guy moved away and the ball smashed right in the face of the referee," he said. "He must have fallen on the floor, of course, but (it was like) 'we know what you're doing', and oh yeah, they were sending a message big time."
Redemption in 1981
During the 1980 PBA Open Conference finals, everyone was expecting a talent-rich Toyota side to win it all.
Though dragged to a winner-take-all Game 5 match by U-Tex, Toyota held a four-point lead during the final 16 seconds. But what happened next was something Fields will never forget.
After Toyota guard Francis Arnaiz's layup gave his team a 94-90 lead with 16 ticks to play, U/Tex mounted a massive comeback to force overtime.
U/Tex import Aaron James scored on an unmolested layup with 11 seconds left to play to allow his team to inch in at 92-94. And while coach Fort Acuña mapped out a play for Toyota off a timeout, the Tamaraws uncharacteristically turned the ball over in their inbound play with Wranglers import Glen McDonald completing the steal. Arnaiz was forced to foul the American reinforcement, who was trying to go for a game-tying layup, stopping the game clock at 2 seconds.
McDonald then sank both foul shots to send the game into overtime.
Both squads engaged in a nip-and-tuck situation in the extra session, but Adornado drained a three-pointer with just over a minute left in what would serve as the winning basket. Toyota and U/Tex failed to score the rest of the way from there, allowing the Wranglers to pocket a 99-98 decision, steal the win and more importantly, capture the 1980 Open Conference crown.
"What happened was it was really a mental lapse because we had a four-point lead with 16 seconds left. We didn't protect the game and we didn't finish or complete our task," recounted Fields.
"That's my worst loss in my entire career," he added. "But it just didn't go that way. There's no blame to anyone. I was proud of our guys though because the next year, coming back, our focus was just winning the championship."
Fields said he managed to keep a 1981 issue of the Atlas-owned Sportsweekly magazine as a way to remind himself of that finals debacle.
"I have a magazine (Sportsweekly) where if you remember, that was the year (1981) I was Best Import. The article says, 'All Work and No Play' because that was the focus that I had. I kept that," said Fields. "That's how much it meant to me to come back and win the championship."
In the 1981 PBA Open Conference, Fields made good on his promise, leading the Super Diesels to a 3-2 finals win over archrival Crispa.
Fields's last stint with Toyota happened in 1983 where the Corollas finished just seventh during the Open Conference where he averaged 24.8 points and 14.4 rebounds.