When the PBA became the first professional basketball league in Asia in 1975, it wasn't long before it would attract the attention of foreign teams, including NBA champions.
Also that year, the NBA's curiosity was so piqued that a group of All-Stars came over and played a few games suiting up for the member teams in the new league.
"(Some) NBA greats came over (in 1975)," basketball historian Jay P. Mercado told ESPN5.com. "Guys like Tiny Archibald, John Drew, Clifford Ray, Walt Frazier, George McGinnis (and) Randy Smith suited up for different PBA teams. What I remember was Crispa had Ray, Smith and Frazier (while) U/Tex had Drew Tiny (Archibald). Royal (Tru Orange) had McGinnis."
The PBA had several invitational tournaments to accommodate foreign teams - not just players - that tried to test the local club circuit starting with the first ever PBA Invitational Conference in 1977, won by Toyota. Two teams in Emtex Sacronel Palmeras of Brazil and Australia's Ramrod Blocks joined the season-ending tilt while in 1980, American team Nicholas Stoodley became the first and only foreign team to claim a PBA title while Adidas Rubberworld of France clinched third place.
Years later, teams from Croatia, Korea, China and Canada would also send their teams to the PBA to gain exposure and learn the Filipino way of basketball. The NBA would eventually hold its first ever preseason game in the Philippines during the 2013 NBA Global Games with the Houston Rockets locking horns with the Indiana Pacers at the Mall of Asia Arena.
However, it was on only two occasions that an actual NBA team took on the PBA selections during the time when the former was still groping with its international popularity. The first happened in 1979 when the Washington Bullets, who were NBA champions the year before, brought an eight-man squad to do a one-game exhibition against a reinforced PBA squad.
The Bullets brought in future Hall of Famers Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, one of only two NBA rookie-MVPs, to join Greg Ballard, Roger Phigley, Dave Corzine and future Toyota import Kevin Porter plus two others, with Dick Motta as the head coach.
The PBA Selection, for their part, got one representative from each of the nine member teams with former Olympians Yoyong Martirez (Royal Tru Orange) and Manny Paner (Great Taste) joining Rudolph Kutch (Filmanbank), Rene Canent (Tanduay), Jesse Sullano (Honda-Mariwasa), Bing del Rosario (Gilbey's Gin), and bonafide PBA stars Lim Eng Beng (U/Tex), Atoy Co (Crispa) and Ramon Fernandez (Toyota).
Coached by Crispa Redmanizers mentor Baby Dalupan, five active imports were also brought in: the explosive scoring duo of Dean Tolson and Larry McNeill of Gilbey's Gin, versatile Glenn McDonald of U/Tex, Royal Tru Orange do-it-all machine Larry Pounds and Crispa slot man Cyrus Mann.
It was one of the biggest crowds that ever assembled for a basketball game in the country's history as approximately 35,000 paying patrons squeezed into the Araneta Coliseum to get a rare glimpse of what NBA basketball was like with no less than the 1978 NBA champions seeing action.
The Bullets immediately took control of the game so much so that Dalupan, who had intended to field in two imports and three locals to give everyone equal exposure, ended up using an all-American five by the second quarter to keep up with the Washington onslaught, which was led by Porter's 31-point explosion.
The 5'11" Porter (who would later on play in the PBA for the Toyota Super Corollas in 1983) had joined the team after a short stint with the Detroit Pistons. The veteran playmaker was so skinny and light that Motta quipped to the local media "he's probably weighs less than what I eat for breakfast."
It didn't help that the imports were also trying their best to show that they can keep in step with legitimate NBA talent, especially the duo of Tolson and McNeill who just went one-on-one at the first possible opportunity.
"It was still competitive in the first half," Paner looked back. "Dalupan used mostly the imports. I remember teaming up with Cyrus Mann."
But by the third quarter, Washington's lead swelled to 33 points and it was at about that juncture that Co and Corzine almost came to blows.
"We played a good a game," Canent recalled in a recent interview on the podcast "An Eternity of Basketball". "But those NBA players were more superior than us."
The Bullets took their foot off the gas when the game was pretty much decided and the final score had it at a respectable 133-123 triumph by the visitors.
"They were simply too good for us," Dalupan later said in a postgame powwow with the media. "They were already tall to begin with but they were also quite skilled."
"Tall, talented players will always beat small, talented players," Motta was quoted as saying after the match.
In July of 1980, remnants of 1975 NBA champions the Golden State Warriors also played in a four-game exhibition series against PBA talent, but it wasn't an official NBA sortie.
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