Glenn McDonald, first player to win NBA and PBA titles, recalls big Game 5s in both leagues

Before Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, the Boston Celtics had Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jojo White. The Celtics dominated the 1976 NBA season, winning the championship after outlasting the Paul Westphal-led Phoenix Suns in six games.

NBA fans of that era will surely remember a young small forward by the name of Glenn McDonald, who took the spot of a fouled-out Paul Silas and stepped up in crunch time, delivering the crucial baskets in the third extension period to seal Boston's Game 5 victory.

McDonald appeared as guest on An Eternity of Basketball on Saturday and relived his magical moment with the Celtics, along with his post-NBA career that saw him win two PBA championships as an import for the U-Tex Wranglers.

Right place at the right time

McDonald never earned star status in his brief NBA career during the 1970s, but the experience playing for the champion Celtics, including his heroic moment in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, will forever be etched in his memory.

With Cowens and Silas already fouled out by the third overtime, McDonald never really thought Boston coach Tom Heinsohn would call his number.

"What happened was Steve Kuberski, he was like the power forward... Paul Silas had fouled out of game and I told Steve, 'Paul just fouled out. Get ready! You got to go in,'" McDonald said. "All of a sudden, I heard (Heinsohn said), 'Mc, they (Suns) are tired. Run 'em. You're fresh. Run 'em.'"

McDonald heeded the call. He scored a layup, a 10-foot jumper, and a pair of foul shots to give the Celtics a 126-120 cushion late in the third overtime.

And though Westphal willed the Suns back with two crucial baskets in the dying seconds, including a steal, Boston managed to milk the clock to outlast Phoenix in what many dub as "the greatest game ever played in NBA history."

For McDonald, it was a moment he will forever relish.

"I was fortunate to be ready and blessed they call my name," shared the 68-year-old McDonald. "Everybody talks about the best game ever played. I'm in that game. My grandson, he just saw the (game the) other day. My son played it for him. He taped it while he was watching. (My grandson) calls me G. 'Go G! Go G!' He's like as if I'm playing right now."

The Celtics wrapped up the NBA title in Game 6 with an 87-80 win over the Suns in Phoenix.

He averaged 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds 13.6 minutes in 75 games, all NBA career-highs, in his sophomore year. But winning the title was the best thing that happened that season.

"I think for me, it was just kind of like numbness. Extremely, extremely happy but not knowing what to do because we're at Phoenix. You wanna celebrate but you're not at home with your fans, so we did fly out that night and go to Boston," he recounted.

"It's unbelievable to win the championship. People were at the airport for us. Then we had the parade, so just to win the whole thing, it was hard to explain because not many people can say you're a champion, especially when you're in the game and you had something to do to win.

"It carries through the whole time next season and you hope you repeat it."

Playing overseas

Good things never last, though, especially for a role player like McDonald.

Before the start of the 1977 season, McDonald received shocking news that he was being released, just months after playing a heroic role in Bostons' Game 5 victory.

"That situation when we came back, (after we) won a championship and I came back to Long Beach to get married, then go back to Boston and get cut. I said (to Heinsohn), 'Are you kidding me? I just promised her parents that I'm gonna take care of her and now I don't have a job,'" McDonald recalled.

"I'm irritated at that time, but at the same time, I've always said guys are playing for everybody. I got released, so go ahead be pissed off for a couple of days whatever, but you've got things to do so you can't sit down moping and not do anything."

His former Boston teammate, Don Nelson, who at the time was just starting a coaching career as one of Milwaukee Bucks' assistant coaches, heard of McDonald's situation. With shooting guard Fred "Mad Dog" Carter getting injured, Nelson invited McDonald for a relief job.

Playing nine games, McDonald maximized the minutes he got, contributing 2.1 points and 1.3 rebounds, before giving his spot back to Carter.

Finding himself without takers again, McDonald took a chance to play overseas for the first time, bringing his wife along as he played for club team Alvik in the Swedish league.

"We went over there for a year and we were the Swedish (League) champions and ended up taking third at the Europa Cup," he said.

When his time was up, Lee Haven, who played as an import for U-Tex in the 1975 and 1976 PBA seasons, got in touch with McDonald and brought up the idea of playing in the Philippines.

"So then this guy Lee Haven, he played in the Philippines, he contacted me one day, and said, 'You should go to the Philippines.' I said, 'I wasn't sure if I'd go back to Europe or not.' Not being disrespectful, but I just went to play in the NBA and over in Europe. He said, 'It's not what you think.' He kept bugging me and said, 'You need to try it.'"

Eventually, McDonald agreed to meet with U-Tex owner Walter Euyang and check out the PBA, which despite being a new pro league was gaining a huge following because of the Toyota-Crispa rivalry.

"When I got off the plane, I said, 'My God, this humidity is just killing me already.' But the people were really nice and stuff, and we went to a couple of practices," recalled McDonald.

Two PBA players that quickly caught his attention were Ramon Fernandez of Toyota and Philip Cezar of Crispa.

"The first game I saw was I think Toyota playing Filmanbank. I was seeing Mon Fernandez dunking on Americans, had this fast-paced game, and I said, 'Are you kidding me?' And then I saw Crispa playing, and then I was looking at Cezar and I said, 'Who are these guys?'"

The initial glimpse of Philippine talent somehow convinced the former NBA champion to give the PBA a try.

"This could be fun and interesting. I told Walter that I will come back so, that's how I got over there (at U-Tex)," he said. "I never was on contract the whole time I was over there, but just shake hands. That's all that was."

Historic feat

In his first PBA foray as an import for U-Tex, McDonald had a rough start.

"My first game, I forgot, but we played the last placed team in the league. I think I just scored six points in the first half, so I said to myself, 'This is not gonna look good.' But I just got back and had to play the same day so in the second half, I got to score 36 points, and end up winning the game," McDonald recounted.

"So it became a trend, every game I'm down, low on points (in the first half), by the second half I'd score a lot, so they started calling me the 'Second-half Man.'"

McDonald brought the same team-first mindset he learned from the Celtics to U-Tex, a team that was then handled by an upstart coach by the name of Tommy Manotoc.

Toyota and Crispa dominated the first three seasons of the PBA by alternating in winning the championships. However, U-Tex was determined to put an end to the duopoly.

The Wranglers, who had Byron "Snake" Jones as their other import, barged into the semis after posting a 10-4 win-loss record in the two-round eliminations. U-Tex posted a 5-1 record in the semis to book a seat in the finals where it faced Crispa for the 1978 Open Conference crown.

The motivated Wranglers surprised everyone by sweeping the 400s with McDonald erupting for 40 points in the title-clinching Game 3. U-Tex won, 104-96, to become the first team outside of Toyota and Crispa to win a PBA crown. More importantly, McDonald etched his name in Philippine basketball history as the first import to have won an NBA title and a PBA crown.

McDonald, whoaveraged 30.6 points and 12.7 rebounds for the Wranglers, said he only realized about the feat when Jones told him about it.

"I knew Snake were with the Celtics a couple years, but you know at training camp, they kept saying, 'Glen, you're the first person to win a championship in the NBA and then become a PBA champion. You're the first NBA player to come over and do that.' It's kind of a big honor to win both titles," he said proudly.

McDonald's second PBA title, though, didn't come that easy.

Serving as one of U-Tex's imports in the 1980 PBA Open Conference, McDonald again played an instrumental role, this time leading the Wranglers against Toyota in a best-of-five finals series, which boiled down to the last 16 seconds of Game 5.

Toyota was enjoying a four-point lead during the final 16 seconds after a Francis Arnaiz basket. But McDonald and the Wranglers just wouldn't be denied.

U-Tex import Aaron James converted on an uncontentested layup with 11 seconds left to play to allow his team to inch within two, 94-92. The Toyota Tamaraws, coming off a timeout, uncharacteristically turned the ball over after McDonald mad a steal. Arnaiz was forced to foul the former Boston Celtic, who was trying to go for a game-tying layup, stopping the game clock at two seconds. McDonald calmly sank both foul shots to send the game into overtime.

"I don't remember who scored for us to go down two, but then Tommy wanted this overplay, so what we got to do is play defense and don't give up," McDonald said. "I think it was (Arnie) Tuadles who took the ball out, and I kinda shifted off Arnaiz. I then kind of went to the middle as I told myself, 'I'm gonna steal this pass,' and right when I said that, I saw the ball coming so I just lunged to get this thing."

After both squads went back-and-forth in the extra session, Adornado's long bucket with just over a minute left served as the winning basket as U-Tex escaped with a 99-98 decision to clinch the title, McDonald's second with the franchise.