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Notable NBA players who played in the PBA

Henry Walker, who played several seasons in the NBA, is one of the best imports Blackwater has ever had. PBA Media Bureau

It's always exciting news when we hear that a former NBA player is set to play in the PBA as an import. We like seeing incredible talent dominate. At the same time, we want to see how much our local favorites can match up against world-class skill.

We already talked about PBA imports who won an NBA title. This time we take a look at other guys who may not own an NBA ring but graced the PBA with their talents.

Chris Morris

In the 2002 PBA Commissioner's Cup, teams were allowed two imports each. The Purefoods TJ Hotdogs started that campaign with Kelvin Price and Gabe Muoneke, but midway through the elimination round they decided to introduce Warren Rosegreen and former NBA veteran Chris Morris.

Before making his way to the PBA, Morris had played in the NBA for 10 years. He was the fourth overall pick of the New Jersey Nets in 1988. He also suited up for the Utah Jazz from 1997-1999 - the two seasons that the franchise challenged the mighty Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals - before closing out his career with a one-year stint with the Phoenix Suns.

In the PBA, Morris was only seen in five games as Purefoods failed to advance to the playoffs that conference. He normed 20.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists as the TJ Hotdogs took a 2-3 record with him on board.

Cedric Ceballos

The Phoenix Suns took Cedric Ceballos as the 48th overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. He was taken in the second round, but the credentials he gathered over his 10-year proved that he was a bargain of a pick.

Ceballos became an immediate contributor for the Suns. In his first two years, he averaged 7.7 points in just 11 minutes per game. As a sophomore, he was crowned Slam Dunk Champion. By his third year in Phoenix, his numbers went up to 12.8 points per game as he led the league with a 57.6% shooting clip. His best season in the NBA, however, was in 1994-1995 when he averaged 21.7 points and 8.0 rebounds for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was also chosen as an All-Star that year.

From Los Angeles, Ceballos found his way back to Phoenix and made stops in Dallas, Detroit and Miami before playing internationally and landing in the PBA.

In Game 3 of the 2003 Reinforced Conference Finals, the San Miguel Beermen tapped Ceballos as a one-game replacement for injured import Kwan Johnson. As lengthy as his NBA career was, his PBA stint was brief. The NBA veteran finished had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first three quarters before sitting out the fourth. San Miguel won the game, 86-81.

Kevin Gamble

When a former NBA player finds his way to the PBA, it usually happens after playing a few years in the NBA. In the case of Kevin Gamble, he suited up for the Añejo Rum just a year after being drafted in 63rd overall by the Portland Trailblazers.

Gamble made the roster of Portland but played only 19 minutes before getting waived. He then found himself in an Añejo jersey alongside another NBA talent in Billy Ray Bates. After notching just one win in five games, Gamble was released. But what struck people the most his scoring ability as he poured in the points in that short stretch.

Not long after, Gamble was picked up by the Boston Celtics where he eventually became a key contributor. In the 1990-91 season, he had his best year numbers-wise averaging 15.6 points in 33.0 minutes per game for the Celtics.

Gamble went on to play for the Miami Heat and the Sacramento Kings before closing his playing career. He now serves as a scout for the Toronto Raptors.

Vincent Askew

Here's another tale of an import who played in the PBA before becoming an NBA mainstay. In 1987, the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Vincent Askew as the 39th overall pick. After a subpar first season, playing only 14 games, he took his talents to the Shell Helix Oilers in the 1988 PBA Open Conference.

Askew replaced Durand Macklin who had played the first four games of the tournament. However, he could do little to save the team's campaign. Shell ended failed to make the playoffs with a 1-9 record in the eliminations.

Askew bounced around different leagues before being signed by the Golden State Warriors in 1990. As journeyman, he also played for the Seattle Supersonics, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets and the Portland Trailblazers. Askew averaged 7.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 8 years in the NBA.

Leon Wood

There are also some former NBA players who try out the international scene in the curtain call of their careers. Leon Wood was the 10th overall pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984. He played six seasons in the NBA, suiting up for the the Sixers, Washington Bullets, New Jersey Nets, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and the Sacramento Kings.

After wrapping up his final year in the NBA, Wood played in Italy, Germany and France before donning the Purefoods TJ Hotdogs jersey in the PBA.

Purefoods earned an immediate semifinals berth after lending their key players to the national team. However, Wood and the TJ Hotdogs came up short in their championship chase.

Wood played his last professional basketball game in the PBA as he retired from playing after that conference. He shifted to a career in officiating. He began refereeing in the NBA in 1995 and continues to officiate until today.

Henry Walker

Prior to entering the NBA Draft in 2008, Henry Walker had already suffered two anterior cruciate ligament injuries. Weeks before draft night, he suffered a third knee injury. Despite that, he persevered to carve out a decent five-year career in the association.

Walker was picked up by the Washington Wizards as the 47th overall pick, before the Boston Celtics acquired his draft rights for cash considerations. Midway through his second season, he found his way to the New York Knicks in a trade. Walker spent the next three seasons with the Knicks. When he was waived in 2012, he spent time playing in the NBA Developmental League.

It was in 2014 that Walker was first introduced to the PBA when the Alaska Aces got him for the Governors' Cup. He helped the team barge into the playoffs but their campaign ended in a semifinals loss to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.

After performing well in the NBA D-League, the PBA and in his brief stint in Venezuela, Walker received a call up from the Miami Heat in 2015. However, he was waived after the season was over.

Walker returned in 2016 as a reinforcement for the NLEX Road Warriors. Again, he led his team to a playoff berth but was eliminated in the quarterfinals by the San Miguel Beermen.

The next season, Walker returned to the PBA. This time, for the Blackwater Elite. After a 0-3 start with Trevis Simpson, the Elite turned to Walker to help save their conference. He powered them to 5-3 slate for the rest of the elimination round - just enough to book a seat in the next round. They upset top-seeded Meralco in Game 1 with a 92-91 victory but was eliminated with a loss in Game 2.

With the success they had with Walker, Blackwater went with him again in 2018. The Elite had one of their best tournaments, finishing fifth after the eliminations. However, they still could not get past the quarterfinals as they fell short against Magnolia.

After his last conference with the Elite, Walker signed with Japanese ball club Shiga Lakestars.

Al Thornton

Upon being drafted as the 14th overall pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2007, Al Thornton became an immediate contributor for his team. As a rookie, he started in 31 of the 79 games he played and averaged 12.7 points and 4.5 rebounds. He was named into the 2008 NBA All-Rookie First Team.

His role and his contributions grew even bigger in his sophomore year. After that, however, both the production and the minutes began to dip.

In 2010, he was traded to the Washington Wizards. In March of 2011, Thornton and the Wizards agreed on a buyout and he signed with the Golden State Warriors just a few days later.

Playing sparingly for the Warriors, he decided to take his talents to the international scene. He played in Puerto Rico and China before arriving in the PBA.

The NLEX Road Warriors tapped Thornton as their import for the 2015 Commissioner's Cup. His skill was on full display in the PBA. He was an unstoppable scorer. He returned to reinforce the Road Warriors in 2016 and he continued his show. In a triple overtime loss to San Miguel, Thornton dropped 69 points - the most the PBA has seen since 1994.

Thornton also joined Mighty Sports to represent the Philippines in the 2016 William Jones Cup. He was a major contributor in the team's gold medal campaign.

In 2017, he joined the BIG 3, playing for Allen Iverson's 3's Company.


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