The first conference of the 1977 PBA season, the All-Filipino, saw the Mariwasa-Honda Panthers, coach by Tito Eduque and led by American Billy Robinson and the Rifleman Jun Papa, finally ended the string of Crispa-Toyota championship clashes for six straight conferences. How the Panthers were able to do it. Let’s take a look at the results of their games during the elimination round and how they enter into the finals against last season’s Grandslam champions Crispa Redmanizers.
First Round – Mariwasa won over Tanduay, 115-105; Seven-Up, 105-97; U-Tex, 136-130; Toyota, 145-126. They lost to Royal, 95-113; Presto, 120-130; and Crispa, 116-118.
Second Round – Mariwasa won over Seven-Up, 146-137; Royal, 152-126, in the game Jun Papa scored the highest output by a local player so far with 59 points (later broken by Danny Florencio’s 64 points in the same year), Toyota, 109-103; and Crispa, 115-97, in their last game in the elimination round where the Panthers handed the Redmanizers their first loss after going unbeaten at 13-0 in the eliminations (Crispa was coming off a 16-game winning streak dating back to the last three games of the ’76 All-Philippine championship). Mariwasa’s losses in the second round came against Tanduay, 135-136; Presto, 130-141; and U-Tex in overtime, 125-128.
Mariwasa finish the double-round eliminations with an 8-6 won-loss record, behind the other three semifinalist; Crispa (13-1), Tanduay and Toyota, both with 9 wins 5 losses. In the double-round semifinals, after four playing dates, Crispa remain unbeaten at 4-0, winning over Mariwasa, 119-117, that put the Panthers on a brink at 1-3. Tanduay nip Toyota, 110-109, to place second at 2-2. The Tamaraws were tied with the Panthers and also in danger of being ousted from the finals race.
On July 12, Mariwasa sealed the first non Crispa-Toyota finals showdown by eliminating the Tamaraws, 121-114, as Billy Robinson scored 56 points. Crispa march to its fifth straight win in the semifinals by beating Tanduay. In the last playing date on July 14, both Mariwasa and Tanduay were tied with 2 wins and 3 losses, the Panthers beat the Distillers, 116-112, for their first trip to the PBA finals.
Eventually, Mariwasa-Honda lost to powerhouse Crispa in their best-of-five championship series in four games as the Redmanizers won their fifth straight title. The Panthers were easily beaten in Game one, 121-141, with Atoy Co and Freddie Hubalde scoring 37 and 31 points for the Redmanizers. Mariwasa tied the series at one game apiece with a 123-116 win in Game two, with Billy Robinson scoring 51 points and dominated the boards with the absence of suspended Philip Cezar in the Crispa lineup. The Redmanizers won the third game and they finish off the Panthers with a 139-128 win in Game four. The consolation for Mariwasa-Honda is that they were the only team to have given the Redmanizers their only two losses in the conference.
Mariwasa played for six more seasons in the PBA as Honda, Finance and Galerie Dominique and never came close of making it to the finals again until the team disbanded by the end of the 1983 PBA season.