The Northerners of the late great, national team coach Ron Jacobs, Northern Consolidated or Northern Cement, whatever you call it, won the PBA championship back in the 1985 Reinforced Conference. During that time, it was referred as guest amateur team to win, but they aren’t an amateur ballclub but the national team that won the Jones Cup tournament in the middle of the year, carrying the colors of San Miguel Beer, retaining the SEA Games basketball gold in December and winning back the ABC crown for the country in the first week of January 1986.
The six PBA ballclubs, Great Taste was expected to win the grandslam in 1985, having won four straight titles in a row and seem to be a perfect team to join the 1976 and 1983 Crispa Redmanizers among the elite club of grandslam champions. Four teams – Tanduay, Manila Beer, Ginebra and first-year ballclub Shell – have zero championship and were never locked to win a PBA title, at least that year, not just yet. Norman Black’s Magnolia, now renamed Magnolia Quench Plus, an overachieving squad that placed second to Great Taste in the first conference and were eliminated in the All-Filipino, will probably remain only second to the Coffee Makers no matter how many times they played in the season.
NCC was least likely to win too, as in three previous conferences they participated in the PBA, At best, Ron Jacobs’ boys should only be playing in the battle for third place. But in one of the league’s very first, they won the 1985 PBA Third Conference crown in unprecedented fashion, the first-ever 4-0 finals sweep in PBA history against the Manila Beer Brewmasters. It was not considered an upset but its certain we will never see again a group of local cagers straight out from college and reinforced by two Americans, winning big against pro teams with seasoned veterans. And if anyone watches the Northern-Manila Beer finale on youtube, one would notice how merciless the NCC players were against their opponents even when leading by 30 points, thats how American mentor Ron Jacobs molded the team into a discipline unit with a killer instinct. Aside from Manila Beer, Ron Jacobs’ boys were so hard on two other teams with top centers on a protected list – Great Taste and Tanduay. In five victories in six meetings with the Coffee Makers, NCC won by an average of 16 points. In three wins against Tanduay, NCC had an average winning margin of 19 points. So far, Northern’s worst nightmare happens to be crowd-favorite Ginebra San Miguel, which had the edge in their five matches, three wins to two, and there is this “pahiyang” against Magnolia, which emphatically beat Northern three times (Magnolia was 4-1 over NCC in the Open).
I had personal preferences on the NCC roster that won the PBA crown with naturalized players Jeff Moore and Dennis Still and the 10 local players who all made it to the pros, led by Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, Yves Dignadice and Hector Calma, compared to the team which placed third in the Open Conference and that has a third naturalized player in Arthur ‘Chip’ Engelland (Still was actually the 3rd since Engelland played first in the PBA a year before), along with Leoncio Tan Jr. and Joseph Uichico in the lineup. UE’s Jerry Codinera and UST’s Pido Jarencio and Benjie Gutierrez were not yet part of the team that went to Taipei in the Jones Cup.
Northern started out the third conference with a narrow 106-107 loss to Ginebra on September 10, which had import Michael Hackett, a 1982 draft pick by the LA Lakers and the PBA’s soon-to-be first 100-point man, debuting with 49 points. They won their next two games against Manila Beer, 106-94, and Tanduay, 110-101, and then lost to Shell, who were 0-3 before their match, 104-106. Since this is the first full conference i’ve followed, I was hype to see how Northern would fare against Great Taste in their next outing on September 24, which will be shown on delayed telecast as it was scheduled in the first game. It turn out Great Taste played importless in the game as import Wally Rank have already left the team and the Coffee Makers easily lost, 120-133. Northern finish with three wins and three losses in the first round of eliminations and coming off a 90-98 defeat to Magnolia in Cabanatuan City on September 28.
NCC won four of their next five games in the second round with Magnolia again as their unlikely tormentor. One of their biggest victories was against Shell on October 1st where they held the Bugbusters to a record-low five points in the first quarter, a record that stood for more than a decade, they do allow the Bugbusters to score 53 points in the final quarter in a 147-111 victory. On the last three playing dates, both Ginebra and Magnolia were upset by lowly teams Tanduay and Shell, and Northern was expected to join Manila Beer in the outright semifinal slot but the Brewmasters defeated NCC, 126-121, on both teams last assignment on October 17, thus creating a triple tie for second place and pave the way for what could be the most discussed and favorite topics among old-school basketball fans, the birth of the never-say-die spirit of the league’s most popular team – Ginebra San Miguel.
As everyone knows, Ginebra beat Northern, 99-96, in a classic contest on October 22. Fast-forward two weeks later on November 5, NCC and Great Taste have joined Manila Beer and Ginebra at the start of the four-team, two-round semifinals. Northern was paired against their waterloo Ginebra San Miguel and lost, 97-101. Another defeat, this time against Great Taste, 97-102, as the Coffee Makers nailed their first victory over NCC in the conference, strengthen the notion that the nationals are only as good as making it to the final four.
In a repeat of their memorable playoff encounter two weeks before, NCC again controlled the match for three quarters but Ginebra got the breaks in the end. Here in this photo as written in the Atlas Sports weekly magazine issue dated November 15, Dennis Still was called for a pushing foul on Ginebra import Michael Hackett, he was infuriated by the call and was thrown out of the game, Still took a towel and threw it at the referee before leaving the hardcourt. Hackett had only 11 points before Still’s ejection in the third period and with no Dennis to handcuff him in the fourth quarter, Hackett went to town and finished with 37 points.
An article came out on a newspaper the next morning on coach Ron Jacobs’ thoughts on the PBA being unfair to them. NCC came back from those two losses with a 130-95 rout over Manila Beer, held import Francois Wise to a low output of 14 points. At the start of the second round, Northern finally escape with a 115-108 win over the hard-fighting Ginebras and they made it closer to the finals by beating their favorite whipping boy Great Taste (aside from Manila Beer), 125-102. The NCC core would suffer their final defeat as a team in the battle for the first finals seat versus Manila Beer.
The usually cool Samboy Lim blew his top and is about to confront Ramon Cruz if not for the cooler hands that prevailed over him. Manila Beer clinch the first finals berth with a 99-93 win, dropping an 18-2 bomb in the fourth quarter after trailing, 80-89. This was the last defeat of the NCC. The nationals would sweep their way to the PBA championship and were unbeaten in the SEA Games and ABC Championship along with the two farewell exhibition game against a PABL selection.
In the playoff game against Great Taste on November 19, NCC ended the Coffee Makers’ grandslam bid as early as the first half when they led by 20 points, 70-50. Great Taste’ main scorer Ricardo Brown has yet to score in the game and he would remain scoreless in the second half. Except for the brief run by Great Taste late in the third quarter to cut the lead to 14, it was NCC all the way, coach Ron Jacobs pulled out his starters late in the game and the second stringers even added insult to injury with Alfie Almario first hitting a trey and then Elmer Reyes scoring back-to-back triples to the delight of the cheering NCC bench. The final tally was 123-107 for Northern.
Interesting to note that NCC had the same won-loss records after the eliminations, quarterfinals and semifinals of their title-conquest in the third conference and their third place finish earlier in the first conference of the 1985 PBA season. 7-5 after 12 games, 9-7 entering the semis (NCC beat Manila Beer in a playoff in the 1st Conference), and 3-3 after the semifinal round. The only difference is they were a game behind short of a finals berth in the first conference. In their championship run, they won 17 and lost 10, and only twice did Northern lose by double-digit margin, both against Magnolia, 96-106 in the second round of elimination on October 8, and 93-105 in the quarterfinal round on October 27.
The last hurrah of the great national team of coach Ron Jacobs, which first started in 1981 as the RP Training team, in a homecoming as the new ABC Champions in January 1986 with a jampacked crowd on hand at the Rizal Coliseum against a PABL selection reinforced by Norman Black and the late Darryl Smith. The Nationals won, 105-78. They play the selection again, this time without all American reinforcements and repeat with an 84-79 win.