In the middle of the year 1986, San Miguel Corporation decided to return to the basketball scene with the re-entry of both their amateur and pro ballclubs. A year later in late-1987, the SMC teams would start a tradition of winning run and by the end of the decade, they would become the most dominant squads with San Miguel Beer winning six of the last seven PBA conferences, including a grandslam, and their farm team Magnolia Ice Cream winning four of the last seven PABL conferences.
Actually, Magnolia won five since the return in 1986 and they won their first PABL title right away with some remmants of the old Lagerlite team such as Allan Caidic, Jerry Codinera, Pido Jarencio and Dindo Pumaren.
In this blog entry, I’ll talk about Magnolia’s only finals defeat to Philips Sardines which denied them of three straight crowns (Magnolia won titles in between) and Philips’ first and only PABL championship which took place in the third conference called Maharlika Cup that run from October to December 1988.
There are some significance on why Philips’ title conquest was that special and memorable. First, the league was coming off its worst crisis before the tournament started and which led to three teams disbanding. Second, it was the last time at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum that a foreign club, McDonald’s of Taiwan, would play at the old dome. Third, the most celebrated big man and amateur cager at that time, Benjie Paras of Philips, won his first commercial league title, two years after he led his alma mater, the University of the Philippines Maroons, to their first-ever UAAP crown.
A look at the rosters would suggest that winning Philips coach Joe Lipa had pulled another trick, reminiscent of his leading the underdog ESQ Merchants to an upset finals victory over the powerhouse Lagerlite Beermen of coach Derrick Pumaren three years ago. Incidentally, Pumaren calls the shots for Magnolia in the best-of-three championship series against Philips, thus the second meeting between two national team coaches and coach Joe Lipa made it 2-0 over his counterpart.
Magnolia is composed of three national mainstays; Nelson Asaytono, Dindo Pumaren and Paul Alvarez, three players named to the national team the following year; Gido Babilonia, Larry Villanil and Carlito Mejos, former nationals Jong Uichico and Leoncio Tan, both undrafted in the PBA rookie draft earlier in the year, and the likes of Romeo Lopez, Edgar Macaraya, Jerry Gonzales and Joey Santamaria.
Philips, aside from Paras, had Bobby Jose, Anthony Poblador, Silverio Palad, Aristotle Franco and Alfrancis Chua. Other players in the lineups were Benjie’s former national teammates and fellow Maroons, Joey Mendoza, Eric Altamirano and Joey Guanio, two more from UP, 5-9 Samuel Marata and 5-7 Alfie Manlulo, and two players named to the national team the following year; Gilbert Reyes and Edgar Postanes.
The Maharlika Cup finals, Game One was a 96-95 overtime win for Philips with Paras sinking two free throws with a fraction of a second remaining in the extension period to give the Sardines Makers a one-point win after being down by 11 points with a little over six minutes left in regulation. Game Two had Magnolia tying the series with a 90-84 victory.
Game Three on December 22, 1988 was supposed to be another merrier yuletide season and double-victory celebration for SMC ballclubs just like the previous year. But Philips refuse to fall under pressure when the Ice Cream Makers close to within three points, 57-60, with three minutes gone in the second half after being down by 12 at halftime. Gilbert “Jun” Reyes, yes, he rekindle his old rivalry with Dindo Pumaren here, two months after the Ateneo-La Salle showdown in the UAAP, drilled in a three-pointer that started a 26-10 blast for Philips as they coasted to a 103-86 victory.
Interesting to note that Benjie Paras, who was a two-time PABL MVP in 1988, never got to play against his former national teammates Asaytono, Alvarez and Pumaren in a PBA finals, just like when he went up against Alvin Patrimonio and Zaldy Realubit of Swift in the PABL International Invitational Cup finals earlier in May where Philips almost won the title in regulation, a basketball fans dream match up of Paras being pitted against Patrimonio in a pro league finale never came to fruition.
Magnolia Ice Cream did gain a measure of finals revenge over the Philips Sardines ballclub at the turn of the decade in 1990 but with different players.