Toyota team celebrates its Golden Anniversary

The legendary Toyota basketball of old

By EDDIE G. ALINEA, Sports Editor

On Saturday, February 18, the other half of the celebrated rivalry in the history Philippine basketball that served as one of the launching pads of why the shoot-and-dribble sport has remained the Filipinos’ favorite past time, marked the  50th year of its founding.

To commemorate that year 1973 when the Toyota basketball team came into being to wreck havoc on the country’s cage scene, surviving members of the franchise owned by the Toyota Motors, gathered for the first time in decades at the place where they used to hold important occasions  — the Alfresco Covered Lounge on Don Chino Roces Ave. (formerly Pasong Tamo Extension) in Makati City.

Heading attendees of Saturday’s affair were long-time mentor-owner Dante Silverio and, hopefully, local basketball’s “living legend” Robert Jaworski, to reminisce the teams’ rich and memorable winning traditions in both the amateur and professional ranks.

Jaworski, who, according the Gil Cortez, a Toyota team member and first PBA Rookie of the Year honoree, quoting Jawo’s son Robert Jr. or Dodot, now Pasig City Vice Mayor, has just been released from the hospital due to a rare blood disorder he’s been suffering for more than two years, is already in fine condition and can attend the gathering defending on advice of his doctors.

“Pipilitin daw, according to Dodot, na makarating si coach Jawo, kung papayagan ng doctor,” Cortez, assigned to coordinate the affair, told this writer on the former “King Warrior” of the Unversity of the East’s presence on the occasion.

Two years after its founding, while carrying the banner of the Komatsu Komets coached by Nilo Verona, ruled the 1973 Manila Industrial Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) in Cinderella fashion, Jaworski and company, would migrate to the first ever professional league in Asia, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), where Toyota won the play-for-pay’s  historic two inaugural conferences on the way to a total nine before the team was dismantled in early 1980s.

Members of that 1973 MICAA crown owners were Ronald Acosta, Fort Acuna, Francis Arnaiz, Orlando Bauzon, Edward Camus, Edilberto Canalao, Robert Concepcion, Ramon Fernandez, Cristino Reynoso, Ulysses Rodriguez, Rodolfo Segura, Alberto :”Big Boy” and Jaworski.

Along with eight other MICAA members, Toyota abandoned its amateur status to form the PBA, bringing along Jaworski, Arnaiz, Fernandez, Concepcion, Bauzon, the Reynoso brothers Big Boy and Cris, Acuna and Segura, while beefing up the roster with new acquisitions Joaquin Rojas, Aurelio Clarino and Oscar Rocha,

And with 6-foot-8 America import Byron “Snake” Jones joining coach Silverio’s aggrupation after the first half of the preliminrfy round, the then kown as Comets, indeed, looked formidable in compiling an inviable 15-3 win-loss record going into the First Conference Championship at the expense of soon-to-be fiercest rivals Crispa Redmanzers, 2-1, of their best-of-three gold medal series.

Coach Dante brought in 6-6 import Stan Cherry for the Second Conference, making his line up more balanced as the Comets, once again, beat the Redmanizers in the title playoff after Crispa, trailing the series the series, 1-2, withdrew from the title playoff.

In the four-team Third Conference, billed as the All Philippine Championship, Toyota lost to Crispa in  the first to win three series that went the full route to deny the Comets what could’ve been the first Grand Slam triumph of the then first and only pro-league in the country.

In the overall win-loss picture of the play-for-pay’s inaugural year, Toyota won 42 gmes against 15 losses. It had a winning record against all other pro clubs: 12-9 over Crsipa, 7-2 over Royal Tru-Orange of San Miguel, 6-1 over Universal Textiles, 5-2 over Mariwasa Noritake, 3-1 over Concepcion Carrier, 3-0 over Seven-Up, 3-0 over CFC Presto, and 3-0 over Taduay Distillers.

Toyota scored the highest single game 159 points its one-sided outing vs Seven-Up on May 13, 1975. Comets sentinel Francis Arnaiz was named pro-basketball Player of the Year in that year’s Seven-Up All-Filipino Sports Award with Silverio and Crispa counterpart Virgilio “Baby,” Dalupan, co-coaches of the Year.

The PBA was born and grew up in the shadow of the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City and the age-old Rizal Memorial Coliseum inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila. Mild turbulences as player fights attended its first years of existence but action grew  more frenzied games improved a lot. Attendance picked up and competition stiffer.

Before the maiden year, that was dignosed not to last to celebrate its second anniversasry, ended, the PBA had grown into a full-grown adult that is now celebrating its 47th birthday.

Thanks to Toyota and Crispa whose storied rivalry that lasted a little over a decade, made the PBA what it was before its disbandment.