Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 3 – The MICAA Days)

Meanwhile, basketball’s popularity was growing by leaps and bounds in the local scene.  The Philippine domination of the sport in Asia, coupled with the storied rivalries in the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) were drawing fans from all over the country.

The MICAA basketball league was first organized in 1938 for company employees to compete against each other. This eventually evolved into a semi-professional league where the country’s best players showcased their talents. Prominent among the teams from the 50s to the 60s were: the Manila Ports Terminal (winner of the inaugural season in 1939, won a string of championships in 1948-50), Prisco (the dominant team and champion in 1953-54), Seven Up (first team to win a crown on their first season, 1955), Yco, Ysmael, PAL, Yutivo and Puyat Steel.

From the late-50s to the mid-60s, it was the much-ballyhooed Yco Painters -Ysmael Steel Admirals duel that was stirring so much fan-frenzy. This was the first real rivalry that would catch the imagination of the basketball fanatics. Talent-wise, both teams were also considered a cut above the rest of the pack.

Yco dominant from the 50s to the 60s
Yco, together with Ysmael Steel, were the dominant teams in the 60s.

The 1967 Philippine Team to Seoul was a clear example of the Yco-Ysmael dominance. Yco contributed coach Caloy Loyzaga, plus 5 players namely: Ed Ocampo, Bobby ‘Big J’ Jaworski, Danny Florencio, Edgardo Roque and Sonny Reyes to the team.  Ysmael on the other hand brought in 6 players: Narciso Bernardo, Adriano Papa Jr, Jake Rojas, Alberto ‘Big Boy’ Reynoso, Jimmy Mariano and Orly Bauzon. The lone non-member of the two powerhouse teams was Rogelio Melencio, who was then with Yutivo.

Danny Florencio gets hero's ride in the '67 ABC Championship.
Danny Florencio gets hero’s ride in the ’67 ABC Championship.

Other fan favorites whose stars shone bright from the 60s to the early 70s were: Pons Saldana – PAL, Freddie Webb (later to become a senator of the land) – Yco, Elias Tolentino – Yco, Rhoel Nadurata – Puyat, Larry Mumar – U-Tex, Jesse Sullano – Mariwasa, and the Cebu connection of San Miguel composed of Rosalio Martirez, Manny Paner and Alejandrito Miego.

But it was the Yco-Ysmael rivalry that stoked the imagination of the basketball crowd in the 60s, paving the way to the entry of such eventual giants as the Crispa Redmanizers, Meralco Reddy Kilowatts, Mariwasa Hondas and the San Miguel Braves. In 1968, Mariwasa would become the darling of the cage crowd by winning the crown on their debut season, thanks to that cheerful man-mountain of an import, Billy Robinson.

Big J with the Meralco Reddy Kilowatts
Meralco, starring the Big J, Big Boy Reynoso and Fort Acuna, Reigns in the MICAA.

By the start of the 70s, a new rivalry was now taking shape. This would be between Crispa, led by veterans Papa and Florencio, plus fresh college stars Rudolph ‘Mr Clutch’ Kutch, Rudy ‘The Magician’ Soriano, Rey Alcantara, Johnny Revilla and Billy Abarrientos; and Meralco, starring Jaworski, and former Ysmael standouts Reynoso, Mariano, Bauzon, and Alfonso Marquez.

Crispa collecting trophies
Crispa’s star begins to shine.

In December 1971, both Jaworski and Reynoso were meted lifetime bans by the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) for mauling a referee in a hotly-contested Crispa-Meralco match. Eventually, the Meralco team would fold up as a result of what they perceived was unfair treatment given to the two Meralco stalwarts.

In 1973, a game-fixing scandal would rock the MICAA when Crispa fell flat on its face against a seemingly lightweight Mariwasa squad in a championship game. Given lifetime bans were Papa, Florencio, Kutch, Alcantara, Abarrientos and future PBA ref, Ernie De Leon. Only William Adornado would be left from its starting crew. Unfazed by the near-catastrophic wipe-out of its star-studded line-up, Crispa’s venerable coach, Baby Dalupan, recruited young players who would later form the core of their golden years. These players were: Atoy Co from Mapua, Abet Guidaben from CSJR Cebu, brothers Philip and David Cesar from JRC, and the duo of Bernie Fabiosa and Freddie Hubalde from the RP Youth Team that had recently won the Asian Youth Basketball Championship. The visionary Dalupan would later lead Crispa to become MICAA’s most dominant team, owing to his dynamic coaching philosophy.

That year, the Toyota Comets became only the 3rd team to have won a MICAA crown on their debut season. With the newly-reinstated Jaworski and Reynoso taking the cudgels for Toyota, plus the acquisition of Francis Arnaiz and Mon ‘El Presidente’ Fernandez, and with the Crispa Redmanizers still reeling from the game-fixing scandal, Toyota would find itself on top of the Philippine cage scene for a brief period. Soon, with Crispa’s new crew jelling, Toyota would find a worthy opponent in the hardcourt. This would signal the beginning of the most talked-about rivalry in local basketball, the Crispa – Toyota rivalry. And this would spill over to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) later on.

The Crispa - Toyota rivalry is born
The Crispa-Toyota rivalry started in the MICAA and spilled over to the PBA.

In 1975, nine (9) member companies of the MICAA would bolt and organize the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the first professional basketball league in Asia. This would significantly diminish the talent pool in the MICAA. The MICAA would continue to exist as a stepping stone for cagers striving to hit the big-time in the PBA. Eventually however, in 1981, the MICAA would fold up.

to be continued…

for Part 1, pls read: Philippine Basketball In Review

for Part 2, pls go to: Philippine Basketball In Review Part-2: The 60s

(photos courtesy of philboxing.com, video48blogspot.com, interaksyon.com, interbasket.net, sports.yahoo.com, RP Basketball Digest)

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