Remembering the Crispa – Toyota Rivalry: The Glory Days of the PBA

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was born in 1975. It has the distinction of being the first-ever men’s professional basketball league in Asia, and the second oldest professional basketball league in the world, next only to the NBA. To a large extent, the popularity of basketball in the Philippines came from the consistent international successes of the national team, particularly at the regional level. Despite being clearly disadvantaged in height and heft, our national players were still able to lord it over the field using speed and superior game smarts. Thus, with these successes building up its popularity, came the impetus to create a professional league.

However, the consequence for creating the professional league was that the international game suffered. The country would only be allowed to send amateurs to all foreign competitions, and these teams could never be competitive against their international counterparts. Thus, many basketball pundits in the country felt that this would lead to the demise of Philippine Basketball.

Enter: the Crispa- Toyota rivalry in the PBA.

The Crispa Redmanizers and the Toyota Tamaraws were the 2 most dominant teams in the PBA then, winning 21 of the first 26 PBA titles since its inception in 1975 to 1983. Basketball fans in the whole country would be polarized by the fierce tug-of-war between these two teams. It is said that even before Manny Pacquiao wielded his magic by clearing the streets whenever he fought, the Crispa-Toyota epic battles have been doing so with regularity way back in the 70s.

The rivalry actually started during the defunct MICAA days; with Crispa, already a basketball power in the late 60s, and Meralco, an upcoming cage team, squaring off. When Meralco disbanded in 1972, most of its top players led by Bobby Jaworski, Alberto Reynoso and Orly Bauzon – all popular national players then – joined a new team, the Komatsu Komets. This would later become the Toyota Comets when the PBA was born.

The Crispa – Toyota rivalry would help immensely in the growth and rising popularity of the PBA. In the same manner that a strong Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry in the 80s helped influence the growth of the NBA, the Crispa – Toyota trysts were full of exciting twists and turns, and were the games that would spell survival for the PBA, and Philippine Basketball as a whole.

Crispa’s charge was led originally by that coaching maestro, Baby Dalupan, and later, Tommy Manotoc. Crispa’s first wave stars included future Hall of Famers: Bogs Adornado, Atoy Co, Philip Cesar, Abet Guidaben, Freddie Hubalde and Bernie Fabiosa. Crispa even had a second wave of stars including Yoyoy Villamin, Bay Cristobal, Joy Carpio, Padim Israel et al ready for the 80s era.

Toyota, on the other hand, would be originally coached by Dante Silverio, followed by former players Fort Acuna and Ed Ocampo. Popular players for the Comets (later renamed to Tamaraws) included Jaworski himself, Mon Fernandez, Francis Arnaiz, Danny Florencio, Arnie Tuadles and Chito Loyzaga.

The rivalry would be full of action and bitter confrontations. Their very first game in the PBA would set the stage for the hardcourt drama that would characterize their intense rivalry, when Toyota’s Oscar Rocha punched Crispa’s Bernie Fabiosa with 3 seconds left in a 139-133 won-game for Crispa.

After that, fans would look forward to their next encounters, wondering what would happen next. The security elements would almost always need to be bolstered whenever the two teams met, as fans of both clubs would sometimes get emotional and join in on the frays. After 1 such post-game rumble in 1977, both teams had to be detained in a military detention facility to impress on both teams the need to behave.

The rivalry between the 2 clubs is well remembered among oldtimers in Philippine Basketball as the glorious years of the PBA. From 1975 to 1983, the teams would clash 123 times, with Crispa winning 65 times, while Toyota would win 58. The 2 teams would meet 10 times in the PBA Finals, with Crispa winning 6, and Toyota 4. Crispa would win 13 championships in all, while Toyota would garner 9.

Crispa led the numbers game, but overall, the rivalry was perfect for the league.

As for the individual awards, Crispa’s players would receive 6 MVP awards, 1 Rookie of the Year Award, and 6 PBA Hall of Fame inductees. Toyota would have 2 MVP awards, 2 ROYs and 5 Hall of Famers.

In 1984, with the national economy sputtering, Toyota decided to fold up, selling the PBA franchise to Asia Brewery. Crispa, having lost its worthiest opponent, started to play listlessly; despite a revamped line-up with a second wave of stars that spelled superteam. The following year, like a grandmom who had just lost her loving partner, Crispa too expired. The most colorful rivalry in the league, with its two most popular teams, was now put to rest. (Pls read: Philippine Basketball in Review Part 5 – The 80s.)

There would be future epic championship duels in the league; and future dominant teams such as the Alaska Aces in the 90s and today, the San Miguel Beermen. But nothing comes close to the Crispa – Toyota face-offs during their prime. For so long as there is no other team ready to regularly challenge San Miguel’s dominance in the PBA today, for so long as San Mig’s line-up is perceived as the only superteam in the league, there will be no heightened interest to watch the games. San Mig needs a dance partner. And it cannot come from the same conglomerate.

We just have to look at the history of sports. Take it from the Celtics vs Lakers rivalry in the NBA in the 60s (Bill Russell vs Jerry West, Elgin Baylor) and 80s (Bird vs Magic). Take it from the Yco-Ysmael duels in the MICAA in the 60s. Take it from the Crispa-Toyota tiffs in the 70s and 80s. The PBA wants to regain its former glory? It only has to take a look at its own history. And learn the lessons from the gladiators of the Crispa-Toyota era.

Crispa and Toyota had a reunion game last 2003. As always, despite the slower pace, the game thrilled the fans to the last second. (Courtesy of YouTube.)

For a clearer, closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of PBA.com. Other photos courtesy of Crispa-Toyota Blogspot, Pinterest, Alchetron, GMA Network, Video 48, The Manila Times, ESPN, and PBA.com.

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