MANILA, Philippines -- Leave it to the experts to debate where Michael Hackett ranks among the all-time great Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) imports.
But to fans of Ginebra and the league during the 1980s, Hackett will be remembered as one of the most dominant forces to ever play in the PBA.
|Robert Jaworski (L) and Michael Hackett. Photo grabbed from YouTube.
He might not have enjoyed a long stretch of individual or team excellence -- like Bobby Parks or Sean Chambers did -- but despite having a smaller sample size of games than his contemporaries, Hackett still produced one of the most remarkable runs by an American reinforcement.
In the 1985 Open Conference, he became the Ginebra franchise's first recipient of the Best Import Award. In the Reinforced Conference the next year, he teamed up with Billy Ray Bates to form arguably the most devastating 1-2 import combination ever seen in PBA history, resulting eventually in Ginebra's first league title.
And no talk of Hackett's accomplishments isn't complete without the 103 points he dropped on Great Taste in 1985, a record that stood for seven years.
"Records are made to be broken and hats off to the guy who did it," Hackett said, "but my thing is, I was the first to do it [score a 100 in a PBA game]."
(YouTube doesn't have highlights of the 103-point game nor Bates-Hackett in action, but a series of videos beginning with this shows how physically gifted Hackett was at his peak and how fundamentally sound his post game was. Norman Black, who served as an analyst in this game, could have run out of words to describe how great Hackett was on this night.)
Hackett, who now works full-time as a sales consultant for a wine and beverage company in Jacksonville, spoke over the phone on Tuesday from his native Florida. He said he hadn't participated in competitive basketball since 2000, until he was hired as a part-time assistant coach by The Bolles School in his home state.
Without much prompting, Hackett thought back to his glory days at Ginebra ("They provided me an opportunity to do what I was doing. [Robert] Jaworski was the player-coach, and then we had Chito and Joey Loyzaga, Francis Arnaiz. I remember some of the guys like Dondon Ampalayo.); one of his No. 1 fans ("I haven't been in contact with Martin Nievera. We were really close back in the day."); and his foray into slapstick comedy ("I even made that movie 'Shoot Dat Ball' with Tito, Vic and Joey," Hackett chuckles.)
Hackett couldn't have summed up his stay in the Philippines any better: "I had a blast. I had a really great time over there."
In this transcript of the phone interview, Hackett, a Los Angeles Lakers fan, talks about Jaworski's Willis Reed moment, recalls that night in 1985 he went full Wilt Chamberlain, and dares to put Bates and LeBron James in the same sentence.
On playing with Sonny Jaworski.
"The dynamic of playing with Sonny was the fact that he demanded respect on the court just because of, you know, whether he was a legend, the things he had done in the past and he could still play. And the guy was tough as nails. I remember he came to the basket and was actually laid out. I mean, he came in and it was a really hard foul. This is a playoff game and he actually had to leave the game to go get stitches, eight or nine stitches. There was blood everywhere. Nobody thought that this guy was going to come back and, man, he pulled off a Willis Reed, where all of a sudden he walks out of the tunnel with stitches and all and he comes back out as if nothing had ever happened and we went on to win the game. Like I said, he was tough as nails, man. He was truly a competitor. He never gave up. That's one of the things I like about him. His main purpose was to win."
On the 103-point game.
"I think it was against ... let me remember. It wasn't against Manila Beer. They had the orange uniforms. Great Taste! We didn't make the playoffs that particular season, I don't believe, if memory serves me correct. So we were just setting the pace so that when we started the next season we were coming in on a winning note not on a losing note. That being said, I was just playing and doing my thing and I believe at the end of the first quarter I was like 35 or 40 [points]. I mean, I was just feeling it. They might not have been playing hard but I was playing hard, meaning our competition. I think once I got 50, I came to the bench and Sonny said, 'You know man, you could go for the record.' And I think Larry McNeil had the record at that time with 80. So Sonny said, 'Mike, you can get the record tonight.' And, man, they just kept feeding me the ball. Like I said, I had 50 before halftime then I knew I had 70 plus. But it's just a testament to the kind of conditioning I was in. Not only was I scoring points, I was also rebounding. So like I said, without the team pushing me and giving me the ball it would've never been accomplished."
On playing with Billy Ray Bates.
"This guy was just phenomenal. This cat can run all day. He has the total package. He can shoot it. He can dribble. He was truly a triple threat. He can give it to you so many ways. Off the dribble, he can pass, he can shoot and not to mention he can finish. He has crazy ups. This guy can jump out of the gym, man. He was truly like a superman. I've never seen a guy quite with that skill set. I know you're talking about LeBron [James] and all these cats, but I mean Billy Ray was truly just a phenomenal athlete.
"When Sonny brought him in, Sonny basically said, 'I'm going to let you guys do what you do.' So for me, a lot of these super teams today that's one of the things I think players don't understand. They always talk about 'my team this, my team that.' We never had a conflict like that with Billy and myself. Because we realize, we were smart enough to know that as long as we're playing together we're just going to be an unbeatable tandem. Because Billy's game was inside-outside, we really worked the mismatches well. And I knew if he shoots, he wasn't going to make them 100% of the time. So I knew if you were shooting, I was going to be the cat who's going to get the rebounds. There was never any ego between us. We got along great.
"We could've probably won five or six championships if we played together and they kept the team together. Once again, you couldn't collapse off Billy. We were the dynamic duo. We had inside and outside. It was just truly a pleasure to play with a guy like that. Not to mention we had the best Filipino players as well, so there wasn't really a weak link on that team the year we won the championship."