The rookie class of 1989 is regarded as the deepest ever draft cast that entered the Philippine Basketball Association and on this day in league history 33 years ago, the rookie draft for this batch took place.
There were 2 waves of talented players that barged into Asia's pioneering professional basketball league — the first one happened a year before when Purefoods acquired the old Tanduay franchise and was allowed to elevate the top rookies during that time.
The Hotdogs brought in Jojo Lastimosa, Jerry Codiñera, Glenn Capacio and later on Alvin Patrimonio, as Patrimonio had to fulfill his contractual obligation with Purefoods' corporate rival, RFM, then playing in the PABL, before entering the PBA in the second conference.
Part of the consensus given to Purefoods was the top overall rookie pick, which the team exercised by selecting Jack Tanuan.
The other half of the members of the all-amateur national team took turn entering the big league led by Benjie Paras a year later. The former University of the Philippines Maroon made history by the end of the season becoming the first ever Rookie/MVP winner in the PBA.
Paras recalled why the Class of 1989 is considered the deepest draft cast in league history.
"Nagsunuran na rin eh. Magkakasama kami niyan sa national team, nauna lang ’yung grupo ng Purefoods. Ang lalakas noon. Alvin (Patrimonio), Jerry Codiñera, Jolas (Jojo Lastimosa), Jack Tanuan, Glenn Capacio, then si Ronnie Magsanoc napunta sa Shell," said Paras.
Magsanoc was planning to join his buddy, Paras, in 1989 when Purefoods approached the 5-foot-9 guard and asked him if he'll be amenable on a sign and trade deal.
"I was supposed to play for them (Purefoods in 1988). Kinausap nila ako pero ang mangyayari sana, sign and trade," Magsanoc said. "Iti-trade nila ako for Al Solis. Nalungkot ako kasi ang gusto ko sana kasama sina Alvin, Jerry and Jolas. So I declined and said, 'Maybe next year, baka makapag-pro ako, I'd like to play for your team' (Purefoods). Mabait sila sa akin. Napakaganda nung pakikipagusap nila."
Apparently, Magsanoc need not to wait for 1989 as his coach with the Fighting Maroons, Joe Lipa, who was coaching Shell, told his long-time player that they were going to select him and be part of the rebuilding team while waiting for Paras to join next year.
Magsanoc was picked 2nd overall by Shell during the 1988 season, but it would take a year before the Turbochargers become a contender as he formed the team's 1-2 punch with Paras.
In just their first conference playing together for Shell, the team barged its way to the finals only to lose to the mighty San Miguel Beermen in 5 games of their best-of-7 championship series of the 1989 Open Conference.
The Batch of '89 was so deep, according to Paras.
"Dalawang batch ’yun. Kumbaga ’yung players making up the national team, ’yun ’yung malalakas na players. So nu’ng ako pumasok, maiiwan naman sina Nelson Asaytono, Bong Alvarez, Bobby Jose, so nagsabay-sabay na rin kami noong 1989," said Paras.
Paras entered the PBA at the time when he was still studying at UP, but there was a better reason why the 6-foot-5 center decided to turn pro even when he was still in college while playing for the national team and also the PABL.
"I entered the PBA in 1989 at the age of 20 kasi pagod na ako. That's one of my reasons. I entered the PBA in 1989 and I graduated at UP in 1991. Pero when I entered the PBA in 1989, I called up my mom, she's living in Australia, sabi ko, 'Ma, may trabaho na ako, matutulungan kita, what do you want? Padalhan kita ng pera'," Paras recalled.
"Sabi niya sa akin, 'Hindi, kailangan ko mag-graduate ka.' Sabi ko, 'Pera na lang, ma. I'm tired. Pagod na talaga ako eh.' But I promised my mom I'll do it, so ganu’n ang ginawa ko, hati pa rin ’yung oras ko. At least, one practice, one company na lang ako. Mas OK na ako."
As a teenager, Paras recalled that he had been living, eating, and breathing basketball as his cycle revolved around the game.
"Three years, my life is all about basketball. It's not just PABL and UP. It also included the national team," added Paras. "I will wake up at 4:30 in the morning, travel to Rizal Memorial to practice for the national team, then after that, lunch time, makikisabay ako, I will go to Dumlao Gym to practice for our PABL team sa Philips Sardines."
"It's a good thing, my UP teammate, Joey Mendoza, sasabay ako papuntang school and after that, practice naman ako ng UP. Ang hirap ng buhay ko noon. Round the clock, panay basketball. I told my son nga, kung kumain ako 4 or 5 times a day, laging may kanin. Hindi ko na kinakaya ng walang kanin."
If getting burned out was one of the biggest reasons why Paras entered the league in 1989, 2 other members of that class, Dindo Pumaren and Boy Cabahug, had been planning to join as early as 1988, but were persuaded to stay on and wait for the next year.
Pumaren was the first pick in the 2nd round and was selected by Purefoods, but as early as 1988, he and his fellow national team members, Patrimonio, Codiñera, Lastimosa, and Capacio were already talking about joining the PBA as Purefoods would elevate players directly from the amateur ranks.
"Dapat talaga 1988 ako papasok," Pumaren said. "Sabay-sabay na dapat kami kasi nga may direct hire ’yung Purefoods. Hindi rin ako sumabay noon kasi nga kinausap rin ako ng mga brothers ko na huwag akong mag-pro muna. One more try sa UAAP."
Dindo's elder brother, Derrick, was coaching La Salle at that time and together they helped the Green Archers make another championship run, but lost to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the two glamorous schools' first ever finals encounter in the UAAP.
"So nu’ng 1989, nagkasabay-sabay kami, sobrang solid. Kasi ’yung batch namin nina Alvin na national team, and next noon sina Benjie Paras. So kung kami ’yung national team, ’yung kabilang grupo naman sinasabi they deserved to be in the national team rin, ito yung grupo nina Ato Agustin. Solid ’yun."
Like Pumaren, Cabahug was also being lured by Purefoods as early as 1988, but loyalty to his mother team in the PABL prevented the Cebuano dead shot from moving up to the pros that season.
Instead, he waited for 1989 where he became the 2nd pick in the 2nd round by Alaska.
"Supposedly, 1988, papasok na ako ng PBA, sa Purefoods." said Cabahug. "Kinukuha na ako ni Chot Reyes (then a company executive). It just so happened lang, wala nang maiiwan na national team players para sa 1989 kung sasabay kami sa 1988. So sinabihan kami ni team manager Elmer Yanga na huwag muna kaming pumasok kasi wala na matitira sa 1989 national team. RFM kasi ang sponsor ng national team for 1989."
"That's why, kami’ yung 1988 Philippine team na naglaro as guest team sa PBA. So ’yun ang nangyari. Ako talaga, malaki ang utang na loob ko kay Mr. Yanga, sila ni boss Joey Concepcion. From Mama's Love, sila ’yung kumuha sa akin sa RFM Swift. Sinabihan niya rin ako na may plano silang pumasok sa PBA ng 1989. Pero hindi sila natuloy pumasok."
RFM entered the league in 1990 the same year Pepsi Cola was aslo accepted as these two became the expansion teams in the PBA.
But how great was the class of 1989?
History would speak for itself as Paras became the only Rookie/MVP in the PBA.
It also produced another MVP in Ato Agustin, who became the league's MVP in 1992.
Both Paras and Agustin were included in the PBA's 25 Greatest list, with the former also being named a league Hall of Famer and the latter becoming a part of the 1989 grand slam team, San Miguel Beer.
The batch also produced multiple champions in Asaytono, Pumaren, Cabahug, "Mr. Excitement" Bong Alvarez, Zaldy Realubit and the late Ric-Ric Marata among others.
It remains to be a class like no other.