Twenty years since their last faceoff in the PBA, Crispa and Toyota – the two fabled teams that formed probably the best ever rivalry in the local basketball circuit – met again for old time’s sake.
It happened on this day, May 30, 2003, as the league brought together the two squads, hoping to relive the glory days of the PBA.
Plucked out from retirement to play this one game for the ages, the legends of these two well-loved teams engaged in an exciting windup that had a fairytale ending.
Robert Jaworski and Mon Fernandez, the two basketball titans, conspired in the final play, bringing back memories of the same connection that happened at the 1989 PBA All-Star Game when “The Big J” inbounded the ball from the sideline and spotted “El Presidente”, who received the pass and put up a nifty lay up against the outstretched arms of Benjie Paras.
In the Crispa-Toyota reunion game, it was Fernandez who returned the favor.
With Toyota clinging to a 62-61 lead, Fernandez made his move to the post area and when Bogs Adornado decided to help out Abet Guidaben, the four-time MVP spotted Jaworski, who hit the game-winning triple with 23 seconds left.
What a way to close the last chapter of the rivalry that started since the MICAA and spilled over to the PBA.
There were a few more Legends Games that featured these two fabled squads, but this one that was watched on national television cemented the iconic rivalry of the Redmanizers and the Tamaraws.
Looking back, players of both squads relished that encounter.
“Usually nangyayari naman ’yung tinitira ako during the semifinals or championship series. And’yan ’yung kunyari they’re trying to block your shot, pero ang tama mo sa mukha, not just to give you a cut, but para inisin ka lang ’yung para kang sinampal. They’ll do everything to get out your concentration from the game,” said Fernandez.
“Hindi ka naman puwedeng bumawi right there and then, especially, critical or crucial ’yung game. Kung do-or-die ’yung game, titirahin ka ng titirahin. Kung gaganti ka, manununtok ka, you’ll be thrown out of the game and that would jeopardize your team’s chances. Ang ginagawa ko palagi, doon na ako bumabawi, the next season, sa elimination round. At kailangan, bumawi ka ng mas matindi pa. Tiyempo na lang talaga. If your opponent would know that, they will stop doing that.”
Bernie Fabiosa, one of the legends of the Redmanizers, believes that during their time, it was really a grown man’s game.
“Hindi pupuwede ’yung pa-baby, baby ka,” added Fabiosa. “Maraming madalas manindak d’yan sa Toyota. Si Sonny (Jaworski), malakas manindak ’yan. Pero kailangan ipakita mo rin sa kanya na lumalaban ka, kasi once na ginaganu’n ka ni Sonny at nagpapakita ka na takot ka, habambuhay ka na ganyan sa kanya. Kailangan, gantihan mo rin ng konti.”
Atoy Co, the Crispa dead shot, always expected to be the target of enforcers, but he made sure to be ready for them.
“Wala akong puwedeng iwasan eh,” he added. “Ang mindset ko na lang doon, kailangan huwag kang mapipikon. Kasi kapag napikon ako, wala na, sira na laro. Pero ’yung iba, sinasadyang pikunin ka, sasaktan ka. Dadaanan ka, tapos sisikuhin ka. Hindi nakikita ng referee yun. Sa Toyota, ang madalas gumagawa noon si (Boy) Clarino, si (Oscar) Rocha. Brusko silang maglaro, babangga-banggain ka.”
The high level of physicality that a lot of times went out of hand were present in every Crispa-Toyota encounter and it was still evident even during the reunion game.
Guidaben and Rocha went at it and cooler heads prevented matters from escalating.
Taunting was a familiar site and it was even captured by a PBA lensman when Terry Saldana went face-to-face with Co with his tongue out as if he was teasing him.
In the end, Saldana, who was the best player during that game, and the rest of the Tamaraws had the last laugh.