Billy Ray Bates, and memories of the PBA’s ‘Black Superman’

Rick Olivares

Posted at Jun 07 2020 01:52 PM

Nobody electrified the PBA court more than Billy Ray Bates, pictured here with the writer when Bates was inducted in the PBA hall of fame in 2011. Rick Olivares/file

“The Accidental Coach” by accident came upon the man who he instantly knew would lead the Crispa Redmanizers to a championship.

Tommy Manotoc had just left San Miguel Beer after one year and rather successfully when he skippered the team to its second title and being the only other team — outside Crispa and Toyota, not counting Nicholas Stoodley as a guest American team — to win a PBA championship. 

He jumped ship to join the Crispa Redmanizers that was in its post-Baby Dalupan phase. 

Manotoc was “an accidental coach” because after his college days, he was working for a Hong Kong-based trading firm where his clients were U-Tex and Crispa. 

“U-Tex knew that I dabbled in basketball and they on occasion would ask my opinion about certain things,” said Manotoc during a web interview from his pad in San Francisco with this writer. 

“When Lauro Mumar stepped down, they asked me to be the coach and the rest is history.”

History was made, as he led the Wranglers to two titles and San Miguel Beer to their second PBA crown (after Ed Ocampo piloted the then-Soriano franchise to its first ever PBA championship). He also brought more glory and made even bigger history when Manotoc joined the storied Crispa club.

However, before all that, Manotoc was in Hawaii for a quick getaway of rest and golf when he came upon a newspaper article about a basketball game in Hawaii. 

Surfing. Hulas. Beaches. Pro basketball in the island paradise? Manotoc had to see it for himself.

Like sore desert eyes for an oasis, Manotoc had a vision and an epiphany.

“I saw Billy Ray Bates,” he recalls.

Manotoc couldn’t wait to return to Manila to inform the Crispa brain trust of the man he felt was going to anchor the Redmanizers’ campaign in the import-spiced Reinforced and Open conferences of 1983.

“That year, the second team of Yoyoy Villamin and Padim Israel pushed the starters and they themselves became a very good five,” recalled Manotoc. “But I cannot take credit for everything. A lot of that was also Billy Ray.”

And so the Black Superman was unleashed on an unsuspecting league and the Redmanizers laid waste to everyone en route to the Grand Slam, their second. 

Manotoc was a known defensive coach and also a stickler for discipline. And in some ways, he predated Phil Jackson’s handling of Dennis Rodman with the Chicago Bulls. Manotoc downplayed Bates’ off-court pursuits, as he simply said that he had to change some of his game schemes to accommodate the former Portland Trailblazer scoring phenom and mad dunker.

Our conversation about Bates brought one funny memory of my own. 

This was in 2011, he came back to Manila as the PBA deservedly inducted him into the hall of fame. 

After he received his award, I sidled up to Billy Ray and we exchanged pleasantries. I told him I was a Toyota fan but I respect what he did for Crispa. And besides, he evened it out by leading Ginebra to its first title. He smiled, “OK, I can dig that," he said.

So how does it feel to be considered the Greatest Import to play here?

Billy put his arm around me as sure as he said in 1986, “If you want to win a championship, call the Black Superman,” and said, “Son…”

He pointed up to the rafters to this red banner that had the words stitched on it, “Thrilla in Manila.”

“That man was the greatest,” he referred to the unflappable and impeccable Muhammad Ali. “Me? I can settle for second best to him. But don’t tell that to anyone.”

We laughed heartily. And Billy Ray walked off with his PBA Hall of Fame Award into the night like when he led Ginebra to the championship. “To the moon, baby!” he crowed, recalling his famous quote after winning Game 1 of the 1986 Open Conference finals against Manila Beer with a buzzer-beating dunk on Abet Guidaben. “To the moon.”

So even if he played himself out of the Philippines, Bill Ray’s hardcourt exploits remain a fond memory for Filipino basketball fans everywhere. 

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