The PBA has seen several imports who have added international flavor in selected conferences. But looking at the record books, one name that stands out is Tony Harris.
Now 53 years old, Harris has seven children and currently works as a supervisor for a company in Louisiana.
The 6-foot-3 guard still holds the highest single-game, individual scoring output in a PBA game, tallying 105 points on October 10, 1992, during a game for the Swift Mighty Meaties against Ginebra in a game held in Iloilo.
That 105-point performance was broken down as follows: 6 three-point shots, 21 two-point shots and 45 free-throws. Harris remembers that game very well and shared some interesting facts before that game.
Ginebra’s strategy? ‘Brutally foul’ Harris
“In a game before that Iloilo game, I scored 78 points. There was an old Filipino guy who watched me play that game. When we were headed to Iloilo, an old man tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I knew the highest points scored in a game in the PBA. I said yes, it was a guy named Michael Hackett who scored 103 points for Ginebra in 1982. He told me I can break the record, but I said no. I said to him thank you for the confidence but he kept on telling me I could do it,” Harris said in an interview on Sports On Air.
Come game day, Harris shared how the same old man would be in attendance at the coliseum. He acknowledged that he did not immediately recognize the guy until his teammates told him.
“I couldn’t recall this old man so I asked my teammates (Rudy Distrito and Nelson Asaytono) who that old guy was who kept on pointing his finger. They told me it was the same guy who was talking to you on the airplane. I looked and shook my head and said it was just too many points. But he kept on telling me I could do it,” he said.
When the game got underway, Harris shared how players assigned to him resorted to different ways to get his goat.
“Sonny Jaworksi threw his Detroit Pistons army at me. They brutally fouled me. They tried spitting on my face, kneed me in the groin area. They did everything possible to get me in a brawl to get kicked out of the game,” he recalled.
However, Harris mentioned how he was already warned by his coach, Yeng Guiao, and team manager Elmer Yanga. They had already briefed Harris that Ginebra would try everything to take him out of the game.
“They told me that they are going to try to do this and do that. So that helped me get ready for the game. I was ready for the fouls,” Harris said.
“I knew how important that game was for us to win. There was nothing they can do to me other than taking my head off. By halftime, half of their team almost fouled out of the game.”
Harris was so focused on that game that he was not aware of the points he had already scored. That was until the coliseum barker announced that he had already broken the half-time record for most points scored. Harris already had 59 points at halftime.
“It was not until when it was announced that I had broken the half-time record of most points scored with 59. I saw the old man again who stood up and he was clapping. He kept on telling me I could do it. Maybe he thought I was really trying to break the record. But I was just really trying to get the win and beat Ginebra,” he said.
Harris also revealed that he got hurt at halftime of that game. However, he never told anyone about it, aware that the game was important.
“At halftime, I was actually hurt (groin). They hurt me but I never let anyone know I was because that game was important. That game was going to determine who was to be the champion of that conference,” he said.
Swift went on to win 151-147. The Mighty Meaties ended up winning its first PBA title at the expense of a Dell Demps-led Seven-Up Uncolas.
Among the last international leagues where Harris played was in Greece. He played for APOEL, a team where he was well-loved and delivered a championship. Among his fondest memories was playing as the lone import against other teams with two foreign reinforcements. He was also known as “The Hurricane” in Greece although he acknowledged that he was not happy about it.
“I told them you don’t earn the right to call me that (The Hurricane). The Philippines gave me that name. So they are the ones who earned the right to call me ‘The Hurricane’,” he said.
Harris eager to for PH return
Harris acknowledged that he misses the Philippines, a place that he will always cherish. Aside from basketball, he also recalled how he helped out the needy, something that he would do on the side back in the 90s. Though fierce on the court, he had a soft side that most may not know. When free, he would treat kids to meals and share his blessings.
As far as basketball goes, Harris is left wondering why he was not offered any opportunity to return and give back to the country.
“I miss the Philippines. What I don’t understand is why the PBA has not reached out to me. I don’t know if they reached out to Sean Chambers, who acts as an ambassador for the Philippines. I represented you guys in your Olympics against Hong Kong, China and Japan,” he remembered.
Aside from that, Harris revealed how Asian teams tried to lure him away from the Philippines to play for them. He acknowledged turning down big offers, preferring to stick with the Philippines.
“All these teams went after me, tried to take me away from the Philippines because they thought they could give me more money than what I was getting. First was Hong Kong and I said no. When asked I told them I was making about $18,500 at the time. They could not believe I was making that much money but I said it is what it is,” Harris recalled.
With the loyalty he showed, Harris said he now wonders why no one has touched base with him through the years.
“That is why I don’t understand no one has reached out to me to come and coach. We are the PBA. Sean Chambers, Bobby Parks. We are all Mr. PBAs. So why is the league offering us anything like to come back and coach and pass our knowledge on to the young players? To me, it is upsetting. I would love to come back to the Philippines and share upcoming players my knowledge,” he said.
Harris vows that he will return to the Philippines at some point, regardless if he will be coaching or not. He did not mention an exact date, but said that it will happen. And the first thing he plans to do is hook up with his old teammates. The list includes Nelson Asaytono, Rudy Distrito and Al Solis. He also wants to reconnect with his former coach Guiao, and other PBA players, such as Bong Alvarez, Allan Caidic and Benjie Paras.
But of all the players, Harris wants to visit Asaytono first. When informed that the former PBA player suffered a heart attack last April, Harris acknowledged it almost brought him to tears.
“It almost brought tears to my eyes when you told me he had a heart attack. I was holding back tears. Nelson is like a little brother to me,” he said.
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