The second season of the PBA in 1976 was the birth of the Crispa Redmanizers’ dominance in the Philippine Basketball Association.
Crispa, coached by the late great Baby Dalupan and managed by Danny Floro and led by the explosive Bogs Adornado and Atoy Co, two-way player Philip Cezar, super sub Freddie Hubalde, big man Abet Guidaben and cerebral guard Bernie Fabiosa, swept all 3 conferences and scored the league’s first ever grand slam.
Adornado became the first back-to-back Most Valuable Player award winner as he was chosen the most outstanding individual player of the season. A year prior, he was also awarded the prestigious plum.
But it was on this day, July 11, exactly 45 years ago, when the Redmanizers copped their first All-Filipino title, which triggered their next two championship runs of the season.
Adornado recalled how significant that championship was and he considered it one of the most memorable victories he has ever been a part of as a Redmanizer.
“Very memorable iyon. I remember we were down to seven players as some of our players are either injured or suspended and kailangan pang sunduin si Fabiosa from the hospital just to suit up at hindi kami ma-forfeit,” Adornado told ABS-CBN News recounting the challenges their team encountered during their best-of-five championship series against fierce rival Toyota.
Coming into the championship series, Cezar was meted a 3-game suspension for punching Fernandez during their semifinals encounter. Also suspended was Rey Franco, who also served a 3-game ban in a separate incident. The Redmanizers were already without Fabiosa, who injured his knee during the tournament while Virgilio dela Cruz was also ruled out of the series due to heart ailment.
After Toyota took Game 1 with a 119-115 triumph, Fabiosa was forced to play to give Crispa the required eight-man line up to avoid forfeiture.
But Crispa’s “Magnificent 8” rose to the challenge and allowed the Redmanizers to level the series at 1-1 apiece following a 117-112 victory.
In the pivotal third game of the series, the Redmanizers used their firepower to the hilt, outscoring the Comets, 35-21, in the final frame to score a 121-114 victory, putting them within striking distance of winning their second straight championship.
That victory was so important it didn’t only give Crispa a 2-1 edge in the series, but also put the squad in a better position to close out the series, especially with Cezar returning to action.
The return of Cezar, nicknamed “The Scholar”, gave the Redmanizers the added depth up front as he contributed 14 points. Crispa survived Toyota, 101-100, after squandering an 18-point lead and surviving a horrific fourth period where the team was held to only 10 points.
"Very prestigious kasi ang All-Filipino kaya very memorable rin sa akin iyong championship na iyon," added Cezar, the PBA MVP in 1980, the same season the Redmanizers posted a tournament record 19-game winning streak, a feat that remains unmatched by any team playing in a conference.
That victory in the 1976 All-Filipino would jumpstart the Redmanizers’ dominance of the season, as Cyrus Mann would reinforce the team in the next two tournaments and would help Crispa in completing a grand slam.
In the All-Filipino, Adornado, was no doubt, the star of the show.
Back in the early days of the PBA, the MVP award was already given right after the All-Filipino, considered the most prestigious tournament in all 3 conferences. Adornado backed up his second straight MVP with staggering numbers. He was the scoring champion of 1975 and 1976 seasons.
In the All-Filipino finals, Adornado averaged 30.25 points per game. He had 31 in Game 1, scored 32 in Game 2, finished with 36 in Game 3 and pumped in 24 in the series-clinching victory Game 4.
No wonder, his teammates would defer to him when it comes to scoring, including Co, who would take over as the team’s top gun when Adornado got injured from the second conference of 1976 to until 1978.
“Year 1976, for me, was one of my best years,” Co said.
“Kasi iyong Toyota, mga 4 o 5 players nagpapalitan noon para bantayan lang ako. Iyong kagalingan ko pa noon. Pinakamalaking bagay para sa amin iyong respeto sa isa’t-isa. Same rin with Bogs, ang laki ng respeto namin sa kanya. Hindi kami makasarili. Iniisip mo lang iyong manalo iyong team.
“Ano ba ang basketball? Ang basketball kailangan ibuslo mo iyong bola eh sino bang pinakamagaling magbuslo noon? Eh di ba si Bogs?”
Crispa, according to Co, was more on quality over quantity as they would only run familiar offensive patterns, which were enough to make them a successful team.
“Nung panahon namin kay Coach Baby Dalupan, dalawa lang play namin. Pero grand slam kami. Pero dahil magkakakilala na kami at mataas respeto sa isa’t-isa, naging successful iyong team namin, lalo na nung 1976,” Co added.
Jay P. Mercado, who has closely watched the PBA through the decades and is considered to be a chronicler of the league's history, believes that had the 3-point shot been invented in the PBA during the early years, Adornado's scoring averages may have been higher.
"I think it may have gone up a bit, but we know Bogs. Most of his shots came from medium range and the perimeter, and he only added the 3-point shot in his arsenal during his latter years when he was playing for Great Taste, Shell and Hills Brothers," Mercado, who grew up cheering for the old Crispa team, said.
"If there are players who would have benefited with the 3-point shot more, I think it's Robert Jaworski, Jun Papa and Bochok delos Santos."
Rey Joble is a sportswriter who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and a fan of the league way before that.