For the old Great Taste franchise, it was one of its sweetest championships ever.
For Purefoods, it was a title that got away.
On this day 32 years ago, on September 4, 1990, Presto Tivoli, the team being carried by Great Taste at that time, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in PBA finals history by beating the heavily favored Purefoods Hotdogs, 115-96, in Game 7 of their PBA All-Filipino championship series.
Allan Caidic did not play the pivotal seventh game of the series after fracturing his hand in Game 6 but the rest of the Tivolis, most notably the late Arnie Tuadles, picked up the slack and towed the Gokongwei-owned franchise to its last PBA championship.
Tuadles torched the Hotdogs for 33 points, as the Tivolis added this championship to Purefoods’ finals misery.
Prior to the 1990 All-Filipino finals, Purefoods also lost the title series in the 1988 Open Conference, the 1988 All-Filipino, and the 1989 All-Filipino.
Abe King, one of the veteran players playing for the Tivolis at the time, and Gerry Esplana, then a rookie guard, considered that victory a memorable one.
“Nu’ng nag-champion kami ng All-Filipino na kalaban namin ang Purefoods, nagkaroon ako ng diperensiya sa spine, sa lower back ko. Dinala ako sa Cardinal Santos. At that time, malaki nerbiyos ko sa mga doctors lalo na kapag tungkol sa mga spine. Ngayong retired na ako, nakapagpa-opera na ako, pero at that time na naglalaro ako, nag-self healing na lang ako,” King told ABS-CBN News.
“Binigyan lang ako ng mga pain killers. Hindi ako nagpa-opera. So Game 7, naglaro ako, pinilit ko lang ’yun.”
For King, the 1987 All-Filipino championship — which he won while playing alongside Tuadles, his former Toyota teammate, and old rivals Atoy Co, Philip Cezar and Bernie Fabiosa, mainstays Ricardo Brown and Joy Carpio and a rookie Caidic back then — was the sweetest victory he experienced, but that 1990 conquest of Purefoods came in next.
“Pinakamatamis na victory para sa akin ’yung 1987, pero itong 1990, one of the sweetest rin para sa akin,” added King. “Kasi coming to the 1990 season, nu’ng 1989, kulelat kami. Nasa cellar kami. Tapos, pagdating ng 1990, hindi naman kami seeded, not even considered a dark horse.”
King recalled what coach Jimmy Mariano told the players, which they believed was the reason why they won the championship.
“Ang sabi nga ni coach Jimmy, ‘Nag-uusap ’yung mga mata niyo, nagkukusa na kayo. Ang ginagawa ko na lang, pinapahinga ko kayo, gumagawa lang ako ng play na dapat sa inyo, pero kayo na nagkukusa.’ Nakikita niya sa mga mata namin,” King recalled.
For Esplana, being a part of that Presto squad was such a joy for a PBA newcomer.
“It was experience versus talent,” recalled Esplana, who also won two more championships playing for Shell.
“Grabe ’yung talent ng Purefoods — Alvin (Patrimonio), Jolas (Jojo Lastimosa), Jerry (Codiñera), Dindo (Pumaren), Nelson (Asaytono). Pero sa amin, kumpletos rekados. May rookie, may mga beterano. Tamang-tama ’yung blending.
“Pero ’yung mga beterano namin, hindi mo masasabing beterano dahil may edad. Brainy. Abe King, Manny Victorino, the late Arnie Tuadles, pinakahinahangaan ko ’yan. Onchie dela Cruz, Willie Generelao, Padim Israel, Joy Carpio. Kumbaga kung sa larong kalye, duruan, hindi mo maduduro itong Presto.”
Knowing he had veterans around him, the pressure was lifted off Esplana’s shoulders.
“Ang kagandahan diyan, wini-welcome ’yung rookies, tumataas yung morale mo. Parating sinasabi sa akin, ‘Sige, huwag kang matakot, nasa likod mo lang kami, maglaro ka lang.’ So wala kang ibang gagawin kung hindi maglaro lang. Ang ganda ng suporta.”
Esplana experienced it first hand as early as the preseason during the Tivolis’ tuneup game against the Alaska Milkmen.
“It happened sa Acropolis. I was going for a lay-up tapos binangga ako ni Dong Polistico, 6-foot-7 ’yun. Nasa ere ako nu’n, halos mawalaan ako ng balanse. Ang ginawa ni Abe King talagang pinagtanggol ako. Halos magsuntukan ’yung dalawa. Ganu’n ang treatment sa iyo. So napunta ’yun sa game,” said Esplana.
Going to the series against Purefoods, Esplana knew they were the underdogs.
“Underdog talaga kami,” added Esplana. “Pero we have Allan and consistent siya sa championship series. Ang nangyari nga sa championship, palitan, sa amin ’yung odd numbers, sa kanila yung even. Nanalo kami ng Games 1, 3, 5, and 7. Sa kanila ’yung 2, 4, and 6.”
“Pero na-injured si Allan bago mag-Game 7. Ang akala ng iba, halimbawa nanonood ka ng TV, ‘Ah talo na. Wala si Allan.’ Allan was averaging 25-30 points per game. Pero naging problema pa ’yun sa Purefoods. Kasi lahat nag-step up.
“Instead na ang binabantayan mo si Allan lang, lahat nag-step up. Hindi mo na malaman ngayon sinong babantayan, especially Arnie Tuadles. So caught off-balanced ’yung depensa ng Purefoods.”
With the victory, Presto proved again that teamwork can beat talent on any given day.
The franchise won its sixth title and the first under head coach Jimmy Mariano.
Rey Joble is a sports journalist who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and followed the league as a fan way before that.
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