PBA: When Crispa, Toyota veterans joined forces to form a loaded Great Taste squad

Rey Joble

Posted at Sep 11 2021 07:51 AM | Updated as of Sep 11 2021 09:31 AM

In this screen grab of a PBA game between Great Taste and Ginebra on November 24, 1987, Atoy Co talks to the referee after a call. PBA Official
In this screen grab of a PBA game between Great Taste and Ginebra on November 24, 1987, Atoy Co talks to the referee after a call. PBA Official

When key players of Crispa and Toyota join forces what can one expect?

Many doubted that things won’t work well having Crispa star player Philip Cezar, Atoy Co and Bernie Fabiosa joining forces with the late Arnie Tuadles and Abe King, who were key cogs for Toyota.

But veteran coach Baby Dalupan, being the acknowledged “Maestro” of Philippine basketball, made it happen and assured that Great Taste would keep its status as among the PBA’s powerhouse squads.

Great Taste had become the most dominant team after the fold-up of Toyota and Crispa, winning 4 straight championships from 1984 to 1985, but after a dry spell in the 1986 season, Dalupan and management felt they need changes.

The first thing Dalupan did was get the players he could rely on. 

The Coffee Makers acquired Cezar and Fabiosa from Shell in a trade with Manny Victorino and Jimmy Manansala. Part of the package of that trade includes the top overall rookie pick and Great Taste exercised that option by picking Allan Caidic, Dalupan’s player at University of the East. 

Great Taste picked up Co from Manila Beer when the Brewmasters disbanded.

They joined forces with King and Tuadles and resident star Ricardo Brown.

The Coffee Makers made an impact right from the get-go and with Michael Young, the best import of the season just passed (1986), they made it all the way to the championship round of the Open Conference, but lost to the Tanduay Rhum Makers led by import David Thirdkill, Ramon Fernandez, JB Yango, Willie Generelao, Freddie Hubalde and Padim Israel among others, in 5 games of their best-of-7 championship series.But in the All-Filipino Conference, the Coffee Makers made sure they wouldn’t be denied as they cruised to the finals and swept corporate rival Alaska, then carrying the brand Hill Brothers and donning the moniker Coffee Kings, in 3 games of the best-of-5 championship series.

King, then team captain of the squad, considered the championship as the sweetest he won in all the 13 championships he collected.

“ ’Yung pagdating nila (Crispa rivals), gustung-gusto ko ’yun. Masaya ako,” King said. 

“Panibagong challenge kasi sa career ko. At that time, ako assigned captain ball. A lot of critics were bashing us, ‘Hindi magkakasundo ’yan. Puro superstars ’yan. Ganito isip niyan. Magkakalaban ’yan.’ Pero hindi nila nakita kung gaano karaming championships napanalunan namin kapag pinagsama-sama mo kami.”

“Atoy, Philip, Arnie Tuadles, Ricardo Brown, Bernie Fabiosa, team ng winners ito. Sanay manalo itong mga ito at malalaki ang puso nito. Paano mo mapapagkakaisa ’yan, eh kailangan ng magandnag samahan dyan. Nag-champion naman kami awa ng Diyos even if wala kaming legitimate center at that time.” 

King played center-forward for the squad and shared the role with Cezar and another forward, Joy Carpio.

But they had gunners such as Brown, the 1985 Most Valuable Player, and Caidic, who ended up Rookie of the Year.

Caidic became the second player after Tuadles to crack the Mythical First Team that season and would have become the first Rookie MVP had Great Taste not been eliminated early in the season-ending Reinforced Conference.

“Si Coach Baby tiwalang-tiwala sa amin ’yan, lalo na kay Atoy tsaka kay Philip,” said Fabiosa. 

“Reliever ako noon ni Ricardo Brown, pero siguro kinuha kami ni coach kasi baka uhaw na rin siya sa championship. Wala kaming sentro eh, kung tutuusin si Abe lang. Hindi kami nagkaproblema sa chemistry. Nag-gel kaagad ’yung laro namin.”

One of the players Great Taste helped build up was Caidic, a star player from Northern Consolidated, who developed his own identity.

The prior year, the bulk of Northern Consolidated squad entered the PBA in 1986, but Caidic was left playing in the PABL, then the leading amateur commercial league at that time.

With Great Taste, he became an immediate star. 

“Si Allan talagang tinulungan namin ’yan,” added Fabiosa. “Halos lahat ng bola binigay namin d’yan. Shooter talaga ’yung bata na ’yun. Tsaka walang hangin, laro lang siya ng laro.” 

For Caidic, his separation from his former NCC teammates proved to be a blessing in disguise at the early stage of his career, as playing along with the stars of Crispa and Toyota helped fast-track his growth in the PBA.

“Nu’ng nahiwalay ako sa kanila (NCC teammates), nagkaroon ako ng sarili kong identity,” Caidic said. “Atsaka modesty aside, ang dami kong nakuhang awards, achievements. Kung maglaro nga ako noon sa Great Taste, mga 40 to 45 minutes.”

“Pero nu’ng rookie year, napaka-swerte ko na naging teammates ko sila (star players of Crispa and Toyota), sina Philip, Arnie, Abe King, Bernie Fabiosa, Atoy Co, and even Ricardo Brown. 

“Talagang marami akong natutunan sa kanila like kay Philip Cezar lang eh, kapag bibigyan niya ako ng hand-off for a quick release, binigyan niya ako ng tips. Si Arnie Tuadles ’yung mga quick release niya at quick spin sa post, finger roll. Kumpiyansang-kumpiyansa ako, imagine umi-screen sa akin si Abe atsaka si Philip tsaka kahit tumira ako may kukuha ng rebound. Atsaka hindi nila ako tintrato na iba. They welcomed me as one of the guys.” 

The 1987 Great Taste Coffee team is one of the greatest teams ever assembled, a collection of past, present and future stars.

Fast-forward, several members of the team wound up in the hall of fame, the league’s all-time greatest list, and won several other individual achievement awards. 

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