This Day in PBA History: Ginebra nips Purefoods to win All-Filipino in first Manila Clasico final

Rey Joble

Posted at Sep 13 2021 10:05 PM

Long before the rivalry was branded the Manila Clasico, every Ginebra-Pureofods encounter had already been much awaited by local basketball fans. It was a rivalry formulated by two of its biggest superstars: Robert Jaworski of Ginebra San Miguel and Mon Fernandez of Purefoods.

The two former teammates became bitter nemeses after Toyota disbanded in 1984 and Jaworski was one among those who opposed at how management handled the breakup.

So the two allies became bitter rivals and it spilled over with the succeeding teams they played for.

When Fernandez went to Tanduay to become the team’s franchise player, the Big J and El Presidente renewed that rivalry when their teams faced each other in the 1986 best-of-5 championship series in the All-Filipino, which was eventually won by the Rhum Makers.

Two years later, they rekindled their on-court feud when Fernandez was appointed playing coach of Purefoods to become an immediate counterpart of Jaworski, then carrying the Ginebra franchise’s new brand name, Añejo Rhum 65. 

But halfway in the All-Filipino tournament, Fernandez had to relinquish the role as coach. He was one of the key players of the squad and his duties as coach visibly affected. 

“My responsibility as a coach, medyo nag-suffer ’yung performance ko as a player, especially in my case when I needed to play good number of minutes every game. Hindi bale sana kung papetiks-petiks na lang ang pasok ko. At that time, I was averaging close to 40 minutes per game. That’s why I have to let go of the coaching job towards the second half of the All-Filipino Conference to get back my performance level,” said Fernandez, then vying for his fourth Most Valuable Player award and looking to become the first ever four-time league MVP.

But Fernandez had bigger things in mind, as he wanted to give the Hotdogs their first ever championship.

Just the conference prior, the Hotdogs nearly had a cinderella finish, but lost in 7 games in their PBA Open Conference championship series against the San Miguel Beermen.

So Fernandez went business as usual and with Alvin Patrimonio, the brightest player form the amateur ranks finally joining them in the All-Filipino after missing the finals of the previous conference, Purefoods barged its way to the championship round trouble-free.

“Una kaming nag-qualify for the championship, tinalo kaagad namin ’yung kalaban namin sa semifinals. Mahigit isang linggo kaming walang competition. Puro practice lang. On the very first game na kalaban namin sina coach Sonny noon, natalo kami. It was our first game and we were a bit sloppy and tight in the first game. Kasi ang tagal naming hindi naglalaro,” said Fernandez.

Añejo took the opener, 111-105, as it quelled repeated rallies by Purefoods. 

Fernandez had a sub-par performance in the series opener and he wouldn’t play another game the rest of the series. He was ordered to be benched the rest of the series by then Purefoods president Rene Buhain.

“So doon siya nakakita ng pagkakataon. He sacrificed the championship of the team. Talagang galit na galit ang mga players noon. But, of course, wala silang magawa. There was bad blood (between me and Buhain) from the very beginning. I was happy, our partnership was short lived,” added Fernandez.

Despite the absence of Fernandez, Purefoods gallantly fought back in the series, winning Game 2, 117-112, as Jojo Lastimosa poured in 27 points. 

The 65ers took the next two games, including the series-clinching 135-124 overtime win, which happened on this day, 33 years ago. 

Lastimosa, one of the promising rookies back then playing for Purefoods along with Patrimonio, Jerry Codiñera, Glenn Capacio and Jack Tanuan among others, explained the importance of not having the veteran presence, especially Fernandez in the most crucial stretch of the tournament. 

“We needed some guidance and some wisdom from the veterans. In the PBA, you won’t be able to win anything if you all have young players. It has to be a mixture of veterans and young players. But during that time, more than the vets, there were vets who were already on their way out, and nagkaroon rin kami ng mga internal problems with some of the vets, which was hardly publicized and that’s one of the reasons why there was already a breakup after the first season. That wasn’t intended to happen, pero ganun ang nangyari, they have to break up the team,” said Lastimosa.

“Noong 1988 nung nawala yung mga beterano, puro na kami mga bata, kulang sa experience. Malakas pa rin, pero kulang sa experience,” added Al Solis, then the starting point guard of the team.

Capacio felt the team was orphaned, losing a guide in Fernandez and the Hotdogs inexperienced showed in that series loss to Anejo.

“Kasi yung first year namin, halos lahat ng conferences, pumasok kami sa finals. Kaso banderang kapos. Siguro hindi pa kami matured. At the same time, yung mga kalaban namin wala pang respeto sa amin. Iba pa rin sa basketball yung matatawag na may tahid na talaga,” said Capacio.

Patrimonio and his frontline partner, Codiñera, agreed with their teammates’ observation.

“Nalungkot ako kasi gusto ko ring kasama siya sa victories. Siyempre playing coach siya at siya yung kumuha sa akin. Nalungkot ako nagkaroon ng konting problema. But we have to move forward. Baka yun yung challenge ng bawat isa sa team. We have to step up, but no excuses. Siguro, talagang hindi pa rin para sa amin yung championship,”said Patrimonio.

For Codiñera, having Fernandez in that series would have been the deciding factor and would change the outcome. 

“Nakita ko talaga he was very dominating, kasi yung mga players around him, gumagaling and makikita mo talaga yung mga kalaban moa ng may problema when they go up against Mon Fernandez. Hindi siya mamomroblema sa kalaban,” added Codiñera.

Looking back, Lastimosa felt Purefoods was the next hottest team in the PBA and a big threat to Ginebra’s popularity, making the rivalry even more interesting.

“Ginebra at that time was considered the most popular team already mainly because of (Sonny) Jaworski and for us as young guys, probably we were given the tag that the popularity of Purefoods is overtaking the popularity of Ginebra. Some of the teams who have vets, siyempre kapag may mga bagong salta sa teritoryo mo, you wanna prove yourself and that territory won’t be given to us just like that. They probably wanted to show us that we need to be a little tougher than what we ever thought we showed,” added Lastimosa.

For Patrimonio, the rivalry with Ginebra is one of the most exciting rivalries that he’s ever been a part of.

“Rivalry with Ginebra is so exciting because of the physicality, and of course, the fans. Home court advantage kaagad kapag kalaban mo yung Ginebra. Kaya nagkaroon ng Manila Clasico because of the Purefoods-Ginebra rivalry that time,” said Patrimonio.

But other than the team’s popularity, Fernandez was already looking at the future of the franchise. He envisions the squad as a dynasty in the making, owing to the talent level he was able to put up prior to the start of the 1988 season with the best amateur players joining the holdovers of the Tanduay squad, which won three titles before Purefoods acquired the old Elizalde franchise. 

“Hindi mo maloloko ang fans. Filipino fans know their basketball and alam nila kung malakas ang team or not. They could really see the strength of the team from the very beginning. People wanted to support the team because of the potential of the team. Kung natuloy lang ang team na yun, we could have made some sort of a dynasty. If we could have kept the team, six , seven, eight years together, we could have had a dynasty of sorts,” said Fernandez.

Rudy Distrito was one of the key players of the old Ginebra franchise and he believes the old never-say-die spirit was already visible during the time they faced the talent-laden Purefoods squad.

“Yung kabilang team, ang lalakas. Alvin Patrimonio, Jerry Codiñera, Jojo Lastimosa, Glenn Capacio, Mon Fernandez, Al Solis, Padim Israel, Willie Generelao. Magagaling eh, pero tinalo naming noong All-Filipino. Mahina lang kami. Puso lang talaga, kaya yun ang gusto ng mga fans,” said Distrito. 

“Makikita mo mga players namin (Ed) Ducut, (Romy) Mamaril, yung mga tipong pang-depensa lang. Hindi mga superstars. Hindi mo akalaing mananalo yung team namin.”

But being a part of the old Ginebra team, according to Distrito, was a life-changing experience. 

“Kay coach Sonny Jaworski talaga kami nabuhay. Marunong akong maglaro, pero iba yung hatak ni Jaworski sa fans. Iba yung charisma niya kaya nadadamay ka niya. Nabibigay niya sa iyo yung support ng fans. Parang kung ano ang tatay, yun yung anak. Dahil sumikat kami nagkaroon kami ng maraming endorsements, pati pagaartista, kinukuha na ako noon. Kahit na guesting lang,” he added. 

To date, every Manila Clasico encounter featuring these two squads has been highly anticipated by fans, and although they belong to one company now under San Miguel Corp., there’s no love lost between these two squads.

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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