Remember Rob Williams, Tanduay's sweet-shooting import who led the Rhum Makers to their first ever PBA championship in the 1986 Reinforced Conference?
At a time when Tanduay was shooting for a possible grand slam, Williams was brought back for another tour of duty and he was paired with Benny Anders during the 1986 Open Conference.
Williams together with Andre McCoy led the Rhum Makers to a 6-game triumph over the Great Taste Coffee Makers, then a new dynasty in the PBA, in the best-of-7 championship series of the Reinforced Conference that season.
The following conference was an All-Filipino tournament that featured the first ever championship showdown between Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez since Toyota disbanded by the end of the 1984 season.
Fernandez and the Rhum Makers prevailed, 3-1, to give the then Elizalde-owned franchise a chance of winning the coveted grand slam.
So the Rhum Makers were ready to roll the dice and they pinned their hopes once again on Williams, who on this day, October 12, 1986, recorded the best free-throw shooting performance making a perfect 23-of-23 free throws in the Rhum Makers’ 114-109 win over corporate rival Ginebra San Miguel.
Ginebra was then led by the great Billy Ray Bates, the import who led Crispa to a grand slam three years earlier, and Michael Hackett, who set the record for most points in a game with 103 a year before. Ginebra eventually won its first ever title with these two imports.
As great as the tandem of Bates and Hackett was, Williams was able to carry the Rhum Makers to victory during their elimination round game.
JB Yango, then premier power forward of Tanduay, acknowledged Williams as one of the best imports he played with.
" ’Yang dalawang ’yan — Williams and McCoy — kahit sino sa kanila, makaka-score," said Yango. "Si Rob Williams, alam mo naman, shooter talaga yan. Swerteng-swerte kami noon, nakuha namin sila."
Williams played 3 seasons with the Denver Nuggets in the NBA then became a well-travelled import before he moved on to play in the PBA. After winning the Reinforced Conference with Tanduay, the Rhum Makers were hoping to replicate the same success during the season-ending Open Conference, but failed.
The reinforcement who was expected to carry the Rhum Makers to a grand slam didn't have the same success with his import partner, first Benny Anders, then Andre McCoy, who had a brief stint and played with an injured hand, and the last one was Andy Thompson.
Tanduay could only reach the semifinals after struggling with a 6-6 record in the double round elimination and was eventually swept by the Great Taste Coffee Makers in the battle four third in four games.
But Williams set the record for most 3-point field goals made during that season with 215 and the most number of free throws made with 320.
Norman Black considered Williams, winner of the Best Import award in the 1986 Reinforced Conference, as one of the best imports who ever played in the PBA.
"This is how I feel why I don't have to include myself among the greatest imports in the PBA. I wish had the three-point shooting of Lew Massey, and even though I could jump when I was young, I wish I could have the the jumping ability of Billy Ray Bates, I wish I had the upper body strength of Michael Hackett, I wish I had the ball handling skills of Rob Williams, and I wish I had the passing skils of Glenn Hagan. If I could put it all together, that would have been great," Black said.
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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