A hurricane struck the Philippine Basketball Association in the season-ending conference of the 1992 season.
No, not a literal natural disaster, but an import nicknamed “The Hurricane”, Tony Harris, who burst into the PBA scene to break the all-time record for most points in a single game on October 10, 1992, when the Swift Mighty Meaties defeated the Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings, 151-147, in Iloilo City.
Harris broke the record of 103 points in a game posted by Michael Hackett in 1985 and Eric Reyes, teammate of this super import in the 1992 season, remembered it so well.
“I remember that. It was in Iloilo. ’Yan ’yung joke sa akin ni Richard del Rosario. Harris and Reyes combined for 109 points. Harris 105, Reyes 4,” Reyes wrote via Messenger to ABS-CBN News.
Harris broke a few more records, including the team concept in basketball, recalled Al Solis, one of Swift’s key players that season.
“Na-break ni Tony Harris ’yung maraming record. Hindi lang ’yung points, pero pati ’yung concept ng basketball. Basketball is a team sport. Talagang kinuha ni Tony Harris ’yung Swift. Kumabaga, inangkin niya, sa kanya lahat. Parang siya lang mag-isa naglalaro. Wala kang magawa, kasi nakaka-shoot naman. Ibigay mo ’yung bola, nakaka-shoot. Tapos mabilis. Talagang gumagawa. Saan ka makakakita nag-average siya ng 60-plus?” Solis said.
Solis became a member of the Mythical First Team while playing for Swift in 1992 and 1993 but he believes Harris, who saw action for the Boston Celtics in the NBA, is the best import he has ever saw play in the PBA.
“For me, siya ’yung pinakamagaling na import na naglaro sa Pilipinas. Maski i-compare mo kay Billy Ray Bates, mas nagalingan ako kay Tony kasi maliit siya. Si Bates kasi medyo Malaki katawan, medyo matangkad, halos 6-foot-5. Si Tony Harris mga 6-1, 6-2 lang. Tapos makikita mo ’yung first year niya dito. Makikita mo bagyo talaga, ‘Hurricane.’ Walang makakapigil. Talagang magaling, mahusay, matapang. Tsaka makikita mo dinadala niya at a higher level ’yung PBA,” Solis added.
During the Third Conference of 1992, there were doubts within Swift’s camp whether Harris could last as the squad’s import or not.
It was obvious that Harris was a one-man show. He averaged 60.7 points per game, the second highest among imports who played in the PBA after Carlos Briggs averaged more than 62 points per game while playing for Anejo Rhum 65.
“Attitude-wise, medyo one-man team talaga siya. Gusto niya, gawa na lang kayo ng paraan na ma-open kayo, offensive rebounds kapag tumira siya. Tapos kailangan kung nasa position siya or libre siya, kailangan ibigay yung bola. ’Yun ’yung mga demands niya parati. Kailangan siya ’yung first option. Kailangan mo siyang hanapin parati,” Solis said.
“Wala kaming magagawa kasi ’yun ’yung gusto niya. Syempre, kung hindi naman naming ibibigay, tapos pumalpak kami dahil ako ’yung point guard magagalit siya sa akin. So ako inbound pa lang hinahanap ko na si Tony Harris, tapos court to court na siya. Kasi isa, dalawang tao, hindi siya mapipigil.”
But for Guiao, he had to keep a balance of managing the import’s attitude and the opportunity of winning a championship, a challenging task for a young coach then who was seeking his first ever PBA championship. It was also an opportunity for Swift under RFM franchise, who just two years prior, joined the big league as an expansion squad but then had a chance to win a title after being denied by corporate rival Purefoods from winning the All-Filipino title the previous season.
“Actually, madami namang point during those times, ang galing nito, pero tatagal ba ito? Can we last with him or do we start looking for replacement? Pero sobrang galing, bakit mo papalitan? ’Yung mga usual thinking noon is, ‘Tiisin mo na lang ’yan as long as you’re winning.’ Ganu’n rin ’yung thinking namin sa coaching staff, buhay pa noon si coach Rhoel (Nadurata). When we discussed the situation, ’yun ’yung mga lumalabas na apprehensions,” Guiao said.
“Hulog ng langit, napakahirap maghanap ng magaling na import. Ngayon hindi na rin, pero noong time na ’yun ’yung mga imports na magagaling, they were the people who had some attitude problems. Magaling nga, pero they’ll give you three or four games, then they will start not attending practice, going home late at night. Magaling nga, but you have to make a decision. So even those types of imports noon, hindi na rin ganu’n ngayon. Mayroon pa rin pero kokonti na lang. Pero dati ang dami.”
For Guiao, he describes Harris as a nice import on a personal level.
“On the personal side, mabait si Tony. But he had his ups and downs. He was emotional, he was passionate, he had some personal issues rin siya. You had to manage all of those. Pero si Tony Harris, in fairness to him, even if we got into some conflicts, it was never really personal. It was just because of the emotions between the two of us just because we wanted to win a game. He had his way, I had my way,” Guiao added.
“Pero kahit nu’ng nagkahiwa-hiwalay na years after, we considered ourselves as friends. It was not personal and we actually still maintained respect for each other. Hindi naman nawala ’yun. If I see Tony now and he sees me, I don’t think there’s any negative feelings between us. Kasama ’yun. Actually, matutuwa pa nga ako and I know, matutuwa rin siya.”
But no one could argue success and Swift, with Harris leading the way, swept the 7-Up Uncolas in the best-of-seven championship series to win its first ever championship.
“Nanalo kami. How do you measure success? It’s just by winning a championship and if he can give you a championship, then you can just bear with those problems,” Guiao said.
Looking back, an import of Harris’ caliber is the type of import every PBA team is looking for.
“Alam mo naman ’yung style noon, especially with the imports. The style before is different from today. Dati ’yung import mo kapag hindi umiskor ng 50, mahina ’yung import mo, partly because of the rules. Bawal kasi ang sona. The zone was not allowed, so if you have a dominant import, talented, strong, who could drive to the basket, who is athletic, heavy scorers, ’yun ang hinahanap na type of imports noon,” Guiao said.
“If your import scored 40 points and you lost, ang babagsakan pa rin ng sisi noon sa team ’yung import pa rin. Import pa rin may problema, naka-40 points na, pero talo ka pa. So the type of imports then were athletic, isolation players, heavy scorers and Tony Harris really fits the mold.”