Traditionally, April 9 has been a “red-colored” national holiday in the Philippines as we Filipinos commemorate the fall of Bataan to the invading Japanese military forces during the four-year World War II hostilities.
During my younger days, the holiday was called “Bataan Day.” Now, it’s called “Araw ng Kagitingan.”
In sports, April 9 also is a special date to local basketball fans.
The first game (and playdate) in the hallowed history of Asia’s first and oldest professional league, the Philippine Basketball Association, was held on April 9, 1975.
On that day, an estimated crowd of 18,000 trooped to the Araneta Coliseum to witness a doubleheader that featured Mariwasa Noritake vs. Concepcion Carrier and Toyota vs. Universal Textiles.
Nine trailblazing franchises punched in their participation in the PBA’s inaugural campaign in 1975.
These are the CFC (Consolidated Foods Company) Presto Ice Cream Makers, Crispa-Floro Redmanizers, Concepcion Carrier Weathermakers, Mariwasa Noritake Porcelain Makers, Royal Tru-Orange Orangemen, Seven-Up Uncolas, Tanduay Distillers, Toyota Comets and Universal Textiles Weavers.
Months earlier, the nine clubs had ceded from the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA), the country’s premier commercial-post graduate league at the time.
Founded in 1938, the MICAA was organized by companies dealing in sporting goods and equipment and consumer products.
The league enjoyed tremendous success through the early seventies but a disagreement with the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) – then the country’s amateur basketball-governing body and a FIBA member – over financial matters led the group to break away from the BAP and establish a professional league that it would call the Philippine Basketball Association in March 1975.
With their pro status, the top players from the PBA were no longer eligible to suit up for the national team in international competitions (until the FIBA instituted an open-basketball policy in 1990).
The first-day games saw Mariwasa Noritake beat Concepcion Carrier, 101-98, and Toyota knock off U-Tex, 105-101.
American import Israel (Cisco) Oliver, he of the old Alaska Milk commercial fame (along with a little boy named Wilfred Uytengsu, now the Alaska Aces team owner), topscored for the winning Noritake team with 48 points. The Rifleman Adriano (Jun) Papa, a former Crispa Redmanizer, added 17 for the Porcelain Makers.
Carrier got 24 markers from The Ironman Jimmy Noblezada; 17 from Olympian Jimmy Mariano and 10 from 1972 RP Youth teamer Gregorio (Joy) Dionisio.
Though on the losing side, Dionisio, a 5-10 guard, carved his name in the PBA record books as the first player ever to score a field goal in the league.
In the main game of the twinbill, Toyota picked up its first victory in franchise history as five Comets tallied in double digits – Rodolfo (Ompong) Segura, 23; Francis (Mr. Clutch) Arnaiz, 22, Alberto (Big Boy) Reynoso, 17; Ramon (El Presidente) Fernandez, 13; and Robert (Sonny) Jaworski, 11.
U-Tex, on the other hand, was powered by former national teamers Danilo Florencio, Lawrence Mumar, Rudolf Kutch and Arturo (Turing) Valenzona, Edgardo (Egay) Gomez, Jaime (Jimmy) Otazu, George Lizares and Virgilio (Billy) Abarrientos, an uncle of future PBA playmaker Johnny Abarrientos and the smallest player in PBA annals at 5-5.
The Weavers’ head coach during the first of three conferences in Season One was the great Carlos (Caloy) Loyzaga.
The first three conferences in the PBA’s inaugural 1975 season saw an extension of the fierce rivalry between the Crispa-Floro Redmanizers and Toyota Comets in the final years of the league it preceded, the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA).
The import-laced first two conferences involving all nine textter franchises went to the Comets but the Third Conference, the prestigious All-Filipino tournament featuring only the top four finishers after the first two conferences, was captured by the Redmanizers.
Mariwasa Noritake’s American import Israel (Cisco) Oliver, who burned Concepcion Carrier for 48 points during the PBA’s opening night on April 9, 1975, averaged a league-high 36.3 points during the 16-game elimination round of the First Conference but his Porcelain Makers posted a so-so 8-8 record and failed to advance to the Final Four playoffs (featuring Toyota, Crispa, Universal Textiles and Royal Tru-Orange).
The 6-6 Oliver chalked up 49 markers against 7-Up in first-round play and knocked in a career-high 64 against Crispa in second-round action (June 10, 1975).
Toyota, which was coached by popular car racer Dante Silverio, dumped Crispa, 3-1, in the best-of-five finals. U-Tex scored an identical 3-1 decision over Royal Tru-Orange for third place.
Not to take anything away from the Comets, the Redmanizers held out their best players – William (Bogs) Adornado, Fortunato (Atoy) Co, Philip Cezar, Alberto (Abet) Guidaben, Rodolfo Soriano, Johnny Revilla and Reynaldo Franco – at the start of the first-round PBA hostilities.
Coach Virgilio (Baby) Dalupan and his boys had just topped the last MICAA tournament when the country’s leading commercial clubs and players decided to turn professional. Crispa first wanted to complete its conquest of the National Seniors Basketball tournament before releasing its seven star cagers to the PBA.
After a 0-3 start, team manager Danny Floro finally relented and allowed his top players to join the PBA. The Redmanizers finished the elimination phase with a 12-4 record, just a game behind topnotcher Toyota (13-3). U-Tex ranked third at 11-5 and Royal Tru-Orange placed fourth at 10-6 and caught the last trip to the Final Four party.
In the semifinals with a double round-robin format, Toyota won all its six assignments to quickly advance to the finals. Crispa and U-Tex tied for second place at 3-3 before the Redmanizers blasted the Weavers in a playoff to gain the other finals slot. Royal Tru-Orange ranked fourth and last in the semifinals with a 0-6 card.
Based on their elimination-round standings, Mariwasa Noritake (8-8) finished fifth, Concepcion Carrier (7-9) sixth, Tanduay (5-11) seventh, CFC-Presto (5-11) eighth and Seven-Up (2-13) ninth.
In the best-of-five finals, Crispa took a 1-0 lead with a 107-103 win over Toyota behind Adornado’s 29 points. Toyota, though, came back with 88-87 and 109-105 victories to take a 2-1 advantage.
On July 31, 1975, before a record crowd at the Araneta Coliseum, 6-8 American import Byron (Snake Jones) collected 20 points and 18 rebounds to power the Comets to a 117-96 rout of the Redmanizers in the title-series finale and claim the first championship in PBA history.
The top six local scorers in the First Conference were: Adornado, 27.5 ppg in 19 games; Royal Tru-Orange’s Manuel (Manny) Paner, 26.9 ppg in 22 games; Toyota’s Rodolfo (Ompong) Segura, 25.0 ppg in 26 games; Universal Textiles’ Danilo (Danny) Florencio, 22.5 ppg in 27 games; Royal Tru-Orange’s Ernesto (Estoy) Estrada, 22.3 ppg in 26 games; and Co, 22.1 ppg in 24 games.