Since its inception, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has seen a lot of amazing imports who have contributed a lot to its success. With the league's 45th anniversary nearing, ESPN5.com writers decided to identify 45 talented imports who have left indelible marks on Filipino hoop fans.
It would be tough to follow up the strong pedigree of the imports from the 1980's in the following decade, but still these cagers managed to leave a lasting impression on Philippine basketball. The 90's featured imports who were record breakers for the PBA, and whose feats are still talked about today. Of course, there are also those cult favorites who were good on the court, but will also be remembered for more than the basketball they played. Here are some of those star names that shined in the 1990s.
Bobby Parks, Sr. (San Miguel, Shell)
Playing years: 1987-93, 1997-99
Let's start off with the guy they eventually named the PBA Best Import Award after, Bobby Parks, Sr. The late great Parks' career in the Philippines is unprecedented, a winner of a whopping seven Best Import awards in a PBA career that spanned 1987 to 1999. To put that achievement into even greater context, no other import in the history of the league has won the award more than three times.
After leading San Miguel Beer to the 1987 Reinforced Conference title in his league debut, Parks came in and out of the league for the Shell franchise throughout the years. In his 12-year PBA career, Parks racked up averages of 40.5 points, 15.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists in 221 games played.
Parks died after a battle with cancer on October 30, 2013, and the PBA renamed the Best Import award in his honor the very next day.
Tony Harris (Swift)
Playing years: 1992-93, 1996, 1998
105. If Tony Harris took a photo akin to the one taken after the NBA's Wilt Chamberlain's iconic 100-point performance, the piece of paper would read 105. On October 10, 1992 in Iloilo City, "Hurricane" Harris went crazy on the Ginebra franchise and dropped 105 points on the way to a 151-147 win for Swift that set the record for the most points scored by any player in the PBA. Almost as if to prove that the 105-point game was not a fluke, Harris then dropped 98 points on Presto Ice Cream the next week. 98 markers is good for the third-best scoring performance the PBA has ever seen.
Harris would win only one title in the Philippines, but gave coach Yeng Guiao his first-ever PBA championship and took home a Best Import award in his stay in the country. After his time in the league, which featured appearances in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1998, his legacy as one of the most feared bucket-getters to have ever graced the PBA hardcourt is secured.
Sean Chambers (Alaska)
Playing years: 1989-2001
If rings are your thing, you're going to love Sean Chambers. Standing at just 6'1", the diminutive Chambers became associated with the early successes of the Alaska franchise and a certain coach Tim Cone. Chambers, for whom the phrase "resident import" was practically coined - helped Alaska to six championships, which included the 1996 Grand Slam. Those six rings are the most any import has ever accumulated in league history.
While Chambers' numbers never soared as high as Harris or any of his other contemporaries, he did manage to take a single Best Import nod and was given only the second ever 'Mr. 100 Percent Award". Despite not breaking any scoring records, he did post averages of 30.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists throughout his PBA career.
Lamont Strothers (San Miguel)
Playing years: 1996-2002
Lamont Strothers was one of the most prolific imports to grace the PBA hardcourt. Strothers was the 43rd overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft and spent time with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks. Strothers then spent the majority of his career playing internationally, with his stint in the Philippines having some impressive highlights. The Virginia-native started his time in the Philippines with the San Miguel Beermen in 1996 and returned to the same franchise numerous times until his retirement in 2002.
Strothers ended his PBA career tallying up a little over 3,900 points in seven conferences, a Best Import nod, and two Governors' Cup crowns. Up until recently, Strothers was the league leader in three pointers made by an import with 325. Justin Brownlee surpassed that on January 11, 2020 during the PBA Governors' Cup Finals.
Henry James (Ginebra)
Playing year: 1996
Shooters shoot, and Ginebra got themselves one of the more unabashed shooters the league has ever seen in an import with Henry James in 1996. The 6'8" forward was an NBA journeyman, having stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Sacramento Kings, the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Houston Rockets before his stint with Ginebra. After his time in the PBA, James went back to the NBA the next season and signed with the Atlanta Hawks where he hit his career-high. The former PBA import exploded for 26 points through 8/10 three-point shooting against a Washington Bullets team with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Rod Strickland.
James didn't end up with a championship with Ginebra, but he did leave an impression. In fact, nostalgic hoop fans can still look up some of his exploits during his time in the PBA just to see how pure of a shooter he was. Unfortunately, James ended up with legal troubles in the mid-2000s and pleaded guilty to one charge of distribution of a controlled substance.
Ronnie Thompkins (Swift, Purefoods)
Playing years: 1993-94, 1996
Ronnie Thompkins was a fireball on and off the court that few basketball fans at that time would soon forget. Thompkins was an athletic south paw that helped the Swift Mighty Meaties to a 1993 Commissioner's Cup crown and claimed the Best Import plum in the process. The acrobatic Thompkins was known to be a creative finisher in the air and a rim defender for Swift.
Thompkins was also known as a fiery personality infamously getting into an altercation with Shell's Ricky Relosa during a game and had another reported fracas with the late Rey Cuenco of Pepsi as well. The controversial import rejoined Swift in 1994, and joined the Purefoods franchise in the 1996 season. Unfortunately, Thompkins would not finish his third season in the PBA after he was banned by the league after failing drug tests alongside Alaska import Derek Hamilton.
Thompkins succumbed to a heart attack in 2003.
Kenny Travis (Purefoods, San Miguel)
Playing years: 1988, 1993-1995
Kenny Travis' first foray into the PBA was in 1988, suiting up for the Purefoods franchise in their maiden season in the league. Coming in as a replacement, Travis fired up 35 points to give Purefoods their first win of the '88 reinforced conference after six tries. That was Purefoods' only win in the conference, and we didn't hear from Travis for years.
The 90's turned out to be good for Travis, who returned to the PBA with San Miguel in 1993. The 90's version of Travis was a hit for the Beermen fans, as he helped a San Miguel squad loaded with names like Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, and Ato Agustin to a Governors' Cup title in a heated series over Swift. Travis took home the best import award in '93, and became a regular fixture for the Beermen as their resident Governors' Cup import until a certain Lamont Strothers came into the picture in '96.
Ken Redfield (Pepsi, Purefoods, Shell)
Playing years: 1993-94, 1996
Ken Redfield was 'Mr. Triple Double' to 90's PBA hoops fans. Redfield's inclusion in the list is partly due to the fact that he is the only other import to win the Best Import award more than once in the 90's. The only other player to do that was Bobby Ray Parks Sr., who had four in the decade. Standing at 6'5", Redfield could play all positions well and quickly became a proven winner in Philippine basketball.
After debuting as a replacement import for the Pepsi franchise in 1993, Redfield joined Purefoods in 1994 and took home the Best Import plum as well. Two years later Redfield was named Best Import again, this time with the Shell franchise. Redfield was unable to take home the chip in '96, bowing to the Grand Slam winning Alaska franchise, but he did hit a memorable game-winner to eliminate Barangay Ginebra in the semifinals of the Commissioner's Cup.
With under ten seconds left to play, Benjie Paras swatted away a Henry James triple that would've given Ginebra the lead. The ball found its way into Redfield's hands soon after, as he streaked down the court and let off a desperation heave at the buzzer that forever burned itself in the minds of Ginebra fans.
John Best (San Miguel, Shell)
The Shell franchise were great at bringing in memorable imports in the 90s, and signing up the proficient John Best in the late 90s helped them solidify a memorable era in their history.
Best was a lanky 6'8" reinforcement, who had a stint with the San Miguel Beermen in 1995 before joining Shell in numerous occasions from 1997 onwards. Despite a solid season with San Miguel, Best made sure Filipino hoop fans remembered him as part of a Shell team alongside Benjie Paras, Vic Pablo, and Chris Jackson. Best led the Zoom Masters to a Governors' Cup crown in '98 and the Commissioner's Cup Finals the following year.
Best never won the Best Import award, but his contributions to one of the more prolific franchises in the late 90s will not be forgotten by hoop fans of that generation.
Wes Matthews Sr. (Ginebra)
Playing year: 1991
Wes Matthews gave Ginebra fans a lot to cheer about early in the 90s, as he bannered a squad that boasted of names like Robert Jaworski, Rudy Distrito, Chito Loyzaga, and Philip Cezar among others. Still gleaming from the 1987 and 1988 NBA Championships rings with the Los Angeles Lakers, the 'Wild Wild Wes' took the PBA by storm.
The 6'1" reinforcement came away with 1991 Commissioner's Cup Best Import plum, but fell to a Sean Chambers-led Alaska team in the Finals. Like many Jaworski-era imports, Matthews was a floor spacer as a three-point shooting threat, and had NBA-level athleticism that set him apart from the competition at the time.
Matthews' son, who also bears his same name, also grew up to become an NBA player. The younger Matthews is currently signed with Milwaukee Bucks, and actually visited the Philippines for an NBA event in 2014. Much to the younger Matthews' surprise, he was glad that Filipino fans still fondly remember his dad's short stint in the PBA.