Greatest 'what-ifs' from the first three decades of the PBA


What if Toyota and the Crispa, the two teams that built the initial league rivalry, never folded in the 1980s? What if Allan Caidic got drafted in 1987 by Hills Bros. (which eventually became Alaska) instead of Great Taste? What if two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso stayed with the Pangasinan Presidents in the fledgling Metropolitan Basketball Association in 1998?

As we near the 45th anniversary of the PBA, let's explore some alternate realities from the first three decades of Asia's first professional basketball league.

The Crispa and Toyota franchises continue to dominate the PBA

Of the 29 titles at stake from 1975 to 1984, Crispa and Toyota combined to snare 22 of them. But a fact that is often overlooked is that one of these storied franchises was also in the finals of all but one conference in that span. Toyota won nine titles and had 18 finals appearances before disbanding at the end of the 1983 season. Crispa garnered 13 crowns (including two Grand Slams) in 20 championship series, leaving the league for good after the 1984 campaign.

Toyota once had a core featuring a highly efficient backcourt tandem of Robert Jaworski and Francis Arnaiz with multi-faceted pivot Ramon Fernandez, versatile forwards Abe King and Arnie Tuadles along with former league scoring champion Danny Florencio in its fold.

Crispa's vaunted starting line-up had at its peak marksman Atoy Co, speedy point guard Bernie Fabiosa, mid-range specialist Freddie Hubalde, all-around frontcourt powerhouse Philip Cezar and imposing big man Abet Guidaben while it later brought in a phalanx of national team members which included Yoyoy Villamin, Bay Cristobal, Padim Israel and eventual 1984 Rookie of the Year Willie Pearson.

Whether it was the All-Filipino or those conferences with imports, the two franchises were just a cut above the rest and they had a winning attitude that intimidated opponents.

But what if they never folded?

Crispa would have still been the more dominant of the two entering the 1985 season -- with their former national team core entering their fourth season and Pearson riding high with confidence heading into his sophomore year.

The Redmanizers were also able to sign gung-ho guard Rudy Distrito along with the 1981 acquisitions so the man who, in this alternate timeline, would have a championship playing alongside Jaworski in Añejo, now becomes Fabiosa's heir apparent and de facto team leader with Cristobal becoming his backcourt buddy. Co, in his 10th season, comes off the bench to spell Cristobal and still has the same firepower albeit with compromised quickness. Cezar expands his range to be a finesse offensive player while his backup in Villamin pounds opposing post defenses into submission. Israel evolves into a point-forward and spells Hubalde to bring in a different facet of the Crispa halfcourt game-since the illegal defense rule was still in play, teams could not do zone defenses.

And Guidaben is regularly in an intense battle for league MVP honors against no less than his Toyota opposite number Fernandez.

Toyota had also brought in some fresh legs in 1982 with King's heir apparent Terry Saldaña, swingman Tim Coloso, bruising backup center Ricky Relosa and later on all-around forward Chito Loyzaga from San Beda College.

Having been shutout of title contention in 1983, the core of Jaworski, Arnaiz, Tuadles, King and Fernandez becomes the most formidable starting five in the league.

Crispa may have their way with their other foes, but against the now Silver-Corollas they struggle as Toyota's cohesion (and with their starters playing close to 32 minutes a game, on the average).

The Redmanizers with its veterans now passing on the torch to its new generation would have figured in at least five more titular tiffs and by the 1990 season would have seen Guidaben win four MVP trophies with their "maestro" Baby Dalupan amassing a record in terms of wins that would have remained untouchable to this day.

Toyota would have garnered at least three more crowns and would have had Jaworski still as the squad's playing-coach, with eventually Arnaiz coming off the bench to a young gun by the name of Alfonso Solis who would later team up with Tuadles.

Fernandez would still go on to play into the 1990s and win three MVP crowns before retiring.

Allan Caidic selected second overall by Hills Bros. in 1987 and retires as Alaska icon

Very few people know that Great Taste Coffee originally had the sixth overall pick in the 1987 PBA Draft and looked to be content building its team around 1985 MVP Ricardo Brown and 1986 Mythical 1st team selection Manny Victorino until Northern Consolidated gunner Allan Caidic from the University of the East declared he was turning pro.

Dalupan, who was then at the helm of the CFC basketball franchise, was willing to move heaven and earth to secure this young shooter who had already been working out with Hills Bros. for several weeks.

In the end, Dalupan obtained the top pick in the draft from Formula Shell after agreeing to sacrifice his prized center Victorino and veteran sniper Jimmy Manansala to the Oilers and actually even got back his former Crispa players Cezar and Fabiosa in the process. Great Taste went on to capture two more titles plus having Caidic named the 1987 Rookie of the Year and go on to rewrite the PBA record books with his prolific production.

But what if Formula Shell nixed the offer?

Shell was fixated on Solis as former Toyota mentor Ed Ocampo (who had become the Oilers' head coach at the time) once considered the 6'1" University of the Visayas product the "future of the PBA". If Dalupan wasn't successful in pulling off his attempted coup to steal Caidic, Shell would have gone on to get Solis at number and Hills Bros. would get Caidic at number two overall.

The Coffee Kings were in its second PBA season after a subpar debut in 1986. The Uytengsu franchise hired a new head coach in veteran mentor Nat Canson and the organization proceeded to procure players firstly from the newly disbanded Manila Beer team, acquiring Villamin, Coloso and sophomore playmaker Adonis Tierra, while also nabbing former three-time PBA MVP William "Bogs" Adornado from the Oilers and Ginebra reserve Joey Marquez to build around Relosa from the previous season.

Adding Caidic to this mix would have him flourishing from the perimeter due to the attention being drawn in the interior by the "Bruise Brothers" (Villamin and Relosa) and have him being mentored by arguably the best shooter in the history of the league before him. Caidic would have learned how Adornado used screens to his advantage and Canson would have designed several plays where his wide frontcourt can free up their budding marksman.

The franchise would have attained its first title in the 1987 All-Filipino Conference against Shell (not Great Taste) and would have a winning pedigree by the time Uytengsu elevates his good friend Tim Cone in 1989 to handle the team, change the name to the Alaska Milkmen and win 18 championships in 34 finals appearances. The Cone and Caidic partnership becomes synonymous to PBA dominance.

Caidic would have retired in 2002 as an Alaska Aces icon and hang up his sneakers at the number three position on the all-time scoring list behind Fernandez and Guidaben as well as still holding the record for most three-point field goals in league history, a record that is never in danger of being shattered.

Danny Ildefonso waives eligibility for 1998 PBA draft and joins MBA's Pangasinan Presidents

Much controversy surrounded blue-chip National University product Danny Ildefonso when he was ready to make the jump to the pro ranks in 1998.

He was initially offered a more than lucrative contract to join the Pangasinan Presidents in the newly formed Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA), a salary reportedly akin to that of bonafide PBA superstars along with several perks.

When the San Miguel Beer franchise was ready to make a deal with the Shell Turbo Chargers to trade for the team's top overall pick, it had to be for the 6'5" Urdaneta native. He had to be in the Draft.

Ultimately, Ildefonso turned down Pangasinan's offer, joined the PBA Draft and was indeed traded by Shell to the Beermen just minutes after being selected as the top overall pick in exchange for San Miguel's second selection of Fil-Am guard Noy Castillo. The trade raised many eyebrows but was swiftly consummated.

Ildefonso would go on to lead the franchise to eight PBA championships, become a two-time MVP and was eventually named to the 40 Greatest Players in league history.

But what if he opted to get the big bucks right at the onset and play in the MBA?

Ildefonso would have created a storybook rivalry with the Manila Metrostars' ace Rommel Adducul and would have seen their meetings hyped as the biggest marquee matchup in all of Philippine basketball.

Because of Ildefonso's marketability (coupled by that of Adducul's), the MBA would have found an array of corporate backers to keep the prized big man out of the PBA, its main nemesis. The Ildefonso-Adducul wars would have been the new generation's Fernandez-Guidaben battle royale and would have not only upped the popularity of the league, but might have driven some legit college stars to join the MBA instead because of its incredible draw (and immense monetary offerings). In short: Ildefonso's playing and staying in the MBA might still have the league around today.

Meanwhile, San Miguel would still go on to build around its scoring monster Nelson "The Bull" Asaytono and his eventual partnership with youngster Danny Seigle would have still placed the Beermen in a contender's position, perhaps not claiming eight titles along the way but it would have installed Asaytono as back-to-back league MVP in 2000 and 2001 and might even include him in the GOAT conversation.

At this point, though, the PBA now has to contend with the MBA in terms of having new talent in its fold by restructuring many aspects.

This alternate reality now sees the PBA increasing its rookie salaries and the veterans maximum to be competitive with that of what the MBA and its corporate backers are now brandishing. Metro Manila based college players may opt to go to the PBA, but the ones who hail from the provinces, such as Negros' James Yap, Batangas' L.A. Tenorio, Pampanga's Arwind Santos and Jayson Castro along with Cebu's June Mar Fajardo, could find themselves considering seeing action for their teams closer to home.

The decision of one 22-year-old in 1998 might have actually changed the complexion of the entire landscape of Philippine basketball.