Editor's note: this article was first published on April 6, 2020.
An NBA title is the pinnacle of club basketball around the world, and to be able to call yourself an NBA champion is an incredible milestone. The PBA has seen its fair share of NBA champions through the imports who have come to play in the league throughout its history.
Here is a list of former PBA imports who have an NBA ring.
Dennis Hopson was a member of the 1991 Chicago Bulls team that beat the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers in five games. Picked third overall in the 1987 draft by the New Jersey Nets, Hopson played in the NBA for six seasons before embarking on an international career.
In 1996, the Chot Reyes-led Purefoods TJ Hotdogs tapped Hopson as their Governors' Cup reinforcement. However, the former Chicago Bull did not have a memorable stint in the Philippines. He suffered an injury before the conference started, and only played one game before he was replaced.
Wes Matthews Sr.
Wes Matthews Sr. had a short but memorable stint in the PBA as he dazzled Filipino fans alongside Robert Jaworski, Rudy Distrito, and Chito Loyzaga for Ginebra in 1991.
The 6-foot-1 "Wild Wild Wes" joined Ginebra during the 1991 Commissioner's Cup with a pair of NBA championships with the Showtime Lakers in 1987 and 1988 still fresh in the memory. Matthews was a floor-spacer who kept opponents on their toes with his 3-point shooting and NBA-level athleticism. Despite winning a Best Import Award, Matthews could not add a PBA championship to his trophy cabinet after being stopped by Sean Chambers and the Alaska franchise in the finals.
Matthews' son, Wes Matthews Jr., grew up to be a NBA player as well. The younger Matthews spent time with the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Indiana Pacers and is currently a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.
After seven years in the NBA, David Thirdkill became one of the most memorable imports in PBA history.
Thirdkill was part of the 1986 Boston Celtics championship team, which included Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Danny Ainge. The former Celtic joined the PBA the following year, helping the Tanduay Rhum Makers to the 1987 Open Championship and claiming a Best Import Award along the way.
Thirdkill returned to the PBA in 1988 with Purefoods, and led the fledgling franchise to a Finals appearance against San Miguel. It wouldn't be the same result this time around, though, with San Miguel claiming the 1988 Open Conference crown in seven games.
Another Boston Celtic champion graced the Philippine basketball scene in 1978, when Glenn McDonald suited up for U/Tex in the PBA.
The 6-foot-6 McDonald was part of the 1976 Boston Celtics team that overcame the Phoenix Suns in six games. McDonald shined in Game 5 of that series, which went into 3OT, and scored all eight of his points during the extra period. The next season, McDonald moved to the Milwaukee Bucks before taking his talents to the PBA.
McDonald was dominant in the PBA and helped U/Tex win the 1978 and 1980 Open Conferences, before becoming head coach of the same franchise. McDonald had a short-lived comeback in 1983 with Sunkist, but played in only two games.
Another Boston Celtic in Terry Duerod suited up in the PBA in the 80's after claiming the 1981 NBA crown against the Houston Rockets.
Duerod was part of a team that boasted future NBA Hall of Famers in Nate Archibald, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. After wrapping up his time in the NBA with a short stint with the Golden State Warriors, Duerod spent time in the Continental Basketball Association before taking his talents abroad. The 6'2" guard ended his professional playing career in the Philippines, leading Ginebra to third place in the 1986 Reinforced Conference.
After his playing days, Duerod joined the Detroit fire brigade as an engineer.
After an NBA career that spanned from 1993 to 2001, Scott Burrell played international ball with an NBA championship on his resume. Burrell was part of the 1998 Chicago Bulls after a trade that involved another future PBA import in Dickey Simpkins. With Michael Jordan leading the way, the Bulls secured the title in a hotly-contested Finals against the Karl Malone and John Stockton-led Utah Jazz.
After a stint in China for the 2002-03 season, Burrell joined a Red Bull Barako team bannered by Willie Miller and Cyrus Baguio. Burrell came in as a replacement to Ramel Lloyd and helped Red Bull go on a 10-game win streak to finish the eliminations with an 11-2 slate. Unfortunately for Red Bull, it fell short in the quarterfinals against Talk 'N Text, cutting Burrell's time in the Philippines short.
Burrell is now the head coach of the Southern Connecticut State Owls in the Northeast-10 Conference.
Technically speaking Dickey Simpkins has three NBA rings to his name, making him one of the most decorated players to grace the PBA. Simpkins was part of the Chicago Bulls' 1996 to 1998 three-peat with Michael Jordan, but was only part of the active roster for the final championship.
Simpkins earned more playing time in the post-Michael Jordan era Bulls, and spent two seasons there. The 6-foot-9 forward had a short stint with the Atlanta Hawks before moving on to play internationally.
Unfortunately, Simpkins could not earn a ring in the Philippines. The former Chicago Bull joined the Alaska franchise in 2005, and helped the team to a quarterfinals appearance. Alaska lined up against the sixth-seeded Red Bull franchise, which beat them in three games.
Not a lot of people can say they have won the US NCAA tournament and an NBA championship, but Billy Thompson has both to his name. After claiming an NCAA crown with Louisville in 1986, the Los Angeles Lakers signed him where he became part of their 1987 and 1988 championship winning teams.
After six seasons in the NBA, Thompson eventually found his way to the Philippines where he suited up for the San Miguel Beermen under coach Norman Black. Thompson did not leave a mark in the Philippines, though, and was eventually replaced early in the conference.
The highlight of Darvin Ham's nine seasons in the NBA was being a member of the 2004 Detroit Pistons team that upset a Los Angeles Lakers team that had Shaquille O'Neil, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. The NBA journeyman also suited up for the Bucks, Hawks, Wizards, Nuggets, and Pacers throughout his NBA career, and also plied his trade overseas.
Ham went to the Philippines to play for the Talk 'N Text Phone Pals in the 2006-06 Fiesta Conference under head coach Joel Banal. With Ham in tow, Talk 'N Text secured a spot in the quarterfinals, but were upset by the Air21 Express in five games of their best-of-five series.
Didier 'D.J.' Mbenga's journey in the NBA comprised of eight seasons with four teams, with the pinnacle being a fruitful stint with the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers from 2008 to 2010. With the Lakers, Mbenga collected rings courtesy of the purple and gold's back-to-back triumphs in 2009 and 2010.
After wrapping up his NBA career with the New Orleans Hornets, Mbenga continued his career in China before joining the Barako Bull Energy as a replacement import in the PBA in 2013. Unfortunately, Mbenga didn't have enough time to leave a lasting impact, playing only three games with the Barako Bull unable to sneak into the playoffs of the Commissioner's Cup.
Josh Powell had a basketball career that took him all around the world, with his greatest achievements coming in the form of the 2009 and 2010 NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Powell's time in the NBA also included stints with the Clippers, Hawks, Mavericks, Warriors, Pacers, and Rockets.
The 6'9" Powell logged in per game numbers of 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.4 minutes for the Kobe Bryant-led squad during those championship seasons. After a short time with the Hawks, Powell returned to international basketball and was signed by teams in China, Swirzerland, Puerto Rick, and Greece before finally making it to the Philippines.
Powell joined the Barangay Ginebra franchise for the 2014 PBA Commissioner's Cup, but saw action in only two games after the team allowed him to leave in order to join the Houston Rockets.
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