Bay Area Dragons of the East Asia Super League (EASL) are set to become the first foreign guest team with a chance to compete for a PBA championship in 19 years, when they join the 2022-23 Commissioner's Cup that unfolds on Sep. 21.
The Dragons have been here since last month and are tipped to provide stiff competition for the league's 12 regular teams.
Having a guest team like the Dragons will help break the monotony of the games and inject a new style of play under Australian national team coach Brian Goorjian.
It's actually been quite a while since the PBA has had a guest team. But did you know that guest teams were regular fixtures during the league's formative years?
Here's a summary of the participation of guest teams in the PBA, both foreign and of the amateur national team variety.
*This list contains only guest teams that could vie for a championship and does not include those that only participated in a certain phase of a tournament (i.e., UBC Thunderbirds and U.S. Mail and More Pro-Am Selection in the 2004 Fiesta Conference), national team pools composed of PBA players (2002 season) or those other versions of the national team that played in elimination rounds but whose game results were not counted (1989 RP team, the original Smart Gilas in the 2009 Philippine Cup).
When it all began in 1977
The PBA first welcomed foreign teams in an official league tournament in the 1977 season, when it launched the season-ending Invitational Championship.
In its inaugural edition, the Invitational Championship drew the Melbourne Panthers from Australia, which carried the name Ramrod Blocks, and S.E. Palmeiras of Brazil, which competed as the Emtex Sacronels.
The tournament featured the top six PBA teams -- the Toyota Tamaraws, Crispa Redmanizers, U/Tex Wranglers, Mariwasa Panthers, Tanduay Distillery and Presto Ice Cream -- and the two guest teams in a single round robin elimination round with the top two teams advancing to the best-of-five finals and the third and fourth-placers settling for a similar best-of-five series for the bronze medal.
Emtex, which had a 19-year-old forward named Oscar Schmidt in their lineup, swept the elimination round with a 7-0 record, while Ramrod finished with a 2-5 mark and was eliminated.
Toyota and Emtex met in the finals, where the Tamaraws swept the visitors from Brazil in three games.
The next chapters of the Invitational Championship
Three years later, the 1980 Invitational Championship featured Nicholas Stoodley, a team composed of American players and led by former and future PBA imports Larry Pounds and Kenny Tyler respectively, and Adidas Rubberworld of France.
They were joined by the top three teams of the 1980 Open Conference: champion U/Tex Wranglers, runner-up Toyota Tamaraws and third-placer Crispa Redmanizers.
The five teams played a double-round elimination round with the top two teams battling for the championship in a best-of-three finals and the next two teams clashing for third place in their own best-of-three.
At the end of the elimination round, Nicholas Stoodley, Toyota, Adidas and Crispa all had 5-3 records, while U/Tex went winless.
Due to their superior quotients, Nicholas Stoodley and Toyota met in the finals, where the Americans swept the Tamaraws to become the first guest team to win a PBA title.
In the 1982 Invitational Championship, also called the Asian Invitationals, the South Korean national team joined the top four teams from the Reinforced Filipino Conference -- champion Toyota Super Corollas, runner-up San Miguel Beermen, third-placer Crispa Redmanizers and fourth-placer U/Tex Wranglers -- for a short tournament.
The RP Youth team also participated to help their preparation for the Asian Youth Championships but the results of their games were not counted in the official win-loss tally.
The five teams played a one-round robin elimination round with the top two teams meeting in a best-of-three championship.
The South Koreans, who were using the tournament to prepare for the Asian Games, were bannered by the legendary scoring machine Lee Chung Hee, who scored 57 points in one game and averaged 35 points per game.
San Miguel edged out Crispa for the title, while South Korea swept Toyota to finish third.
Returning after a 21-year hiatus
The Invitational Championship was discontinued for 21 years before making a comeback in the 2003 season with the staging of the Samsung-PBA Mabuhay Cup.
The top six teams of the All-Filipino Cup were joined by the Philippine national team, known as Cebuana Lhuillier, KK Novi Sad of Yugoslavia, Magnolia Jilin Yi Qi of China and Yonsei University of Korea.
The ten teams were divided into two groups, with each team playing the four other teams in its group. Cebuana Lhuillier, bannered by future PBA stars Gary David and Marc Pingris, and Magnolia Jilin, which had former Chinese national team mainstay Ma Jian in its lineup, were in one group, while KK Novi Sad and Yonsei were in another.
In the end, all four guest teams produced disappointing results, with KK Novisad and Cebuana Lhuillier winning one game each and Magnolia Jilin and Yonsei going winless.
For the 1984 season, the PBA approved the participation of the national pool, which was bankrolled by Northern Consolidated Corporation and coached by Ron Jacobs.
The first version of this national team was spearheaded by naturalized players Chip Engelland of Duke University and Jeff Moore of Loyola Maryland and local amateur standouts Hector Calma, Yves Dignadice and Jong Uichico.
Engelland, who would go on to become a renowned shooting coach in the NBA, averaged 29 points per game with a single-game high of 60, while the high-leaping Moore chipped in 23.8.
NCC joined the two All-Filipino Conferences that season, finishing in the top two both times in the elimination round before sputtering in the semifinals. The Nationals finished third in the First All-Filipino and fourth in the Second All-Filipino.
Next season, NCC again joined two conferences -- the Open and the Reinforced.
Engelland suited up in the Open Conference but skipped the Reinforced.
The team, which now had a third naturalized player in Dennis Still and more amateur stars such as Allan Caidic and Samboy Lim, booked another third place finish in the Open Conference then went all the way in the Reinforced Conference, sweeping the Manila Beer Brewmasters in four games to become just the second guest team to win a PBA title.
The NCC program was disbanded in early 1986, but the national team -- known in those days as simply the RP team -- continued to participate in the PBA as a guest team eligible to win the championship in one conference each from 1986 to 1988.
However, none of these national team iterations met much success, winning only one or two games and failing to advance to the playoffs.
A national team pool would not make it to the playoffs of a PBA tournament until the 2011 Commissioner's Cup, when Smart-Gilas, coached by Rajko Toroman and led by naturalized player Marcus Douthit, Chris Tiu, Marcio Lassiter, Mark Barroca and JVee Casio, finished fourth.