In an All-Star Game in any professional basketball league or any sport for that matter, the message has always been that it’s for the fans—when the best, the brightest, and the most popular are brought together to play for two teams in a match touted to be not about who wins but the spectacle that mesmerizes.
Crisp passes, monster dunks, trick shots, dazzling plays, and showmanship you won’t actually see in a regular game—that’s the draw, and the fans through the years have been mesmerized.
And this is what to expect come March 29 to 31 in Calasiao, Pangasinan when the PBA holds its annual All-Star Game, with its top players assembled in teams representing the North and the South.
Yes, it’s an annual affair—and it all started 30 years ago in an unforgettable battle that really wasn’t just for show. It was epic and hard-fought, decided only in the last seconds of the game.
Unthinkable assemblage of legends
Given that it was the first All-Star Game, it was an unthinkable assemblage of cagers considered legends and icons today—a lot of them named as the country’s greatest players in history.
But then, their grouping was entirely different. Given that the era introduced a bumper crop of newcomers in the league, who really dominated the PBA in their nascent years as pros, the face-off was between the PBA’s veterans, some who had been in the league since its inception in 1975, in one team and the rookies and sophomores in the other.
The battle was eagerly anticipated—between iconic players who were long revered and impressive upstarts who were threatening to take over their lofty stature.
On June 4, 1989 at the ULTRA in Pasig, the first PBA All-Star Game transpired.
The Veterans team had Allan Caidic of Presto Tivoli, Hector Calma, Yves Dignadice, Samboy Lim and Ramon Fernandez of San Miguel Beer as starters. The rest of the lineup included Robert Jaworski, Joey Loyzaga and Philip Cezar of Anejo Rhum, Elmer Reyes of San Miguel Beer, Manny Victorino of Presto Tivoli, Elipidio “Yoyoy” Villamin of Alaska Milk, and the late Arnie Tuadles of Formula Shell. The late Maestro Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan of Purefoods stood as coach.
The Rookies and Sophomores, on the other hand, had Jojo Lastimosa and Alvin Patrimonio of Purefoods, Paul Alvarez of Alaska Milk, Ronnie Magsanoc and Benjie Paras of Formula Shell as starters. Completing the lineup were Jerry Codinera, Nelson Asaytono, and Dindo Pumaren of Purefoods, Elmer Cabahug of Alaska Milk, Romeo dela Rosa of Formula Shell, Zaldy Realubit of Presto Tivoli and Bobby Jose of San Miguel Beer. They were coached by Formula Shell’s Dante Silverio.
Experience and familiarity ruled the start of hostilities with the Veterans erecting a 17-point lead in the second quarter, 38-21, behind the heroics of Cezar and Lim. However, the Rookies-Sophomores team took over the second half with Alvarez’s devil-may-care drives and Codinera’s defense minister ways. But it was Cabahug’s torrid shooting from beyond the arc (Editor's Note: Cabahug would be named All-Star Game MVP), with Magsanoc and Lastimosa’s own three-point streaks, that pushed their monster run, forging eight deadlocks. Lastimosa made the emphatic final triple with four ticks left to equalize at 130-all.
Amazing final play
What happened next was nothing short of amazing.
With Dalupan suing for time to devise what they hoped to be a game-winning play, he called on the two players he knew best that could deliver in such a crucial turn--fabled yet estranged teammates Jaworski and Fernandez.
While there were other options in the rotation, notably Caidic, Dignadice and Cezar, to take the last shot but were tightly guarded, the eagle-eyed, inbounding Jaworski spotted a free Fernandez, who shook off a distracted Paras, and passed the ball to him. Fernandez then streaked towards the baseline from the left flank, and took a difficult reverse layup amid the outstretched arms of Patrimonio and Paras.
It was the buzzer beater for the ages; a miracle shot that clinched the win for the Veterans, 132-130, as time expired.
And the veteran redshirts rejoiced, mobbing a jubilant Fernandez with embraces and high-fives. Yet the most memorable sight was him shaking the hands of a beaming Jaworski, with whom he had a falling out since the disbandment of Toyota five years prior.
Fitting start to a yearly tradition
As such, it was more than just a team winning, or a mere exhibition game of the PBA’s biggest stars—it was symbolic, with the grizzled veterans still not giving way to an aggressive band of young turks, and both meaningful and fulfilling, with hatches buried and bright futures assured.
Thus, the first PBA All-Star Game was one fitting start to a yearly tradition that not only showcases skills and talents but most importantly, promotes togetherness and camaraderie.
And, yes, it’s all for the fans.