How the first all-pro 1990 Dream Team brought back Asian Games glory
Gerry Plaza on Aug 16, 2018 10:04 AM
Coached by the "Living Legend" Robert Jaworski Sr, the Philippines fielded all-star dream selection of PBA players in the 1990 Asian Games (Photo courtesy of the PBA).
When FIBA formally allowed professional basketball players in international competitions in 1989 with its “open basketball” ruling, the exciting prospect was really witnessing the best cagers to play for their country came true.
And this became such welcome news for the Philippines given the dearth in competitiveness in world basketball. Case in point was the 1989 Southeast Asian Games, wherein the Philippines lost the gold for the very first time in history of the biennial cage meet to hosts Malaysia after an embarrassing 99-107 loss.
Something had to be done, and the FIBA ruling could not have come at a better time.
The country’s basketball governing body, the Basketball Association of the Philippines, immediately forged a deal with the PBA to send only the best Philippine team for the next major international tilt, the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.
Thus, the Philippine “Dream Team” was formed, consisting of an all-star dream selection of PBA players, half of which became part of the PBA’s 25 Greatest Players list several years later.
The team consisted of active players who were making waves in the PBA at that time, including Mon Fernandez, Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, and Yves Dignadice of the Grand Slam-winning San Miguel Beermen, Chito Loyzaga, Dante Gonzalgo, and the late Rey Cuenco of the most popular Anejo Rhum squad, Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc of Formula Shell, Allan Caidic and Zaldy Realubit of Presto Tivoli, and Alvin Patrimonio of Purefoods Hotdogs.
Jerry Codinera was originally part of the final lineup but had to beg off due to a bout with hepatitis and was replaced by Realubit. Nelson Asaytono and Paul Alvarez were named as alternates but were unable to join the team in Beijing.
And the coaches? No less than living legend Robert Jaworski of Anejo Rhum was named head coach, with Norman Black of San Miguel as his assistant.
Two months to prepare
As the team was finalized in late July 1990, Jaworski and the Philippine Dream Team had only less than two months to prepare. Given the short time to train and prepare for the Beijing Asian Games, the team had to work overtime to gel and strategize, without the privilege of tune-up games or international scrimmages. It was a packed schedule and they knew that their mission of reclaiming Asian basketball supremacy was a tall order.
On September 23, 1990, the Philippines began their campaign auspiciously. The dream team drubbed Pakistan, 129-81, in their first game that really sent shockwaves throughout the tournament. And with their subsequent victory over Japan, 86-78, in their final game in the preliminaries confirmed fears that the Philippines was a serious contender for the Gold.
The Filipinos continued their winning ways in their first game in the quarterfinals. With Loyzaga limiting 7 foot 9 center Ri Myong Hun, the Philippines managed to beat the tough North Koreans, 98-82. The victory sparked hopes among millions of Filipinos watching live that they would really stand a chance of wresting back Asian basketball glory.
Then came their biggest test—unfortunately fighting the defending gold medalists China early in the competition. And in this game, their lack of preparation and cohesion showed against the solid Chinese squad, as the Filipinos were humiliated with a 65-point loss, 60-125.
While many were disappointed and now doubted their chances of even advancing to the final round, a lot of loyal believers still knew the Dream Team still had aces up their sleeves.
They showed in the next quarterfinal game against the United Arab Emirates, in which they escaped with an 80-75 triumph and advanced to the semifinals. Luckily for the Filipinos, they would face a team they already defeated in the preliminaries, Japan.
But in this semifinal match, Japan was now more than ready to face their first round tormentors. With an effective motion offense and sticky defense, the Japanese limited Pinoy gunners like Caidic to find their mark and kept the match close. But Jaworski’s run and gun plays with Paras overpowering defenders in the paint, and Caidic finding his range late in the game, the Philippines prevailed in a close 94-90 victory that led to nationwide jubilation. We were just one game to grab that Asian Games gold medal the Philippines last bagged in the 1962 Jakarta Games.
Gold Medal match
For the first time since that year, the Philippines is back in the Gold Medal match.
And they had one humungous giant to overcome, the titan China, which waylaid another perennial Gold Medal favorite in the semifinals, South Korea, 92-88. And it did not help that China had seen the gaping holes in the Philippines’ style of play in their rather dominating win in the quarterfinals.
But in the match watched again by millions of Filipinos on October 6, 1990, the Dream Team really gave their all, limiting the vaunted Chinese offense in the middle of the first half, and kept them at bay with Paras, Patrimonio and Lim leading the charge. They held them at several lead changes, but the prolific and cohesive Chinese, who has played in numerous international tournaments for years, couldn’t be denied. Their stonewall defense and firepower in all ends of the court was just too much, making them pull away at halftime, 53-35. And there was no turning back for the Chinese as they held off repeated rally attempts and finished off their valiant challengers, 90-76.
It was truly a respectable and honorable Silver Medal finish for the Philippines, which not only instilled pride among fellow countrymen but revived the country’s stature in world basketball.