Game-changing imports who raised the bar in the PBA
Gerry Plaza on Aug 13, 2018 05:43 PM
From top left (clockwise): Billy Ray Bates, Michael Hackett, Sean Chambers, Norman Black, Bobby Parks and Tony Harris were considered as the finest imports to play in the PBA (photos courtesy of the PBA).
Imports are considered not only crowd drawers that invite national attention to the PBA.
They are also game changers who raised the bar of play in the pioneering Asian pro cage league, with their incredible skills, breathtaking court wizardry, huge scoring might, and of course fantastic flights of fancy.
Through the years, we’ve anticipated only the best from them, and definitely there are a few of them who really made their mark with their names etched in the annals of the league.
One of them is Ginebra import Justin Brownlee, who bagged the PBA Best Import Award recently. Not flashy or flamboyant, Brownlee just gets the job done, leading Ginebra to the 2016 and 2017 Governors Cup, and just recently the 2018 Commissioners Cup.
Aside from Brownlee, who were the other imports in PBA history that made a huge impact in the league and in the consciousness of this basketball-crazy nation? Here are some of the greatest imports ever to play in the country.
1. Cyrus Mann
Cyrus Mann is remembered as one of the first prolific imports that played in the PBA, donning the Crispa Redmanizers jersey during its Grand Slam year in 1976 up to 1979. He provided that imposing presence in the paint with his 6’10” frame and was a monster off the boards, including those killer moves in the paint scoring at will against opponents.
2. Byron “Snake” Jones
Memorable for his versatility and workhorse attitude, Byron “Snake” Jones was a journeyman, playing for three different teams in the PBA and leading two of them to championships. He played for the Toyota Comets in the PBA’s maiden season and won the First and Second Conference crowns and then went on to play for the U-Tex Wranglers and help them in bagging their first-ever title in the PBA Open Conference in 1978. He would then end his PBA journey with the Crispa Redmanizers in 1981.
3. Andy Fields
Considered the first “resident import” in the league, Andy Fields has been called back frequently to play for his lone PBA team Toyota in his entire stint in the PBA. A feared shotblocker, midrange shooter, and rebounder, Fields led Toyota to three PBA championships, including the 1979 Invitationals, 1981 and 1982 Open Conference titles.
4. Norman Black
Norman Black is simply called the import that gives his all in each game, one who was frequently labeled as “Mr. 100%.” He started his PBA career with the Teflin Polyesters in 1981, then began his connection with the San Miguel franchise in 1982 as its main workhorse and scorer, who would guide the Beermen to its second franchise title in the Invitationals the same year. He would then serve as import for Great Taste the next year, played again for the SMC franchise in 1985 under Magnolia Quench Plus, then suited briefly for Alaska in 1986. After returning to San Miguel in 1987, Black would then become a playing coach and eventually a coach who engineered its first Grand Slam in 1989.
5. Billy Ray Bates
Billy Ray Bates is considered by many as the “best ever” who would fascinate everyone with monster dunks from the charity stripe years before Michael Jordan. Not only would he run rings around defenders, Bates would soar up, up away to score, and score without letup, hence the title “The Black Superman.” His debut stint with Crispa in its second Grand Slam year in 1983 was astounding and remarkable, as his unstoppable incursions, aerial shows, and powerful slams made him unforgettable to this day. Three years later, he would bring his greatness to Ginebra San Miguel and bag the 1986 Open Conference crown, which was the then-Palanca franchise’s first title.
6. Michael Hackett
Loyal and dedicated, Michael Hackett is the gentle giant opponents feared. He is considered one of the most dominant forces in PBA history, who would just power his way through defenders at the paint and score at will. Playing for Ginebra San Miguel, Hackett is best remembered for being the first PBA player to score over a hundred points, 103 points to be exact, in a match against Great Taste in the 1985 Open Conference, wherein he won Best Import honors. In the next year, Hackett and fellow import great Billy Ray Bates collaborated to lead Ginebra to the 1986 Open Conference title.
7. Bobby Parks
For most coaches, the late Bobby Parks was seen as the greatest not only due to the fact that he is the most decorated with seven Best Import awards, but also being the most hard working and coachable import ever. A gallant scoring machine yet a silent operator, Parks showed a wide variety of moves in his lane incursions in his prime that would leave defenders helpless, ending in mind-boggling baskets. Apart from his individual skills, Parks really completes his mission, giving championships to San Miguel Beer in the 1987 Reinforced Conference, and then Shell as its resident import with two titles, the 1990 and 1992 First Conference plums.
8. Tony Harris
He might not be that much of an obedient trooper, but Tony Harris and his brand of play was simply breathtaking. As Coach Yeng Guiao decided during his time as coach of the Swift Mighty Meaties that they must let him be and ordered his court lieutenants to just pass the ball to him and make him simply wield his magic. And he did leave everyone in awe with his speed, agility, and power to score over all defenders thrown at him, hence the monicker “The Hurricane.” Proof of his incredible abilities is scoring 105 points, the single game scoring record that holds to this day, against Ginebra in the 1992 Reinforced Conference, wherein he would single-handedly cop the title for Swift.
9. Sean Chambers
You could be charmed by his beaming smile when you meet him off the court, but when you meet him on-court, prepare for the worst beating. Though he’s not the heavy scorer type of an import PBA fans are accustomed to, Alaska’s “resident import” shows his class and might as a team player. He worked for the Milkmen in 13 seasons, giving them titles 6 times, yet only won the Best Import plum once—in the Reinforced Conference of Alaska’s Grand Slam year in 1996.
The memory of what these imports brought to the league continues to delight true PBA fans through the years. And we see their legacy in such players as Justin Brownlee, who continue to show the example, the standard for other foreign players setting foot in the country to follow.