Forty-eight years ago, on June 17, 1975, more than two dozen NBA basketball players, two league referees, a pair of coaches, and two trainers flew to Manila to stage a mini-tournament with various PBA players. It was an event staged by Regency Resources Corporation and Quasar Programmes Corporation and was sanctioned by the NBA through the Commissioner’s Office headed by outgoing head J. Walter Kennedy (replaced by Larry O’Brien on June 1, 1975).
Aptly called the “1975 NBA Invitationals,” a pocket tournament was formed featuring various PBA teams to be reinforced by NBA superstars going up against an NBA selection. This week on “Flashback Friday,” The Rivalry features this unusual event that transpired 48 years ago.
Previous year’s success
This project was probably inspired by the success of the previous year’s NBA players’ visit in Manila witnessed by thousands of fans inside the Araneta Coliseum. The turnout was not surprising, given the elite cast of players who came over to play a couple of games in front of the Filipino fans. Big names like Elgin Baylor, Elvin Hayes, Gail Goodrich, Calvin Murphy, Dave Bing, Earl Monroe, Jim Price and Geoff Petrie awed the crowd and taught local players a thing or two about how the game is played in the United States.
Two superstars, John Havlicek of the world champions Boston Celtics, and Pete Maravich weren’t able to join the tour, with Hondo citing previous commitments and Pistol Pete expressing disappointment with being traded by the Atlanta Hawks to the New Orleans Jazz.
The promoters, Regency and Quasar, promised to bring in big names to Manila for at least two weeks. When they drew out the list two weeks before the tournament, these were the players who were confirmed to join:
Chicago Bulls – Nate Thurmond, Bob Love, Norm Van Lier, Roland Garrett, Bob Wilson (5)
New York Knicks – Walt Frazier, Nathaniel Hawthorne Wingo and Mel Davis (3)
Buffalo Braves – Bob McAdoo, Garfield Heard and Randy Smith (3)
Kansas City Kings – Nate Archibald, Scott Wedman (2)
Boston Celtics – Henry Finkel, Charlie Scott (2)
New Orleans Jazz – Ron Behagen, Henry Bibby (2)
Houston Rockets – Kevin Kunnert, Mike Newlin (2)
Golden State Warriors – Clifford Ray (1)
Milwaukee Bucks – Bobby Dandridge (1)
Indiana Pacers – George McGinnis (1)
Kentucky Colonels – Artis Gilmore (1)
Seattle Supersonics – Spencer Haywood (1)
Los Angeles Lakers – Lucius Allen (1)
Detroit Pistons – Howard Porter (1)
Cleveland Cavaliers – Jim Cleamons (1)
Atlanta Hawks – Dean Meminger (1)
Washington Bullets – Nick Watherspoon (1)
Phoenix Suns – Mike Bantom (1)
The promoters and the NBA agreed that a basic criterion would be followed in the player selection. The first requirement was that the player must be a member of an NBA or ABA team’s starting unit. The second was that the player had to be popular in the Philippines.
Two notable referees were also tapped to join the tour, not just to officiate in the games but also to conduct officiating clinics to the local zebras. These were Jake O’ Donnell, then the NBA Referees Association president, and elite official Richie Powers.
Given that the event preparation started as early as February that year, everything seemed to fall into its rightful place. Unfortunately, problems crept in when the league called for an NBA Players’ conference in Rio de Janeiro, just immediately after the NBA Finals won by the Golden State Warriors. With some notable players committed to attend the conference, the list got decimated. The organizers were still able to put up a notable number of participants, namely:
Knicks – Walt Frazier, Henry Bibby, Nathaniel Hawthorne Wingo, Dennis Bell, Ed Miles, Mel Davis (6)
Bulls – Bob Love, Rowland Garrett, Nate Thurmond (3)
Braves – Randy Smith, Garfield Heard, Mike Macaluso (3)
Kings – Nate Archibald, Scott Wedman (2)
Lakers – David Calhoun, Lucious Allen (2)
Celtics – Charlie Scott, Hank Finkel (2)
Jazz – Mel Counts, Ron Behagen (2)
Suns – Mike Bantom, Curtis Perry (2)
Cavs – Dwight Davis (1)
Pacers – George McGinnis (1)
Nets – Mike Gale (1)
Bullets – Nick Weatherspoon (1)
Hawks – John Drew (1)
Warriors – Clifford Ray (1)
It is notable that there were six players from the Knicks who came over to play. Given the last-minute pullout of players from the original cast, it was the Walt Frazier Sports Enterprises that helped the promoters fill up the open spots. Frazier, who played 11 seasons for the Knicks and was part of the two championships of the franchise in 1970 and 1973, is one of the most renowned Knickerbockers of all time. He continues to do color commentating for New York games up to today. As such, it wasn’t a surprise that Frazier sought out his Madison Square Garden teammates to join him and the rest in the Manila tour.
The flight schedule didn’t also go according to plans. There were three batches of players arriving from the US – the first one arriving on the 15th, the second on the 16th, and the last batch on the 17th. Supposed to fly in on the 17th were Frazier and defensive big man Thurmond.
Curiously, McAdoo was expected to fly in along with Frazier and Thurmond in the delayed flight but wasn’t able to join at the last minute. “Macca” was the toast of the league after winning league MVP honors that season and was obviously one of the most anticipated by local fans. No reason was given by the organizers as to why he never flew in.
The players were billeted at the plush Philippine Village Hotel beside Nayong Pilipino in Parañaque City. Tickets were sold at 250 pesos for ringside and lower box seats, 60 for upper box and 8 for general admission.
The format wasn’t complicated. In the first week, the NBA players were divided into two – the NBA White and the NBA Red, and they were to play a few games. Starting Sunday, June 22, though, the superstars were to reinforce the five PBA teams in the single-round robin tournament. The team with the best win-loss card would be the champions.
Lots were drawn to determine which NBA superstar would go to the PBA teams. Frazier and Mel Counts were secured by Crispa, Thurmond and Archibald went to U/Tex, McAdoo and McGinnis suited up for Royal Tru Orange, while Drew, Heard, Dwight Davis and Gale suited up for Carrier.
But because of the delay in the arrival of Frazier and Thurmond, as well as the non-appearance of McAdoo, the organizers were forced to make some roster changes. Counts joined Frazier at Crispa, and then was later reinforced by Smith and Ray. Behagen then took over Thurmond’s spot at U/Tex while Bantom replaced McAdoo at Royal.
Given the quality of the opposition, there were several games that ended up one-sided. On opening day alone, the NBA selection demolished the Noritake Porcelain Makers, 157-104 just after Carrier upended Royal Tru Orange, 130-123. On Day 2, the Weathermakers shocked everyone, banking on John Drew’s 55 points to hammer the NBA veterans, 132-107. On the same day, the U/Tex Weavers had an impressive debut, leaning on Archibald’s exploits, to carve out a 139-128 victory against Noritake.
There was only one game scheduled for June 24 and Crispa had an auspicious start as well, with Frazier and Smith scoring almost at will, to defeat the Orangemen, 122-108. June 25 saw the Weavers rout the Redmanizers, 160-127. The highlight reel of that game was courtesy of Crispa’s Bogs Adornado, who stole off Archibald, giving him an easy layup at the other end.
Toyota, with only Snake Jones in tow as reinforcement, opted not to participate in the mini-tournament, but played an exhibition game against the NBA selection, losing 124-93. Team manager and coach Dante Silverio explained that he didn’t want to force his players to play to avoid injuries since they were in the middle of the PBA first conference and were one of the top contenders. “It’s hard to go up against players who are at least 6 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than our locals, there’s just too much risk,” Silverio justified.
On June 26, Carrier scored their third straight victory by upending Noritake, 133-110, followed up by a close win by the NBA selection against the Weavers, 124-121. On Friday, June 27, the Weathermakers finally notched its first win against the hapless Royal team, 140-133 while Carrier nipped Crispa, 111-110, in the second game. It was Gale who delivered the goods for the Weathermakers. Curiously, Gale almost turned from hero to heel when, in the closing seconds of the game and Carrier up by 1, 111-110, he slipped and lost the ball to the defense-oriented Frazier. Clyde then had two options – give the ball to Ray who stood within reach of the basket or a sprinting Fabiosa. He chose the latter, but the buzzer sounded just when the heralded point guard of the Redmanizers was about to take off for a layup. The basket was made but was nullified as the shot came after the horn sounded.
June 28 only had one game featuring the NBA selection beating RTO, 138-122, to remain in contention with a 3-1 card, just one game behind the Weathermakers. Crispa notched its second win in four games after expectedly beating the Porcelain Makers, 116-103. The featured match saw Carrier and U/Tex engage in a tension-filled game as a win for the Euyang-owned franchise would pull them abreast of the Concepcion franchise at 3-1. Unfortunately, Archibald, who signed for an 8-game contract, already played his last game against the NBA selection and flew back to the States. Carrier eked out a 122-120 victory to win the championship with an immaculate 5-0 slate.
On the final day, June 29, Crispa needed a win against the NBA selection to end up in a 3-way tie with U/Tex and the NBA-powered squad at second. Unfortunately, the Redmanizers dropped their last game, 114-99, yielding second place to the NBA team that finished with a 4-1 card, while the Weavers finishing third at 3-2. Crispa ended up with a 2-3 record, the Coseteng franchise finished at 1-4, while Royal wound up at the cellar with no win in 5 games.
Still, there were impressive moments. Apart from Adornado stealing from Archibald, there was also Atoy Co shooting and scoring against Love’s defense, and the U/Tex combo of Jimmy Otazu and Romeo Frank proving their worth underneath the basket against their behemoth opponents. Fabiosa also showed that speed kills by swiping the ball away from Counts.
Not everything turned out rosy though in this two-week long event. For one, fans weren’t able to fill up the Big Dome because of the exorbitant ticket prices. And when the tournament started, the organizers modified the rules, limiting the NBA reinforcements per PBA team to three, a move that didn’t sit well with Crispa coach Baby Dalupan.
Dalupan claimed he was not informed about the change in the rule and wanted to play Garrett alongside Frazier, Ray and Smith. If not, the team wouldn’t play anymore. Fortunately, logical heads prevailed and Dalupan gave way, but this apparently affected the Redmanizers, losing their game against the Weavers via a blowout.
Another complaint was the lack of superstar complement. Given that there were around 28 players who came in, many fans felt that the more popular NBA superstars should have been there as promised. Not having McAdoo, Haywood, Van Lier, Dandridge and Gilmore in the group made fans feel gypped after the hype that came prior to the Invitationals.
The 1970’s was a hallmark as far as sports hosting is concerned. The Philippines became one of the most sought-after venues for big-ticket sporting events. From the political spectrum, the Marcos government had to do this to justify the imposition of Martial Law in the country. As such, major events like the 1973 ABC, the 1978 FIBA World Championship, the 1977 World Cup of golf, the 1979 World FIQ bowling tournament, the 1975 Thrilla in Manila, the 1978 World Chess Championship (held in Baguio City), the 1975 Bowling World Cup, among many others, gave the country an opportunity to feature the best it could offer to the world.
While the 1975 NBA Invitationals was a privately-run event, it remains one of the most significant basketball highlights in the country featuring more than two dozen legitimate NBA players. The impact was significant that it made the PBA decide to feature two imports for each franchise in the second conference of their maiden 1975 season – a fate-changing move that propelled the league to greater heights in the years to come, making it the biggest sports entertainment platform in the country for more than 48 years already.