The five most memorable Toyota championships in the PBA

The Rivalry will be coming out with a series of articles featuring the Toyota basketball team as a prelude to the 50th golden anniversary this year which will be celebrated with a grand homecoming of all Toyota / Komatsu players to be held on February 18, 2023 in Makati City.

The Toyota basketball team – known by several monikers like the Comets, the Silver Tamaraws, the Tamaraws, the Super Diesels, the Super Corollas and the Silver Coronas – won nine PBA championships in as many seasons. This made them the second most successful team in the league in its first decade – behind the Crispa Redmanizers and their 13 titles. In the MICAA, they were known as the Komatsu Comets in 1973 before becoming the Toyota Comets later that year.

It would be interesting to note that only three players were part of the franchise from start to finish – Robert Jaworski, Francis Arnaiz and Ramon Fernandez. Generally regarded as Toyota’s Big Three, they started with the franchise in 1973 and left after its disbandment at the end of the 1983 season.

If one would ask the players who experienced a championship for Toyota which one was their favorite, they may come up with different responses. Toyota fans though, may have their own favorites from the nine titles. The Rivalry lists down the 5 most memorable Toyota championships of all-time.

5. 1975 Open vs. Crispa Redmanizers (2nd Conference)

The Comets claimed the first PBA title by beating Crispa, 3-1, in the finals. While the accomplishment was impressive, fans viewed this as an advantage for the Comets for electing to play an import in Byron “Snake” Jones in what otherwise should have been an All-Filipino. But the league allowed teams to be reinforced with one import to establish competitive balance right away. In the second conference, though, it was a different story. 

With both teams making it to the Finals once more, the rivalry was becoming even more intense and, yes, personal. It was a bruising first half that saw the Comets forging ahead, 51-45. In the third, Toyota import Stan Cherry shoved Crispa’s Rudy Soriano. In the fourth, Soriano bloodied Fernandez’s nose in a battle for the rebound. Jaworski retaliated by throwing a punch at Soriano’s shoulder. The two were thrown out and eventually suspended for Game 2 while being fined PhP1,000 (Soriano) and PhP500 (Jaworski). Fernandez had to be hospitalized after suffering a broken nose. 

There was also a commotion among the fans as someone pelted Soriano with a one-peso coin that hit the forward’s back. Fans rooting for opposite camps then started to trade punches while throwing rattan chairs at each other. The police and security were only able to restore order after 20 minutes. The game ended with Toyota winning 98-96 after Atoy Co deliberately missed the second of his free throw with 10 seconds left and Crispa getting hold of the offensive rebound. But Bernie Fabiosa thew an errant pass to Philip Cezar that sealed the fate of the Redmanizers. Toyota’s Ompong Segura led all scorers with 29 points.

With Fernandez out because of a broken nose and Jaworski and Soriano suspended, Crispa exacted vengeance against the Comets in Game 2, 101-91, to even the series at 1-all. It was nip and tuck all throughout, with Toyota carrying a precarious five-point lead at the start of the fourth, 73-68. A strong start by the Redmanizers in the fourth gave them a 78-77 lead, but after Francis Arnaiz and Oscar Rocha chipped in two more points each to regain the lead, 81-80, Co, Rey Franco and import Pete Crotty combined for an 8-0 tear to put the game beyond reach, 88-81. Crotty’s defense on either Jones and Cherry proved to be the pivotal factor as the former could only score 19 while the latter putting in a measly 3. Adornado and Co topscored for Crispa with 22 points each while Arnaiz and Jones chipped in 19 apiece.

Game 3 turned out to be not just pivotal but the series decider. Coach Dante Silverio shocked everyone when he put Fernandez back in the lineup when everyone thought he was done for the series. And with him and the Big J returning, Toyota was at its full strength once more. Wearing a plaster cast to protect his nose, he scored 12 points, 6 in the first quarter where Toyota established its first big lead, 19-12. He also had 6 boards and 3 swats in the second period. Jaworski, Jones and Arnaiz held the fort in the second half, combining for 68 points with Mr. Clutch leading all scorers with 30 markers in front of 32,000 cheering fans.

Crispa team manager Danny Floro was fuming mad after the game and threatened not to play in Game 4. Dalupan was also suspended for Game 4 for going after referee Remigio Bartolome at the end of Game 3. Floro’s complaint stemmed from the PBA limiting the selection of referees to three – Ting Cruz, Fely Santarina and Remigio Bartolome – where two of them would be selected in a raffle a few minutes before the game. Floro felt that the pool should include the other three referees – Rodolfo Manuel, Venusto Marquez and Estifanio Bernos. As such, the PBA Board voted 7-0, with Floro and Silverio abstaining, to give the championship to Toyota after Floro’s decision to forfeit the game. The outcome may have been anti-climactic but given the drama and emotions involved in this series, this was definitely a memorable championship for the Silverio-owned franchise.

4. 1982 Reinforced Filipino vs. San Miguel Beermen (1st Conference)

Toyota secured a Finals seat after earning a hard-fought victory against Crispa in the best-of-five semifinals, winning 3-2. In the championship, they were up against eliminations leader San Miguel Beer, led by do-it-all import Norman Black. 

Yet, there were other elements in this series that provided interesting side stories. It was the second time for these two franchises to face each other in the finals, the first time being in the 1979 Open Conference Finals when Toyota lost, 3-1. This was also the second time that the Reinforced All-Filipino Conference was staged, the first time the previous year with Crispa winning the title. As Toyota wasn’t able to reach the finals the previous year, they were given the opportunity to field an import with a 6’3 limit – a privilege they used to pick up Arnold Dugger, then later, Donnie Ray Koonce. Crispa, with a 6’1 ceiling, brought in Glenn Hagan while SMB was able to secure Norman Black after playing a stellar conference for Tefilin the previous season. Lastly, it was a battle of wits between two of the finest young coaches that time, the 43-year old Ed Ocampo and the 33-year old Tommy Manotoc. 

Basketball experts were split in predicting which team will win this series. While Toyota may have had the advantage with their local roster, they were missing the services of Robert Jaworski due to a groin injury. Toyota likewise beefed up its lineup by bringing four top amateur players at the start of the season – Ed Cordero, Ricky Relosa, Tim Coloso and Terry Saldaña. On the other hand, Manotoc relied on rookies Marte Saldaña and Ray Obias, veterans Manny Paner and Yoyong Martirez, up and coming stars Etok Lobo, Anthony Dasalla and Kenneth Yap and long-time SMB players Rudy Lalota, Jess Migalbin and Biboy Ravanes.

Games 1 and 2 went to the Beermen as Black averaged 56.5 points to lead them to 120-110 and 119-117 victories. Game 2 saw Black scoring the go-ahead jumper with 2 seconds remaining to get the win. But Toyota came roaring back in Games 3 and 4, winning 90-87 and 98-96. 

Game 5 saw SMB limiting Toyota to just 13 points in the fourth quarter in a game that led to the banishment of Tuadles for tripping Black. Black led all scorers with 44 points while Fernandez topscored for the Super Corollas with 33. In Game 6, Toyota hammered out a dizzying third-quarter explosion, scoring 35 points while limiting SMB to 22 points to take a commanding 83-69 lead at the end of the 3rd. With King limiting Black to only 41 points and Koonce taking over the offense for Toyota with 26 points, the series was knotted at 3-all. 

Game 7 turned out to be a classic as the game swung back and forth, no team gaining a momentum that can provide separation. Down by 8 with 62 seconds remaining, the Beermen made a final stand courtesy of baskets from Dasalla and Lalota, 99-95. But Koonce calmly sank the last two free throws of the game to give his team their eighth title. 

3. 1978 All-Filipino vs. Filmanbank Bankers (1st Conference)

The Toyota Tamaraws whoop it up after winning the 1978 All-Filipino title. (FB)

Toyota badly wanted to win the All-Filipino Conference. The first time they accomplished this in 1975, Jones was with the team. This time around, all the teams except for Filmanbank which was reinforced by Billy Robinson fielded all locals. The team made two major acquisitions – securing the services of top forwards Danny Florencio from 7/Up and Estoy Estrada from Royal Tru Orange. This gave Silverio enough bench depth to go up against rivals Crispa. At the same time, the Tamaraws were fresh from winning the last conference of the 1977 season against the visiting Emtex Sacronels and had the momentum entering the new season.

Filmanbank, a team coached by Lauro “Bay” Mumar, not only had Robinson from last year’s All-Filipino runner-up team, Mariwasa-Honda, in the roster, but also hotshot Jun Papa. Along with veterans Larry Mumar, Jumbo Otazu, Bobby Salonga, Jimmy Mariano, Orly Delos Santos, Romy Palijo, Bong Chua and rookie sensation Amang Ladores, the Bankers, a sister team of Toyota, was expected to provide stiff opposition.

It didn’t turn out as expected. In fact, even the fans seemed to know what would happen as the Big Dome was hardly filled up the entire series. Toyota took care of business right away, beating the Bankers 141-130 in Game 1, led by Jaworski’s 33 points. In another high-scoring affair, the Tamaraws easily beat Filmanbank, 168-148, in Game 2 as three Toyota players – Arnaiz, Florencio and Estrada – combined for 94 points. Chua led Filmanbank with a career-high 43 points, but this was not enough to prevent the Tamaraws from taking a 2-0 lead.

Filmanbank didn’t want to be embarrassed by a sweep, a fate suffered by Emtex against Toyota in the previous conference, and won Game 3, 124-117, with Robinson taking charge, scoring 30 points. But in Game 4 Toyota took the starch out of Filmanbank as early as the first half, demolishing their sister team, 132-113. Florencio, who was the scoring leader among locals in 1977 with a scintillating 32.3 points per game for the Uncolas, continued to sizzle as a Tamaraw, firing 38 points to lead the Tamaraws to their fourth championship. 

It also turned out to be perhaps the best year of the franchise as they not only won another championship in the Third Conference, beating the Tanduay Distillers, 3-1, they also beat eventual FIBA world champions Yugoslavia, 118-113, and fifth placer Canada, 92-88, in exhibition games. Team captain Jaworski was also adjudged the MVP for the year, averaging 20 points, 11.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game.

2. 1977 Invitationals vs. Emtex Sacronels (3rd Conference)

The biggest story of this conference was the welcoming of two guest teams in the PBA – the first time in league history. The Palmeiras team of Brazil, the most successful basketball club in their country, came over and donned the colors of Emtex Sacronels along with the Melbourne Panthers of Australia, which carried the brand Ramrod Blocks. Emtex was obviously the more decorated team as they brought in members of their national team – considered a powerhouse in the FIBA as they ranked in the Top 5 in 1977, eventually winning the bronze medal in the 1978 FIBA World Championship. Milton Setrini, Oskar Schmidt, Ubiratam Maciel and Gilson Jesus were the national team members reinforced by two American imports – Tony Hodges and Rob Torresdal. Their coach was Carlos Gonzales. 

Emtex topped the short eliminations with a 7-0 card followed by Toyota with a 6-1 record. The odds favored Emtex as they were not only undefeated, they also were brimming with confidence and swagger despite their short rotation. But Toyota had other plans, as their two imports – John Irving and Bruce “Sky” King, teamed up beautifully with Fernandez, Jaworski, Arnaiz, Gil Cortez, Ompong Segura, Fort Acuña, Orly Bauzon, Big Boy Reynoso, Oscar Rocha, Rino Salazar, Jess Sta. Maria and rookies Abe King, Emer Legaspi, Nic Bulaong and Pablo Javier to deliver three telling blows on their way to a sweep of the series – the first ever in PBA history.

The first game turned out to be a rout, 115-99, as Toyota thoroughly dominated with Irving controlling the rebounds and Jaworski masterminding the offense. The result came out surprising as only a week back, the Sacronels clobbered Toyota, 127-106, in the eliminations to give the Tamaraws their only loss for the conference. 

Game 2 saw a more competitive Emtex team taking a small lead in the third quarter only to collapse in the final quarter after the Tamaraws went on their transition attack. Toyota won, 113-108, to lead the series, 2-0, needing just a win to snare their first title in two years.

Game 3 turned out to be a mirror of Game 1, as the Silverio franchise went on its transition game early in the first quarter and was never threatened the entire game. Taking advantage of the Brazilians’ exhaustion and inability to handle the humidity at the Loyola Center, the Tamaraws didn’t stop running until the final buzzer, ending the game in a massacre, 129-108, in one of the most lopsided Finals series in league history. The victory also proved the ability of the team to compete against worthy international teams – an offshoot of the advanced coaching technology of Silverio and the world-class games of Jaworski, Fernandez and Arnaiz.

1.  1981 Open vs. Crispa Redmanizers (1st Conference)

Toyota imports Victor King and Andy Fields embrace after winning the 1981 Open Conference championship against Crispa. (FB)

This Finals series may have been pre-destined from the very start. Crispa and Toyota kicked off the seventh PBA season by playing on opening night. And with the Redmanizers parading the NBA’s 11th pick in the 1978 rookie draft, James Hardy, alongside former Toyota reinforcement, Byron “Snake” Jones, while Toyota bringing back defensive demon Andy Fields alongside newcomer Melton Wertz, who would eventually be replaced by Victor King, everything pointed to another classic Finals showdown between the two titans.

Both teams had unquestionably the greatest starting five units, although Dalupan would often vary his starting unit by putting in defensive role players. Nonetheless, it was a battle royale among the best players in their respective positions – Abet Guidaben and Fernandez at center, Cezar and Abe King at power forward, Freddie Hubalde and Tuadles at small forward, Arnaiz and Co at shooting guard, and Bernie Fabiosa and Jaworski at the point – all at the prime of their careers.

An added sidelight to this series was the tapping of NBA American referees Jim Capers and Lee Jones to officiate the entire Finals – a first in league history. Brought in by the PBA to provide clinics and teach the local referees the advanced features of officiating, it was only fitting that two of the best professional referees in the world would be handling the championship games.

Game 1 saw both teams struggling with the calls. This led to the opinion of basketball commentator Dick Ildefonso that whichever team adjusts faster to how the calls were made, the better their chances of winning. Fields, Jaworski and Tuadles all fouled out in the game while Atoy Co was called for several travelling violations for lifting his pivot foot when making his move. A four-minute blackout and Hardy’s sole coming off his left shoe added to the bizarre night. The Super Diesels took command in the third quarter but the lead was wiped out with the game tied at 112-all in the closing minutes of the fourth. It was the heroics of import King, Fernandez and Danny Florencio that gave Toyota the win, 123-116.

In Game 2, Crispa took command early and had a 70-47 lead late in the second canto before settling into a 72-53 scoreline at the end of the half. Toyota mightily came back and led, 104-100 at the end of the third. But Guidaben was outstanding in the fourth, scoring 13 of his 23 points, plus clutch baskets and charities in the end to allow Crispa to knot the series at 1-1, winning 126-124 after Jaworski missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer. Co and Fields both fouled out in this game.

Game 3 saw Guidaben repeating his heroics. He led the charge for his team, scoring a game-high 30 points while Jones took over the defensive chores against Fields when Hardy allowed the 6’9 Cheyenne standout to score 9 straight points, giving Toyota the lead, 114-106. With Fields neutralized, Crispa went on a huge 15-0 run, turning the game around from a 116-111 Toyota lead to the final score of 126-116. Fields had 13 points while Jones outscored him with 19 in a game that saw Fernandez fouling out and Jaworski unable to play due to an ankle injury.

With their backs against the wall, Ocampo spoke of the need to have his players available at the endgame without getting disqualified from fouls. The players responded positively and went on a fourth quarter 13-1 finish to pull away and win the game, 116-98. Jaworski was back despite the injury and contributed 16 points including two treys in a heroic effort. Fields also came back with vengeance, scoring 26 points and outclassed Jones and Hardy who combined for only 24 points. Guidaben, the hero of Games 2 and 3, had to leave the game early in the fourth with an injured left ankle coming from a bad fall. Fernandez chipped in 21 while Florencio added 20 to set up a Game 5, winner-take-all Saturday showdown.

In what may perhaps be the most epic Crispa-Toyota duel in their 123 PBA face-offs, Game 5 was a game for all ages. In front of 30,000 fans, split almost evenly among the two teams, both teams overcame a tense start as the game was close all throughout with no team leading in double digits. By the end of the third, the Super Diesels held a precarious 81-79 lead. The fourth was nip and tuck, and with three minutes and change, the two teams were knotted at 97-all after a Cezar basket. Fernandez scored off Cezar, with Co getting called for a technical foul after. Fernandez sank the technical free throw to give Toyota a 100-97 edge. A couple of botched plays ensued until Fields, with 1:29 remaining, scored off an and-one play against Hardy to give Toyota a commanding five-point lead. Fields then sank the bonus free throw, 103-97, and both teams failed to score from thereon. 

Fields proved his worth as the first Best Import awardee given out after the series when he totally outclassed Hardy and Jones. Aside from scoring 18 points, Fields also hauled 16 boards and swatted away 7 shots. Victor King also chipped in 8 points and 10 boards while Crispa had to settle for Jones’ 13 and 10 and Hardy’s 17 and 8. Fernandez and Cezar topscored for their respective teams with 20 points each, but it was the fine relief effort of Nic Bulaong that energized Toyota as the 6’4 center chipped in 13 markers, a fitting follow-up to his Game 4 contribution of 10 points. Ocampo paid tribute to his bench as the key in the series. “It was the tremendous development and confidence of my shock troopers. We knew very well that Crispa had a deeper bench but one of the reasons why we had lost a lot of games in the eliminations was because I was giving more time to my second stringers.”

Quite fittingly, this 1981 Open Conference square off between the two arch rivals would turn out to be their last Finals together. It was also the first time Toyota beat Crispa in a series-deciding game, having lost the first three in 1975, 1976 and 1979. There’s no denying that the 1981 Open Conference Finals was the best and most memorable championship won by the Toyota basketball team.


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