The inside story behind Toyota’s nostalgia-filled 50th anniversary reunion

Less than a month ago, Gil Cortez called up this writer and discussed his intention to hold a grand reunion bash among Toyota personalities. The idea came about after Ramon Fernandez posted several photos of him at Las Vegas with US-based Toyota teammates, Francis Arnaiz, Rino Salazar, Ricky Relosa and resident import, Andrew Fields. He asked for the contact numbers of former teammates who have already guested on the online sports show, “An Eternity of Basketball (AEOB).”

We shared ideas of how to go about the reunion. Cortez said Fernandez wanted to hold the gathering as early as possible, particularly anytime between the period of February 17-20 since the Cebu-based businessman will be in Manila during this time.

There was logic in Fernandez’s suggestion, as organizing an occasion like this may lose momentum if it’s planned way ahead. But planning for everything in less than a month? Cortez, who remains active in organizing sports events for the SBP while serving as consultant in administrative matters at the Balibago Waterworks in Pampanga and as Marketing and Development Manager of Bali Pure, was undaunted. He took it by himself to overcome the odds and committed his time and resources in putting everything together.

This wouldn’t have happened though without the blessing of their former head coach, Dante Silverio. The flamboyant mentor, known for his fashion sense as well as his love for parties, offered the Alfresco Covered Dining Area along Pasong Tamo Extension as the venue. It turned out that the 85-year old former motor racing champion was just as excited about gathering his former players together.

With the seeds already planted, the devil was in the details. With Silverio handling the venue and the food and beverage, Cortez worked on the program, giveaways, invites, wines, and other matters. He sought help from the AEOB team made up of Sid Ventura, Noel Zarate, Charlie Cuna and this writer through public awareness – a request that was the team was more than willing to extend.

AEOB provided Cortez with a list of all the players who suited up for Komatsu/Toyota from 1973 to 1984. More than 50 players, 16 imports, four head coaches, half a dozen managers and assistant managers and a few utility personnel were identified. It was Cortez’s job to reach out and bring them in. Even the imports were included – Fields, Byron “Snake” Jones, and Donnie Ray Koonce, among others, were contacted. He also hoped that overseas-based cagers like Arnaiz, Relosa, Salazar, Abe King, Nat Canson and Tim Coloso could come home.

Silverio and Cortez also agreed to invite the scions of the players who could not make it or have already passed on. As such, Pasig Vice Mayor Robert “Dodot” Jaworski, Jr. came with his son, Renzo, to represent his ailing father. Carlo Bauzon was there to represent his late dad, Orly while Christopher Reynoso, the son of Tino and nephew of Big Boy, was there as well.

The Rivalry also pledged a series of articles featuring the franchise coming out of its website to help boost excitement and build greater interest. It was The Rivalry that first broke the news of the grand reunion.

While Cortez was used to organizing grand parties and events, he was pretty much a one-man organizing committee. AEOB offered its assistance, volunteering their services to handle the program proper with no less than Cuna co-hosting the event alongside the eminent Sev Sarmenta. Meanwhile, this writer collaborated with AEOB’s producer, Globally Ballin’s Claudia Perrine and AEOB supporter Aris Garcia (PBA Archives), to come up with three audio-visual presentations – the first one featuring all the Toyota personalities that will serve as the roll call, a second remembering the people who have passed on, and a third featuring all 10 Toyota championships, including the first one in the 1973 MICAA.

Cortez then showed the list to this writer – the number considerably bloating as the gathering drew near. It included not just the personalities from Toyota but names from the media. The 1976 PBA Rookie of the Year said that he also wanted to make this a media event. “It’s our appreciation of what the media has done to make the Toyota basketball team what it was then, and what it remains today,” said Silverio in his opening remarks last night.

From there on, everything went seamless. Cortez was first to arrive at the party around 4:20PM and was already chatting with the amiable and evergreen Silverio. Roberto Concepcion, fondly called “Judge” by his teammates because he was a namesake of the Chief Justice of the country back in the 70’s, was next to arrive. Concepcion, who’s based in Stockton, California, came home specifically for the event and will be back in the States on March 21. But it was Fernandez’s arrival that caused a major stir at the venue as even the engineers, servers and maintenance people couldn’t help but gawk at the imposing 6’4 frame of El Presidente.

On the other hand, Segura was ribbed endlessly by his teammates with his bell-bottom pants and silk blue long sleeved-shirt that seemed to come out from his 70’s wardrobe collection. Legaspi’s shiny silk shirt displayed his sartorial elegance that can only be matched by his cerebral ways (he was a high school valedictorian, in case you didn’t know).

Practically everyone that confirmed was able to attend, except for Rolly Marcelo who, according to Cortez, couldn’t find the venue even if he was already along Pasong Tamo. Chito Loyzaga, the last player to be signed by the team in 1983, wasn’t able to come as well because of his commitments for the Philippine delegation in the Phnom Penh SEA Games. Canson, who confirmed his attendance after committing to Fernandez while the latter was in the US, may have encountered problems flying back.

Silverio brought in a live band as well to provide the music in this 70’s-inspired affair. After completing their first set, the program started at 6:30PM with Sarmenta and Cuna holding the mic. Emer Legaspi started with the opening prayer followed by Silverio’s welcome remarks. After the roll call video, the hosts asked all the players and representatives to introduce themselves. Sarmenta’s wit was on full display as he played around with Silverio and the players as well as the media guys who covered the event.

A touching video featuring the personalities who have already gone was then aired. Fernandez gazed at the wide screen the whole time, apparently missing his former teammates, colleagues and bosses. Silverio then invited everyone for dinner catered by Alex III.

After dinner, Sarmenta and Cuna then rattled off trivia questions about the team. Private jokes were exposed after questions put up by Cortez revealed the inner side of the players. Being so young and carefree at that time, they still get a kick hearing these old stories, particularly with how Fernandez, Segura and Cortez, all single at the time of Martial Law, would break curfew hours, get caught by the Metrocom, and offer them PBA tickets to watch their games.

The program ended featuring a video showing various photos of the team’s 10 championships as well as video clips of past Toyota games from 1976 to 1983. Seeing Danny Florencio and Arnie Tuadles impose their offensive presence in the old clips continued to impress their former teammates today.

It was singing and dancing from thereon. Silverio kicked things off with three songs from the Beatles accompanied by the live band. Cortez and Legaspi also unleashed their musical prowess with a pair of Beatles’ ballads. Sarmenta also did a couple of tracks while everyone joined in the singing of “Hey Jude,” giving everyone goosebumps.

There was this feeling, maybe hope, that the night wouldn’t go away and everyone would just stay and have fun. But for these senior citizen card-bearing hardcourt heroes, that may be asking for too much. It was a grand moment, a rare one at that, but Cortez and Silverio are hoping that this would snowball with other teams (maybe a Crispa reunion as well or an YCO homecoming too?), consolidating everyone, and then, perhaps, just perhaps, lead to a grand PBA Legends reunion – hopefully on the league’s 50th anniversary on April 09, 2025.

But for now, this gathering of Toyota personalities will forever be cherished…


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