#ThrowbackThursday: When Purefoods joined the PBA

On January 16, 1988, 35 years ago this week, the Tanduay Rhum Makers officially filed a leave of absence from the PBA after 13 seasons. Tanduay was one of the pioneer teams in the league and their departure left San Miguel and Great Taste as the only company that has remained since inception.

It didn’t take long for the league to announce the entry of Purefoods as the company that purchased the Elizalde-owned franchise. At that time, the Ayala family, headed by patriarch Jaime Zobel de Ayala, had a team playing in the PABL while Formula Shell, a company they were also involved with, was three years into the PBA.

The Rivalry remembers this series of events from 1988 in this week’s Throwback Thursday feature.

How it started

Tanduay was a mid-tier team from 1975 to 1984 – a squad that was good enough to be competitive against all the teams but fell short in terms of winning championships. From 1975 to 1985, their highest finish was second place behind the Toyota Tamaraws in the 1978 Invitationals. The team was led by imports Gene Moore and David Payne who went up against the Toyota combo of Bruce “Sky” King and Carlos Terry.

Two major developments happened during the third conference of the 1985 season. First, a major trade ensued after the first round of the Reinforced Conference eliminations when Tanduay and Manila Beer agreed to swap Abet Guidaben and Mon Fernandez, undoubtedly the biggest trade transaction in league history at that time. Then, Coach Turo Valenzona was plucked to replace Orly Castelo as head coach of the Rhum Makers. Despite the developments, Tanduay still finished the conference with a 5-10 record, not enough to take them to the semifinal round.

During the off-season, Valenzona secured his former wards from the amateur ranks Anthony Dasalla, Marlowe Jacutin, Alex Clariño and Zaldy Latoza to boost his roster. Gone from the team were Bert Dela Rosa, Alex Tan, Tito Varela and Allan Abelgas. He then brought in imports Rob Williams and Andre McKoy to lead a formidable starting roster that also had Fernandez, 1977 MVP Freddie Hubalde, and JB Yango. Tanduay went all the way, demolishing Great Taste Coffee in the finals, 4-2, to win its first ever PBA title.

They won the All-Filipino conference that year as well, beating Ginebra San Miguel, 3-1, in the best-of-five finals. The birth of a new league rivalry was sealed between these two teams brought about by the personal feud between Fernandez and Ginebra playing coac, Robert Jaworski. In an interview on Episode 28 of the online sports show, “An Eternity of Basketball,” Fernandez confirmed that the new league rivalry that replaced Crispa-Toyota was Ginebra-Tanduay. “That was the new rivalry that was developing. It was a pity lang talaga that Tanduay had to close shop at the end of 1987.”

Having failed to win the grand slam in 1986, the Rhum Makers once more started strong in 1987, winning the Open Conference by beating Great Taste Coffee again, 4-1. Led by Best Import awardee David Thirdkill, the Rhum Makers stamped their mastery on the Coffee Makers, led by former Manila Beer import Michael Young. 

Everything started to free fall in the second conference when the team could only muster two wins in eight games, making them the first team to be eliminated. Valenzona was eventually removed as head coach and replaced by Ely Capacio. Capacio, though, couldn’t do any better, and despite being reinforced by NBA veteran Freeman Williams, Tanduay only won two of their 10 games, eliminating themselves once more in the playoffs.

Revenues plummeted

Sometime in the latter part of 1987, news reports came out that some people had died allegedly after consuming Tanduay Rhum. This resulted in a major corporate backlash and Tanduay, then already the highest-selling rum brand in the world, struggled to salvage its name as consumers veered away from the product. 

With revenues going down, Tanduay decided to take a leave of absence from the PBA, citing “the realignment of corporate objectives” as the reason. In a letter sent by team owner Manolo Elizalde, and submitted by Tanduay representative Renato Reyes to the PBA Board, it indicated that the company is “undergoing realignment of its corporate objectives which demands the channeling of company resources to activities responding to more social needs.” Reyes then assured the Board that “at the appropriate time, the company would reevaluate its position regarding participation in PBA activities.”

Trouble in the PBA

The unexpected departure of Tanduay caused a ripple among the league officials. Faced with the prospect of having only five teams, it didn’t look good for the PBA. Even then Commissioner Rudy Salud admitted that the league could not run with only five teams competing. 

Efforts to find a company willing to buy the Tanduay franchise were underway. The logical direction was to look at the PABL where there were eight teams. Two teams were already in the PBA – Magnolia, the sister team of SMB, and YCO, the sister team of Tanduay. The other teams were Purefoods, Phillips Sardines, Sta. Lucia, RFM-Swift, Lhuillier-Converse and Lady’s Choice.

Other considerations included Jollibee, any brand from either Procter & Gamble or Philippine Refining Company (now Unilever), and either Coke or Pepsi. Regardless, though, the league had to find a team within two months as the 14th season was set to open on March 20. 

Enter Purefoods

Desperate to find a replacement, the PBA offered several sweeteners to interested parties that were quite enticing. Purefoods took notice of the various concessions offered and weighed their options.

First, while Tanduay originally owned the second overall pick of the 1988 rookie draft, the PBA gave them the top overall pick for the first, second, third and succeeding rounds. Shell, which originally owned the top pick, settled for the second draft pick. Then, the new team could elevate four players from the amateur ranks directly without going through the draft. What made this even more special was that the team could bring in any player from any amateur team. Third, the local roster of the Tanduay team would be retained – made up of solid championship-laden veterans led by no less than the PBA’s best player that time, Fernandez. Fourth, the franchise fee was PHP300,000, a relatively small amount to buy an existing team.

These were more than enough to convince the Purefoods management to signify their intent of joining the league. It was a complete opposite of what happened to sister team Shell in 1985 when, instead of retaining the entire Crispa roster, the players were distributed to different teams to achieve parity. In this case, Purefoods would be cornering five of the best amateur players and meshing them with the veterans, forming a potent lineup that would compete for the championship for the next decade or so.

The roster

Christened “Tender Juicy Hotdogs,” Purefoods brought in six members of the Tanduay team. These were Fernandez, Hubalde, Yango, Willie Generalao, Onchie Dela Cruz and Padim Israel. Dropped were Steve Watson, Tony Torrente, Ed Cordero, Vic Sanchez, Tano Salazar, Itoy Esguerra and Romy Mamaril. They secured Jojo Lastimosa, Jerry Codiñera, Glenn Capacio and Alvin Patrimonio as their direct hires, while taking in Jack Tanuan as the top overall pick and Joel Santos also from the draft. Purefoods wasn’t done yet though, acquiring Al Solis and Totoy Marquez from Shell. 

Patrimonio was still contractually obligated to play for Swift in the PABL until June 30, 1988 and couldn’t join the Hotdogs in the first conference. Fernandez, coaching the Hotdogs, said on AEOB, “I recruited Alvin personally and the first one I spoke with was Alvin. He was my priority, apart from my Tanduay teammates. At the start, Alvin didn’t want to leave Swift – alam mo naman ang bata, napakabait, nahihiya umalis kina Joey Concepcion.” He then added, “kaya talagang kinumbinse ko siya, ‘Alvin, ang offer namin sayo, walang ibang teams ang makaka-offer sayo ng ganito.’ It was very good salary already.” Eventually, Fernandez came up with a compromise. “Sige Alvin, laro ka sa Swift at the first half of the year. Pag tapos na kontrata mo, lipat ka na sa amin sa All Filipino.”

Later in the season, Purefoods didn’t sign Dela Cruz who eventually moved to Shell while Hubalde was traded in exchange for Jojo Villapando.

But the biggest move happened after the second conference when Fernandez was once more traded for Guidaben at San Miguel. An exasperated Guudaben remarked, “Kung kailan naman ok nako dito sa SMB, mate-trade na naman sa kanya.” The Purefoods-Fernandez feud ensued when management accused El Presidente of “not playing his best” in Game 1 of the All Filipino finals against Añejo Rum, resulting to a 111-105 victory for the 65ers. Fernandez, who started as the team’s playing coach before giving way to Cris Calilan, was benched for the rest of the series won by Añejo, 3-1. The issue didn’t die after the trade as accusations were hurled by both parties, leading to a court suit and a congressional hearing. 

“Rene Buhain and I didn’t start well from the very beginning – we were neighbors at Ayala Alabang before, we had a meeting at his house, and practically forced me to become playing coach when I wasn’t ready. Pumayag ako eventually, and since I was leaving for Baguio that Friday evening and coming back on Sunday, we were to hold a presscon on Monday. I asked Buhain to have Ely Capacio as my assistant coach, I gave him the number of Ely, then I called Ely to inform him of my plan to get him as assistant coach. Monday morning, during the presscon, nagulat ako si Coach Cris Calilan was there and Buhain suddenly announce that ang assistant ni Mon ay si Cris Calilan. I didn’t make a fuss about it, I just convinced him to hire Ely. So mali na talaga ang simula namin.”

There were other incidents that Fernandez recalled that didn’t lead to a healthy relationship between him and management. “Mr. Buhain would talk to me after a game that we lost, pagsasabihan niya ako, and I had to tell him – don’t judge me now on a per-game basis. Let’s finish this tournament or the year then you can assess my performance. This went on and on until the second conference,” Fernandez revealed. He then added, “Tapos, nakikialam siya sa substitutions – he’d send Calilan ng papel instructing us na palitan na si ganyan, palitan na si ganito. Until I finally decided to resign as coach as I can see that my game wasn’t the same anymore because of the pressure and concentrated on playing.”

Initial struggles

Fernandez made a pledge after the trade that if ever Purefoods went on to face the Beermen in the finals, they would not win. The first time the two teams became finals protagonists, it was in the 1989 All-Filipino. Purefoods’ record in the finals was a dubious 0-2, losing to SMB in their very first conference and to Añejo the conference after. They also wound up last in the third conference, severely affected by the Purefoods-Fernandez issue, and second to the last in the 1989 Open Conference.

But it seemed the Hotdogs were ready against the battle-scarred Beermen, having brought in multi-titled coach Baby Dalupan to mentor the young wards. But SMB rallied behind their leader, Fernandez, who had a phenomenal series as he thoroughly dominated Codiñera and Patrimonio inside. SMB went on to wrap up the series in 6 games to win their seventh PBA title. 

Purefoods’ spate of bad luck continued. They latched upon a super import in Dexter Shouse, who previously played for Shell in 1986 and 1987. However, in a playoff game for the right to face SMB in the finals, Shouse left the country to accept a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. The Hotdogs went all-local in that game and nearly stole the match, losing 113-112. 

In the 1990 first conference, Purefoods failed to qualify for a playoff spot and had the dubious distinction of getting eliminated alongside expansion teams, Pop Cola and Pepsi. They rebounded in the All-Filipino, where the Hotdogs were perennial favorites, and nearly won the championship, losing to Presto in 7 games. In the third conference, they finally salvaged their first PBA title, coming behind from a 0-2 deficit to beat Alaska, 3-2 in their best-of-five series.

Thirty-five years and 14 championships after, the franchise, now known as the Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots and under the San Miguel Food Group, continues to thrive well as one of the elite teams in the PBA. On the other hand, Tanduay, now owned by Lucio Tan, Sr., rejoined the PBA in 1999, but eventually sold the franchise to Bert Lina’s FedEx team. Tanduay, the product, remains one of the top-selling rum brands in the world and is now a sponsor of several NBA arenas. 


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