On October 10, 1992, Tony “The Hurricane” Harris pumped in 105 points to lead the Swift Mighty Meaty Hotdogs to a bruising 151-147 victory against the Gins held in Iloilo City. Harris broke the seven-year old PBA scoring record of 103 points set by Ginebra import Michael Hackett.
The Rivalry dusts off the cobwebs and treks back to that memorable game held 30 years ago that made Harris a name in every Filipino household.
Prior to the start of the 1992 season, the two teams were involved in a celebrated trade that saw Ginebra’s Rudy Distrito moving to Swift for Sonny Cabatu and Pido Jarencio. The trade caused minor controversy, given Distrito’s cult status at Ginebra after sinking a near buzzer-beating, difficult shot over the outstretched arms of Shell’s Benjie Paras in Game 7 of the Finals, giving the Gins their third franchise title. Distrito was quoted to have said, “pera naman, tama na muna palakpak,” justifying his decision to sign a more lucrative contract with the Mighty Meaties.
Ginebra missed the playoffs in the first two conferences. The PBA allowed them to hire a 6’4 import while the rest of the 6 teams had a 6’1 handicap. The Gins used the opportunity to rehire Jamie Waller, the 1988 Open Conference Best Import awardee.
Swift acquired Harris, a former Philadelphia 76er, who performed well with the Grand Rapid Hoops in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). The Concepcion franchise was slowly becoming one of the top teams in the league, placing fourth in the first conference and third in the second.
Prior to the game
Swift held an unbeaten 5-0 record, buoyed by Harris’ incredible scoring. The Hurricane dropped 87 points in his first game, a 134-106 rout against the San Miguel Beermen. He then scored 69, 57, 54 and 82 in the next four games to lead the league with a scorching 69.8 average. In his debut game against the Beermen, Harris made 18 of 27 from two-point field goals (67%), 8 of 18 (44%) from beyond the arc and 27 of 30 from the charity stripe (90%). Immediately after the game, reporters quickly labeled him as the second coming of Billy Ray Bates, the phenomenal import of Crispa and Ginebra San Miguel in the 80’s. Losing coach Norman Black only had this to say, “he destroyed us,” after Harris’ sensational debut. Teammate Al Solis was so impressed with his import teammate that he remarked to reporters after the game, “kunin na nila si Michael Jordan para mapigil nila ang import namin.”
Ginebra, on the other hand, dropped its first game, but went on a three-game winning run, including a heart-stopping 140-134 victory over Purefoods in overtime. Waller had 62 points, including 6 in the extension, and 16 boards to put the Gins in a tie for second place with the Sean Chambers-powered Alaska Milkmen at 3-1.
The big night
With the game held on a Saturday at the University of San Agustin gym in Iloilo City, there was no televised coverage. But the excitement percolated as the two teams were leading the elimination round and fireworks were expected. Ginebra, known for its rugged and physical defense, was expected to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, against Swift in an effort to stop the mercurial Harris. Swift, on the other hand, knew what Ginebra’s intentions were. Swift coach Yeng Guiao warned Harris prior to the game that their opponents would do everything to keep his focus out of the game.
A capacity crowd of 7,000 people came to watch the game. Harris immediately jumped the gun and scored 28 points in the first canto. This, despite being decked at least four times due to hard fouls in the first quarter alone that saw Ginebra going to the penalty in all four quarters. Harris then topped his first quarter performance by adding 30 points in the second for a total of 58 markers at halftime. At the end of the half, the gym barker was already announcing Harris’ points, a PBA record for one half.
It was also during the first half when Harris got bothered after hurting his groin in one of the bruising plays involving a Ginebra defender. The Hurricane merely shrugged this off, and continued to delight the crowd with his offensive prowess. He committed his fifth personal foul with still 3:11 left in the third quarter but this did not deter him from scoring another 28, jacking up his total to 86 points after three.
Down by just five, 137-132, with four minutes left in the game through the heroics of Waller, Jarencio and Harris’ primary defender, Bennett Palad, the Mighty Meaties’ reinforcement single-handedly carried his team on his shoulders, scoring the bulk of the team’s succeeding 14 straight points to come to within one, 147-146 with just a minute left in the game. Harris then went for the kill, attacking the paint, scoring on a tough layup, while getting a foul in the process, for a possible three-point play. He sank his bonus FT to give Swift the lead, 149-147 with 16 seconds left in the game.
Ginebra tried to come up with a play but Swift, which was not in the foul penalty yet, used all its three remaining fouls to spoil their opponent’s plays. Palad was able to get a shot off with seconds seconds left but missed the basket, and Harris collected the rebound and got fouled with no more time left. He then scored his 44th and 45th free throw while breaking Hackett’s scoring record to give the Mighty Meaties a 151-147 victory. The win gave Swift its sixth straight victory and an automatic playoff seat.
Jaworski utilized at least five players to stop Harris in vain – Palad, Jayvee Gayoso, Larry Villanil (who got thrown out of the game), Macky de Joya and even Dondon Ampalayo. In achieving this record, Harris converted six treys, 21 two-point field goals and a colossal 45 out of 53 free throws.
In Episode 3 of An Eternity of Basketball, Coach Yeng Guiao recounts his experience with Harris. Guiao described him as “magaling, sobrang talented, pero meron din dark side, kumbaga. Ganun ata yun mga magagaling, meron ganun.” He added, “masyado din siya nag-enjoy sa Pilipinas, kilala siya maski saan, meron pang mga girlfriends na artista. Kailangan lang talaga i-handle yun difficult personality niya, as meron siyang moment na madali siya kausap.” Guiao admired Harris because “the way he played the game was the same way he played during practice.”
Guiao also revealed that he had clashes with Harris, given that both were still young at that time and were very emotional. But all these he chalked up as part of the experience of handling an incredibly-talented player. When Harris dropped 105 points, Guiao described Harris’ performance as “almost like a dream, parang nananaginip ka lang. He was being physically abused by the entire Ginebra team – hataw dito, bangga dito, tuhod dito, sahot dito, pero ibang klase ang pangangatawan ni Harris. I’ve never seen a player with so much toughness – physically and mentally – against the toughest team in the league. That was probably one of the most memorable games I’ve ever coached in my lifetime – I don’t think may makakagawa pa ulit ng 105 points sa PBA ngayon.”
De Joya, who came out on Episode 131 of An Eternity of Basketball, revealed that he became a defensive stopper only when he started playing for Ginebra. Against Harris, De Joya described him as like an “Eveready battery who never got tired.” De Joya also said that “mahirap bantayan ang kalaban na isa lang ang gagawin kung hindi mag-score.”
When Palad guested on AEOB’s Episode 141, he said that “si Tony Harris ang pinakamagaling na nakalaban ko – lahat ng baliktad, inabot niyan, buhay pa rin eh. Dating football player ata kasi yun. Magpa-pagpag lang. Palitan kami magbantay sa kanya, 5 fouls na din ako nun. Ubos kami lahat nun sa fouls, pero buhay pa din.”
Harris notched that record when the PBA’s physicality was at its peak, borne about by the success of Commissioner Rudy Salud’s “no harm, no foul” principle that started in the late 80’s. Those were also the last few seasons when the PBA had 120-point games on a regular basis. He eventually went on to win the coveted Best Import award almost unanimously that conference, a testament to his dominant performance. It’s been 30 years, and the 105-point record has yet to be broken, and no one has even come close to it. It may take another lifetime or a major change in the PBA rules before that record will be surpassed by any other player, foreign or local.
Watch Yeng Guiao’s episode on An Eternity of Basketball: