#Flashback Friday: When the “Golden State Warriors” played against 2 PBA selections
Forty-three years this week, the 1975 NBA champions “Golden State Warriors” came over to Manila to play four exhibition games against two PBA selections. The franchise’s name is in quotation because there’s a twist in the story that will be explained later.
The “Warriors” were led by no less than the first Filipino-American player to soak time in the NBA, Raymond Townsend, who suited up for Golden State in the 1979 season. He brought along several players to form their own selection. They tangled with two PBA selections made up of local players and imports coached by then defending Open Conference champion Ed Ocampo and new franchise, Tefilin Polyesters’ head coach, Fely Fajardo.
But the final roster of the visitors was a disappointment. This was way before the Internet and before live NBA scores and lineups were available in the Philippines, so there was no way for fans to check the actual roster of the Warriors in the previous NBA season.
After discussing the NBA players’ 1975 sojourn in The Rivalry’s June 16 #FlashbackFriday edition, we go down memory lane once more five years later.
No different from the 1975 PBA-NBA Invitationals, there were organizational issues that beset the staging of this exhibition series. Everything seemed well at the start. Organizer NuPhil Nationwide Network (NNN) was able to convince the PBA to push the semifinals schedule by at least two playdates to accommodate the Warriors. At the same time, the PBA agreed to have its players available to face the visitors.
But because the semifinals were about to kick off that week, the four protagonists – Crispa, Toyota, U/Tex and Great Taste, declined to send their players, worried that they may incur injuries. As such, the plan where Crispa and Toyota, reinforced by their imports Sylvester Cuyler and Larry Boston for the Redmanizers, and Andrew Fields and Bruce “Sky” King for the Tamaraws, to go mano-a-mano with the Warriors went pfft. The other two games that the Warriors were supposed to play were against an all-import PBA selection and another facing a combination of top locals and imports.
But the biggest concern was the Warriors’ roster. In the 1979-80 NBA season, Golden State, under 1975 champion coach Al Attles and later replaced by Johnny Bach, ended their campaign with a 24-58 card. That team had the likes of Robert Parish, Purvis Short, Jojo White, Clifford Ray (who played in the 1975 NBA-PBA Invitationals), John Lucas, Sonny Parker, Phil Smith and Townsend. But when the final lineup was announced, neither Attles nor Bach was the coach, while only Townsend, who was released by the Warriors at the end of their season, and Ray were available. It was Townsend’s father, Raymond, Sr., who mentored the visiting team.
The watered-down “Warriors” lineup
Ultimately, the “Warriors” were made up of Townsend, Ray, Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes – who played for the Warriors from 1974 to 1977 and was already playing for the Lakers, Greg Lee – who didn’t even suit up for Golden State but for the San Diego Clippers, Derek Dickey – who after five years with Golden State was already actively campaigning in Europe, Stan Swarbick and Dan Sullivan – two players from San Jose State who were still hoping to crack an NBA team, Rod Owens – who was never part of any Warriors lineup before and after the series, and Raymond’s younger brother, Kurtis – who never got to play in the pros after a collegiate stint at Western Kentucky.
No sign of Parish, Short, Parker, Lucas and Smith. It was a major letdown, considering that while these guys weren’t exactly household names in the Philippines, they were legitimate NBA stars. Parish eventually won four NBA titles, Short played 13 seasons in the league and averaged 17.3 points and 4.3 boards, Parker, who played all his 7 seasons at the Bay Area, normed 9.9 points, 4.1 boards and 2.1 dimes a game, Lucas, who played 14 seasons in the NBA for six franchises while being part of the 1977 All-Rookie First Team, had career averages of 10.7 points, 7 assists and 1.4 steals per game, and Smith, a 10-year veteran, was a vital cog of the champion Warriors team of 1975 and was a 2x All-Star, produced 15.1 points, 3 rebounds and 3.9 feeds a game.
Organizers were in a bind after three bonafide Warriors (suspected to be Parish, Short and Parker) who were supposed to join Townsend and Ray were unable to make the trip. Had they made it, the team would have come out legitimate, with them combining forces with Ray and Townsend forming a nucleus of their present team.
This forced the hand of the organizers to resort to other options like bringing in players who were available at the last minute. They were fortunate to get Wilkes, the biggest name among the visitors as he recently helped the Lakers win the 1980 NBA title at the expense of the Philadelphia 76ers. Wilkes averaged 21.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, making him the third-leading Laker in scoring and rebounding.
As such, the selection turned out to be a mere pickup squad made up of nine players and with Ray as the only certified Warrior in the roster that time. Speaking of Ray, he admitted in an interview that the trip was more of pleasure than business for him. “I’m here to enjoy, and I’m not worried about winning or losing.”
The inability of the four semifinalists, particularly crowd favorites Crispa and Toyota, to play in the series eventually impacted negatively in the box office. Still, the PBA made sure that they wouldn’t be embarrassed. PBA Team 1 was made up of Royal Tru Orange’s Rudy Lalota, Yoyong Martirez, and Jess Migalbin, Tanduay’s Jimmy Manansala and Ely Capacio, Honda’s Mario Marasigan with Bebeng Martinez as alternate. They were reinforced by imports Otto Moore of RTO, Byron “Snake” Jones and Charles “Buster” Matheney of Honda and Kevin Cluess of Tanduay. RTO coach Ed Ocampo was at the helm.
For PBA Team 2, they were made up of Gilbey’s Gin’s Marlowe “Marjack” Jacutin and Willie Generalao, Rudy “Boy” Kutch and Anthony Dasalla of Galleon Shippers, Cesar Yabut and Ricky Mariano of Tefilin with Willie Tanduyan of Gilbey’s serving as alternate. Their imports included Larry McNeil of Gilbey’s, Paul McCracken of Galleon, and Tefilin’s pair of Ira Terrell and Charles Floyd. Tefilin mentor Fely Fajardo coached the team. Galleon’s import, Jeff Wilkins, one of the best imports of the conference, would have suited up but opted to leave the day before the series started to try out for a slot with the Atlanta Hawks. He eventually signed with the Utah Jazz and played six seasons with the Salt Lake City ballclub.
Without Crispa, Toyota, U/Tex and Great Taste, the fans missed out on how top PBA players would have fared against NBA veterans. Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Francis Arnaiz, Abe King and Arnie Tuadles of Toyota, Crispa’s Abet Guidaben, Philip Cezar, Freddie Hubalde, Atoy Co and Bernie Fabiosa, U/Tex’s Bogs Adornado (who was recently traded by the Redmanizers to the Wranglers), Lim Eng Beng, and Great Taste’s Estoy Estrada, Jun Papa and Manny Paner were the biggest names in the Open Conference Final Four – along with imports Cuyler, Boston, Fields, King, Lew Brown, Jim Hearns, Aaron James and Glenn McDonald. The top coaches as well – Baby Dalupan, Fort Acuña and Tommy Manotoc – were busy with their PBA campaign.
Curiously, the two coaches of the PBA selection teams were optimistic with their chances to win at least one game against the visiting team. Ocampo admitted that while he had the weaker team compared to Fajardo’s squad, they could pull off a few surprises. Fajardo also took note of the diluted lineup and felt his team, with McNeil, himself an NBA veteran, leading the offensive attack.
The Townsends knew what would perk up the interests of the Filipino fans. It was suggested to NuPhil that the brothers, Raymond and Kurtis, would play 2 on 2 against top PBA duos. Given that Raymond was abreast with the developments in the PBA, he readily identified Crispa’s Co and Cezar, Toyota’s Jaworski and Fernandez, and Great Taste’s Paner and Estrada as worthwhile rivals. Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out as the six players named were preparing for the semifinals.
As this happened during the week of Fil-Am Friendship Day, NuPhil decided to call the event, “Fil-American Friendship Hoopla,” an obvious attempt to highlight Townsend’s roots from Balayan, Batangas. No doubt Townsend, who guested two years ago on Episode 43 of the sports program “An Eternity of Basketball,” was a legitimate NBA player. He was a first round pick, 22nd overall in the 1978 draft, and played two seasons with the Warriors and one with the Indiana Pacers, averaging 4.8 points, 1.0 rebound and 1.4 dimes in 154 games.
But the fans’ disappointment was two-pronged – the absence of both popular NBA players and the top local players. A fair-sized crowd of around 7,000 fans came to watch the Warriors suffer an 87-78 defeat at the hands of PBA Team 2 held at the Araneta Coliseum. Lacking cohesion, it was also apparent that most of the players, except perhaps for Wilkes, were out of shape. The Times Journal came out with a scathing “No Lark for Warriors” headlines, criticizing how the supposed-to-be favorites took the game lightly. Ray was also a disappointment, as he was severely crushed by McNeil inside the paint.
The second game was a marked improvement, as Golden State defeated PBA Team 1, to improve its slate to 1-1. Unfortunately, public interest significantly waned after the first game and fewer fans came over to watch live.
They got back against PBA Team 2 in their second meeting, 118-111. Playing much better and opting to pick up the pace, Golden State was far more cohesive and consistent with their outside jumpers. Once more, though, a sparse crowd witnessed the game at the Big Dome, opting to watch the game at home instead.
PBA Team 1, with NBA veteran Moore dominating inside the paint, Matheney powering his way inside, and Wilkes sitting it out, avenged their first game loss as the Warriors couldn’t hold off their American rivals. As such, “Golden State” wound up with a 2-2 card in the series.
Yet, there was obvious pride in seeing a legitimate Filipino-American play. Townsend’s Filipino lineage came all the way from his grandparents, Faustino Rugnao of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, and Virginia Marella of Balayan, Batangas. Marella migrated to the US in 1920. Their offspring, Alice Bantillo, married Townsend, Sr., and raised a brood that included Raymond, Jr. and Kurtis, plus three sisters – Michelle, Patrice and Wendy. Townsend expressed his desire to visit his grandmother’s homeland. “I have heard so much about the Philippines, and I’m very proud of my Filipino roots. I thought then how it would be wonderful to visit the homeland of my mother, and now that I’m here, I tell you the feeling has just been fantastic,” Townsend said.
When Townsend guested on “An Eternity of Basketball,” he was candid in explaining how a homegrown Filipino can play in the NBA. “You got to get a Filipino-born player at 14 years old, go to America, play against the most talented players. Have these guys attend a major school like Kentucky, Kansas, Oregon, play for at least 2-3 years, earn your reputation, everyone will see you, and from there, make an opportunity to get drafted and play.” He then added the importance of playing against quality competition and starting early. “You want to be with the best, you have to play with the best. Start them early, get them in that work ethic, teach them to play so they can compete at that level, and see all these come to fruition.”
One thing’s for sure, the four-game series may have been a disappointment but Filipino fans in general were only happy to see their “kababayan” in the flesh.
(Photo courtesy of PBA archives)