A year following Crispa’s epic Grand Slam, the young Philippine Basketball Association opened its third season, not surprisingly …with a bang.
A rumble exploded right in the opening two-game slate, but as soon as the Metrocom asserted its authority, by putting those guilty in jail and the league imposing suspensions and fines, everything went on peacefully from there.
The Redmanizers, fresh from sweeping all the three conferences disputed in 1976, continued their supremacy over the eight-team field in the All-Filipino and Open Conferences. They came short though of completing another Triple Jewel with arch-enemy Toyota returning to the throne in the internationally-flavored Invitational Conference at the expense of Brazil’s Emtex-Sacronel side.
Atoy Co continued carrying the Crispa flag in the absence of Bogs Adornado, who went out of commission as early as the Second Conference of the 1976 Season with a knee injury. With the valuable help from NC AA MVP Freddie Hubalde, Philip Cezar and Abet Guidaben, Co gifted the Floro family-owned franchise its fifth and sixth straight PBA diadems.
Hubalde, whose mastery of using the board to score he exploited to the hilt throughout his pro career, was later named the Season MVP, the second Redmanizer to have been honored next only to Adornado who earned the accolade back-to-back in 1975 and 1976.
Universal Textiles, coached by amateur golf standout Tommy Manotoc, and Royal Tru-Orange, handled by many-time national team mainstay Ed Ocampo, served notice of what to come in the coming next seasons where they would finally break the Crispa-Toyotas title monopoly of the country’s and Asia’ first play-for-pay league.
For the first time in four conferences, the Tamaraws missed the finals on three consecutive losses in the hands of Tanduay, 113-112, in one of the league’s provincial sortie in the south and 110-109 and Mariwasa, 121-114, highlighting the elimination round hostilities.
The Mariwasa Panthers, starring Big Billy Robinson, who, despite the tournament’s All-Filipino format was allowed to play, prevailed over the Distillers, 116-112, as coach Tito Eduque’s boys finally had the taste of seeing action in the gold medal play against, who else but the Redmanizers.
That first finals appearance for the league founding president Emerson Coseteng’s franchise proved anything but memorable. The Redmanizers, who swept the semifinal round, blew the Panthers out of the playing court, three-to-nothing in the best-of-five title series.
The Tamaraws, likewise, swept the Distillers in the battle for third, the lowest for coach Dante Silverio and his fleet. Tanduay’s JimmyTaguines was voted Rookie of the Year.
The lull between the All-Filipino and the Open Conferences pave the way for the staging of the first All-Star series, which was won by the Crispa-led team over the Toyota-reinforced squad.
The imports returned in the Second Conference re-Christened Open Conference but despite the presence of Bruce King and John Irving and Charles Neal of Toyota, ABA veteran Gene Moore in and sweet-shooting Bernard Harris of Tanduay, Dana Lewis and Nino Samuel of Presto, Chris McMurray and Steve Stroud of Seven-Up, Mike Rozenski and Vernon Freeman of Royal, James Day and Robinson of Mariwasa, Crispa nevertheless topped Group B of the eliminations with old face Cyrus Mann at the helm.
A new twist in the Crispa-Toyota title rivalry occurred in the semifinal round where the Redmanizers and theTamaraws needed to erase each other to join U-Tex to the finals after the Wranglers claimed the first slot in an unprecedented fashion.
Crispa hurdled Toyota and as for the second straight time a team other than the Tamaraws were contesting the crown opposite the Redmanizers. The fans, who shied away from the Araneta Coliseum early in the title showdown filled the air conditioned Big Dome in h fourth and fifth games of the best-of-five following the Wranglers forcing the series to full distance. Another first since the birth of the league.
Crispa squeezed through handing the unhappy coach Baby Dalupan his sixth gonfalon. Dalupan later said it was the toughest championship series he was in in the pro-league.
And why not? In winning three contests in the gold medal series, the Redmanizers’ overall margin was no more than seven points.
That the results in the Open Conference came as signal of what to come in the season-ending tournament surfaced in the Invitationals which saw foreign teams Melbourne Panthers of Australia, the Palmeras of Brazil, Mann’s former team called Emtex Sacronel, shutting wares with U-Tex, Mariwasa, Tanduay, Presto, Crispa and Toyota.
Crispa acquired McMurray fro the eliminated 7-Up but the move proved futile as the Redmanizers lost three consecutive outings and, for the first time since 1975, missed the finals. The Tamaraws and the Sacronels battled each other instead for all the marbles.
With King and Irving, undoubtedly the best import combination in the field, steamrollered the Brazilians in three straight game gifting coach Silverio and the Tamaraws their only second title.