The dynasty Crispa built in the first three years of the professional Philippine Basketball Association finally crumbled in 1978 when the Redmanizers, re-Christened 400s that season, went title-less and, to add insult to injury, were thrown out of the playing court winless in their only trip to the finals.
Toyota survived the assault perpetrated by the lesser-known teams, claiming supremacy in two of the traditional three conferences held. A third could have tied them with their archenemies in terms of title victories and, scoring a grand slam only the Redmanizers had done two years earlier in 1976.
The 400s of the Danny Floro-Baby Dalupan team manager-coach tandem, could only end up runner up in the Open Conference (Second Conference) behind eventual new champion Universal Textiles, which swept in 1-2-3 order in the best-of-five gold medal series, and third, also behind the Wranglers.
The Tamaraws regained the All-Filipino and the Invitational plums but failed in the Open Conference foiling, too, in matching Crispa’s six-title run by that time and becoming the only second team and foiled as well to sweep the season to the consternation of coach Dante Silverio.
Silverio and his Tams salvaged third in the Open Conference beating Tanduay for the podium finish.
The Wranglers of coach Tommy Manotoc, thus, ended an eight-year exercise in futility to deny Redmanizers of their sixth and remaining jewel behind a three-game sweep.
TheTamaraws, working behind a fully-charged line up with their acquisition of Danny Florencio and Estoy Estrada in the All-Filipino and a pair of multi-talented imports in the Invitational, both of which they ruled, ably filled in the void left by Crispa the surge of the erstwhile non-contenders.
The Tamaraws topped the All-Filipino at the expense of sister team Filmanbank and the Invitational title against Tanduay. Despite an offer for a car to lucky spectator, the All-Filipino battle between two corporate affiliates, as expected didn’t draw fans to watch because many thought the Bankers didn’t have a chance
The Tamaraws proved them right as they walked to the bank laughing with the championship trophy wrapped for safekeeping, three games to one, to raise Silverio’s title harvest to four.
The season actually teemed with rookies when it started with Royal Tru-Orange having the most of them after signing up Leo Paguntalan, Tony Torrente, Marlowe Jacutin, Jess Migalbin and Rudy Lalota. U-Tex had ex-national team members Anthony Dasalla and Renato Lobo. Tanduay was reinforced by Jimmy Manansala and Abe Monzon, Crispa with Jimmy Javier and Wille Tanduyan besides reacquiring two-time MVP Bogs Adornado and newcomer Filmanbank with Amang Ladores.
What added to Crispa’s campaign woes was the passing away of its No. 1 fan, Mrs. Felicisima Bais who died in an accident. Called “Mommy Crispa,” Mrs. Bais was a regular attraction in all Crispa games, including out-of-town outings, with a self-made banner in tow, exhorting the Redmanizers win or lose.
It was a loss that saddened Floro and Dalupan and the Redmanizers no end. No less than Silverio, Danny’s friend off the court and Toyota mainstay Robert Jaworski, who donned the Redmanizers jersey when still an amateur, paid tribute to Mommy Crispa’s staunch dedication and loyalty.
All three titular series with neither the Redmanizers nor the Tamaraws at the opposite side came completely unexpected especially after Toyota ambushed the national teams of Yugoslavia and Canada in their tune up games capping their preparations for the Word Championship the country was hosting that time of the year. And Crispa’s winning three games of the pre-season five-game series All-Star Selection installed the feuding sides odd on picks to battle anew for all the marbles.
It never happened. As it turned out, Filmanbak, which bought the franchise of Seven-up lock, stock and barrel, including coach Lauro “The Fox” Mumar, U-Tex and even Tanduay had other things in mind – dismantle the two-team dynasty which they 50 percent succeeded.
The league postponed the semifinal round of the import-laced Open Conference to give way to the Worlds. The PBA donated P200,000 as its contribution to the cause of amateur basketball.
And Toyota served notice to the whole world of how Philippine basketball stood by upending soon-to-be-crowned world champion Yugoslavia, 118-113, and Canada, 92-98, which finished fifth.
Florencio and Estrada teamed up beautifully with old reliables Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Francis Arnaiz, Abe King, Henry Williams and then NBA veteran Glen McDonald. Cisco Oliver re-joined ea Taste Discoverers and had Jim Collins as partner. Jaworski was later voted the season MVP.
The season saw the debut of Olympian Ed Ocampo as coach of Royal, replacing Ning Ramos who resigned. Before the Second Conference ended, Nilo Verona would resign as GTD coach with team manager Chino Marquinez taking over. Fort Acuña, Toyota’s back-up center, would handle the Tamaraws.
The Tamaraws might have been thwarted in their bid to match Crispa’s championship conquest and winning, too, a Grand Slam but ending the season the only men standing in their battle for supremacy with the Redmanizers was worth remembering. Indeed, 1978 was Toyota’s year.