Gregorio “Joy” Dionisio, playing for the Conception Industries-Carrier, etched his name in Philippine basketball history by nailing the first basket that signaled the birth of the country’s and Asia’s pioneer professional league.
That scenario that occurred April 9, 1975, had been repeated 43 more times in the years that passed, the last one last December 17 when San Miguel Beer’s Marcio Lassiter heaved from beyond the arc lowering the curtains of the pro-league’s 43rd season and the Beermen’s bid to win their fifth straight Philippine Cup championship.
Many things followed that historic Dionisio basket, including controversies that looked insurmountable and threatened the league’s very existence but solved in time before they turn to worse, which was what the detractors had diagnosed.
When the PBA was organized, many were skeptical of its survival for several reasons, among them financial which many to many considered critical for reason that it was doubted whether pro-basketball would have the needed following. Second was the temperament of the local players and third, managing the league.
Not a few, in fact, had it that fans, if the league would have them, may not see the new baby celebrate its second birthday. Fears that nearly happened.
Crispa, for instance, one of the nine teams that connived to boldly organize the play-for-pay aggrupation, held out its top players, which team management promised to reinforce the national squad set to campaign in the then coming Basketball Conference a few months later, fielding in a much weaker side.
The results were disastrous to a team that had won all the tournaments there were to win in the amateur ranks. The Redmanizers first bowed to the Mariwasa-Noritake, 131-108, before losing for the first time in memory to the Seven-Up Uncolas that saw them hug the cellar early in the First Conference, an experience the Pasig-based club hadn’t had before turning pro.
A third straight loss. this time to Royal Tru-Orange, 111-94, had team owner-manager Danny Floro and bosom friend coach Baby Dalupan re-thinking their plans.
Soon, on Ari 22 to be exact, the country’s best players – Bogs Adornado, Rudy Soriano, Atoy Co, Philip Cezar, Johnny Revilla, Abet Guidaben, Bernie Fabiosa and ReyFranco, finally donned their green and white uniforms as the Redmanizers marched to their first victory as pros, a 113-102 domination of Presto Ice Cream.
Dalupan and his charges continued their rise from their self-dug grave emerging victors in their remaining assignments, including a 139-133 thrashing of soon-to-be arch enemies Toyota Comets that broke the latter’s seven-game winning streak in the Conference.
That was to be the first of what was t be an intense 21-game confrontation between Crispa and Toyota and the start of one of the bitterest rivalries in Philippine basketball believed to have rivaled the Yco-Ysmael feud in the 60s and 70s.
Crispa’s newly acquired invincibility suffered a mild blow as the second round started as the Redmanizers ran into an inspired Tanduay side, 122-121. It didn’t matter though as the Redmanizers regrouped and resumed their winning ways until they met the Comets anew.
A crowd of 27,000, the biggest ever to watch a basketball game in the country, squeaked past Toyota, 143-139, which at that time acquired an import who was to dominate local basketball’s landscape – Byron “Snake” Jones.
Toyota still topped the elimination round with a superior 13-3 win-loss slate, followed by Crispa, 12-4 going into the Final Four. Royal Tru-Orange and Universal Textiles completed the semis cast.
The Comets greeted the Redmanizer with a twin-kill, 106-104 and 114-102 in the semis forcing the Redmanizers to a playoff with the Weavers for the second finals seat. Crispa easily disposed off U-Tex to arrange a showdown with Toyota for the First Conference crown.
On a Thursday, July 24, Cezar outplayed Jones and Adornado burned the hoops and eluded all the men coach Dante Silverio assigned to stop him with 29 points as Crispa moved a step closer to winning the play-for-pay’s first championship, 107-103 opening the best-of-five title series.
The Comets returned the compliment in the second game, scoring an 88-87 cliff- hanger on Ompong Seguras’ charitities on the last 10 seconds, before going in the game ahead, 109-103.
With Jones coming up with 20 points besides hauling down 18 of Toyota’s 56 edge of the boards, Silverio’s boys led by the triumvirate of Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez and Francis Arnaiz, crowned themselves the PBA First Conference champs on July 31 before a record 30,000 spectators at the Araneta Coliseum.