Philippine Basketball Association giants Crispa and Toyota figured in another rumble reminiscent, of the wild players fight in the 1975 PBA inaugural year, right in the opening doubleheader of the Third Season that, in the end, added interest for fans to watch the games the whole year round.
A series of suspensions and fines, a night stay at Fort Bonifacio’s detention cells on charges of alarm and scandal against erring players calmed down the situations though and paved the way for far ranging innovations felt even up to these days. It was, in fact, one whole peaceful season that followed from there.
The PBA adopted a new format for the first two conferences bracketing the eight-team field into two groups of four each with Toyota, Presto, Royal Tru-Orange and Mariwasa forming Group A. Crispa, the 1976 Grand Slam champion, headed Group B with Tanduay, Universal Textiles, and Seven-Up playing.
Under the cross-pairing system, teams played the rest of the field for the two-round eliminations. The top two teams from each bracket made it to the semifinal round.
In a effort to respond to complaints of spotty officiating from players, coaches, team officials and spectators alike, the league decided to use three referees in a game. As a reward to its loyal supporters, the PBA issued membership cards that entitled fans to purchase tickets for specific choiced seats for every game during the season.
Manny Paner, quit from Royal to join Presto, and became the highest paid Filipino player that time for causing his new team to pay him P8,000 a month, a to-year salary advance plus the use of a new car.
Local basketball’s” Great Difference” Carlos Loyzaga returned to familiar environment as coach of Tanduay. His fellow Olympian and teammate in the Philippine team’s third place finish in the 1954 World Championship, Tony Genato, was hired to call the shots at the Presto bench.
Genato, the other half of then Yco’s “Mutt and Jeff” combination on the hardcourt, resigned though following a misunderstanding with management and Nilo Verona took over in the first round of the season’s All-Filipino Conference.
The imports returned to spice up the Second Conference re-named the Open Conference. Only three faces were familiar – Cyrus of Crispa and Byron “Snake” Jones of Toyota to renew their personal rivalry that started a yea back during the Redmanizers’ “Triple Crown” conquest and Billy Robinson. That time though, the “Snake” wore the U-Tex handled by golfer-turned basketball coach Tommy Manotoc in lieu of Narciso Bernardo who resigned.
Bruce King replaced the “Snake” in the Tamaraws’ line up combining with John Irving. Tanduay paraded ABA veteran Gene Moore and the sweet-shooting Bernard Harris. Presto had Nino Samuel and Dana Lewis, 7-Up with Chris McMurray and Steve Stroud, and Royal with Mike Rozenski and Vernon Freeman.
James Day arrived to help Robinson at Mariwasa. Charles Neal, the shortest of them at 6-2, backed up Snake at U-Tex, while Mann played with Ricky Hicks, who proved to be the biggest mistake for the season, at Crispa.
That the first play-for-pay ad improved quality of ply by the Filipino players was proven in a pre-season four-game series with Asian champion China, which bowed to All-Filipino Crispa crew twice. Toyota managed to split with the taller and heftier Chinese. The Tamaraws, likewise, inflicted the only loss the Las Vegas Finest suffered in its tour in Asia.
The Redmanizers, and the U-Tex Weavers salvaged a pair of victories against French GIMM, which came here for five-game goodwill series in between the regular PBA three-conference schedule.
Manny Sokol, No. 4 in the US NBA referee pool, conducted a three-day clinic on officiating upon the invitation of the PBA in a move that resulted in more alert and decisive job for his local counterparts.