There have been numerous imports in the PBA who have played in the NBA, and some had solid NBA careers before coming over to the Philippines during the tail-end of their playing years. There were others who used the PBA as a springboard to further boost their games before getting another crack at a roster spot in the NBA.
In this article, we list down the imports who have had the most stellar NBA careers.
Kevin Porter (1983 – Toyota)
Porter was in the NBA from 1972 to 1982 before playing eight games for the Toyota Silver Coronas until he was replaced in the 1983 Reinforced Conference. Porter’s 10-year NBA career, however, was far more impressive than his short stint playing alongside Robert Jaworski. Porter averaged 11.6 points and eight assists (tops in the NBA) for the Washington Bullets as they made the NBA finals only to be swept by the Rick Barry-led Golden State Warriors in the 1974-75 season. He led the NBA in assists for four seasons and is the first player in NBA history to register over 1,000 dimes in a season when he averaged 13.4 assists for the Detroit Pistons in 1978-79. He ended his NBA career with a a stat line of 11.6 points, 8.1 assists, and 1.4 steals.
Larry McNeill (1979-1983 – Gilbey’s Gin, Winston Kings)
McNeill holds the NBA record for most consecutive field goals made in the playoffs, making 12 out of 12 for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in their game against the Chicago Bulls in 1975. The 6’9 McNeill was a second round pick in the 1973 NBA draft. He played six seasons in the league, averaging a career-high 11.9 points per game for the Buffalo Braves in 1977-78. He ended his NBA career averaging 8.5 points and 4.5 boards a game. McNeill moved on to play in the PBA for Gilbeys Gin (now Ginebra) from 1979-1982. He once held the PBA record for most points, scoring 88 points for his last team, the Winston Kings, in an overtime win against Great Taste in 1983.
Billy Ray Bates (1983, 1986-1988 – Crispa, Ginebra)
The best import to ever play in the PBA had the potential to be an NBA star if only he wasn’t his own worst enemy. Bates was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1978, but did not play in the NBA until early 1980 when he was offered a 10-day contract by the Portland Trail Blazers. Less than a month of playing in the league, he already earned Player of the Week honors. Bates was an explosive scorer whose athleticism and strength allowed him to bulldoze his way to the basket. In the playoffs, he averaged 25 points in their first round loss versus Seattle. In his 2nd year, Bates averaged 28.3 points, a Blazers’ record till this day, in another 1st round playoff loss. His career playoff average of 26.7 points is the highest scoring average by a non-starter in NBA history.
Kevin Gamble (1988 – Ginebra)
Gamble had a forgettable rookie campaign in the NBA before he came to the Philippines in 1988 to team up with Bates in Ginebra. He and Bates were replaced after just four games. He eventually found his way to the injury-depleted Boston Celtics on December of 1988 and he became part of the rotation towards the end of the season. In 1990-91, he started in 76 games and averaged 15.6 points, 4th in the team behind Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis, and Kevin McHale. He finished 2nd that season in the voting for Most Improved Player. He also scored in double figures in three more seasons with the Celtics before signing with the Miami Heat in 1994. In 10 NBA seasons, Gamble averaged 9.5 points, two boards, and two assists a game.
Lewis Lloyd (1990-1991 – Pop Cola/Diet Sarsi)
The man known as the ‘Black Magic’ was an offensive force in the PBA when he led new team Pop Cola to its first semifinals appearance in the 1990 third conference. This came as no surprise. Even in the NBA, Lloyd showcased his scoring prowess. Lloyd played his first two NBA seasons with the Golden State Warriors before blossoming as a starter with the Houston Rockets in 1983-84 when he averaged 17.8 points, 3.9 assists, and 1.2 steals. He suited up for three full seasons with the Rockets and always scored in double digits in all the games he played. In 1986, he was meted a 2 1/2 year suspension by the NBA for testing positive for cocaine. His career NBA averages are 13.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.
Dennis Hopson (1996 – Purefoods)
The third over-all pick by the New Jersey Nets in the 1987 NBA draft, Hopson was selected ahead of Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Horace Grant, Kevin Johnson, and Kenny Smith. Hopson had a decent run with the Nets, even scoring 15.8 points a game during his 3rd season with the team. He would go on to play with Chicago from 1990-92 . He was part of the Bulls team that won the championship in 1991, although he did not get to see much playing time and he was traded to the Sacramento Kings before the Bulls won the 1992 championship. Hopson’s six-year NBA career saw him scoring 10.9 points a game. He ended up in the PBA in 1996 but only played one game for Purefoods.
Chris Morris (2002 – Purefoods)
Morris was the 4th over-all pick in the 1988 NBA draft by the New Jersey Nets. He had an impressive rookie season, norming 14.1 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He moved on to play for the Utah Jazz from 1995-98. He averaged in double figures in his first eight years in the NBA, but became more known as a defensive player for the Jazz in his last two seasons with the team. He was part of the Utah rotation that went to the NBA finals twice against the Chicago Bulls. Morris often had the unenviable task of guarding either Scottie Pippen or Michael Jordan. Morris finished his 11-year NBA career with averages of 11 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He joined the Tender Juicy Hot Dogs in the PBA as a replacement import but failed to lead the team to the quarterfinals.
Cedric Ceballos (2003 – San Miguel Beer)
Ceballos played only one game for San Miguel in the 2003 Finals. Among all PBA imports with NBA experience, Ceballos’s was the most impressive. He won the 1992 Slam Dunk Contest with his now iconic blindfold dunk. Ceballos led the entire NBA in field goal percentage (57.6%) in 1992-93 and made the finals with the Phoenix Suns. He averaged a career-best 21.7 points and eight rebounds as the starter for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1994-95 and was named to the West All-Star Team, although he missed the annual showcase due to an injury. The next season, he scored 21.2 and grabbed 6.9 boards a game. He ended his 11-year NBA career with a scoring clip of 14.3 points and rebounding numbers of 5.3 a game.