It was 30 years ago when the first ever PBA All-Star game was staged. Under the leadership of visionary commissioner Rodrigo Salud, the league decided to institutionalize the All-Star game and make it one of the league’s staple offerings for its legions of followers.
The excitement was palpable among the thousands who trooped to the Ultra in Pasig to witness 24 of the biggest names in the PBA converging on the same floor on June 4, 1989. Not only was history being made that evening, but the personalities involved added color and drama to the already much-hyped event.
The coaching battle itself merited its own storyline as Dante Silverio of the Formula Shell Zoom Masters, tasked to mentor the Rookies-Sophomores team, faced off against Baby Dalupan of Purefoods Hotdogs, the coach of the Veterans. Silverio and Dalupan thus found another opportunity to relive their halycon days from the Toyota-Crispa era.
The Rookies-Sophomores team was composed of a new breed of glamourous superstars who took the PBA by storm beginning in 1988 and turned it into their own playground with their high-flying, power-playing, and exciting brand of basketball. Aside from their advantage in youth, they also had the edge in teamwork. Nine players in the line-up were members of the 1987 Philippine national team. These were Alvin Patriimonio, Jerry Codiñera, Jojo Lastimosa, Nelson Asaytono, and Dindo Pumaren of Purefoods, Bong Alvarez of Alaska, Zaldy Realubit of Presto, and Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc of Shell. Rounding out the squad were Bobby Jose of San Miguel, Romeo Dela Rosa of Shell, and Elmer Cabahug of Alaska.
What the Veterans lacked in chemistry, they made up for in years of experience and court savvy. There was still some semblance of familiarity in the team which was bannered by five players from then Grand Slam-seeking San Miguel Beer: Ramon Fernandez, Yves Dignadice, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, and Elmer Reyes. Dalupan also had the luxury of calling on two former MVPs, Sonny Jaworkski and Philip Cezar of Añejo Rum who were joined by their streak-shooting teammate Joey Loyzaga, Allan Caidic and Manny Victorino of Presto, Yoyoy Villamin of Alaska, and Arnie Tuadlles of Shell. The Veterans also enjoyed a slight advantage in crowd support.
Silverio wanted his team of youngsters to impose their will from the get-go by starting with a big line-up composed of twin towers Codiñera and Realubit, Jose, Dela Rosa, and Pumaren. This gambit backfired for the Rookies-Sophomores as their lack of skilled ballhandlers to help out their point guard resulted in sloppy basketball that allowed Tuadles, Calma, and Caidic to have a heyday in transition points to help the Veterans erect a dozen point lead.
With less than five minutes left in the first quarter, the Ultra crowd was electrified when they saw Fernandez and Jaworski checking into the game at the same time. Three possessions later, the crowd went absolutely crazy when Jaworski inbounded to El Presidente who eventually dished a no-look pass back to the Big J. The first quarter ended with the Veterans ahead, 35-21. The Veterans had a glaring advantage in fastbreak points, 18-2.
The Rookie-Sophomores started to press the action in the second quarter as Cabahug, Magsanoc, and Lastimosa started to heat up. With Paras and Patrimonio establishing their presence down low, the younger team was finally able to get their running game going and tie the score at halftime.
It was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way as neither team was able to build a double-digit lead. With less than a minute left in the ballgame, the Veterans were up 125-119 and seemed well on their way to a comfortable victory. Magsanoc and Cabahug sandwiched Caidic’s two free throws with back-to-back triples to trim the deficit to two. Caidic immediately restored order by converting two more free throws to give the Veterans a four-point advantage but Paras answered back with a quick two. Fernandez was fouled in the next possession but could only convert one from the charity stripe, leaving the door open for the Rookies-Sophomores to try to tie the count. Tie the ballgame they did as Lastimosa hit a corner three to peg the score at 130-all with four seconds remaining on the clock.
The next couple of sequences seemed to have been taken from a movie designed with a perfect ending. Dalupan called a play which had Jaworski inbounding the ball to Fernandez. Fernandez then drove against the defense of Paras and converted on a baseline undergoal stab as the buzzer sounded. The crowd went wild but little did they know this was only a preview to an even more iconic moment. Dalupan led Fernandez and Jawroski to shake hands after the game, a scene that seemed unthinkable to fans who have followed for years the conflict between the two most popular and dominant figures in Philippine basketball.
Elmer Cabahug was named MVP of that game even if his team lost. Apparently, the media people tasked to choose the MVP came up with the decision before the game finished. But that hardly mattered to fans. They were treated to an entertaining and competitive all-star game that had them screaming like it were a Game Seven. And the icing on the cake was when they watched Jaworski and Fernandez conspire to make the game-winning basket. That alone was enough to make the 1989 PBA All-Star truly one for the books.