By Drei Christopher Villanueva
Coach Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan was known for his incredible eye for talent, responsible for mentoring the likes of Robert Jaworski and Chito Narvasa. As history would show, Coach Baby wasn’t just responsible for developing superstars – he was exceptionally gifted at managing them.
When fabled teams Crispa and Toyota folded up in the mid-1980s, the PBA was scrambling to get back on its feet, looking to find solutions to continue surviving amidst the trying times. The two were household names, so when these teams considered as larger than the league itself disbanded, the primary concerns were centered around where the players would go.
How could big-time players like Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Bogs Adornado, Atoy Co, Philip Cezar, Francis Arnaiz, Freddie Hubalde and Bernie Fabiosa – among others – be associated with new teams? Among these players, Jaworski and Fernandez, who teamed up for Toyota’s nine championships, became the caretakers of the PBA. They were titans, loved and adored by many fans when they were playing together, and even when they parted ways.
The two former teammates became rivals, assuming the leadership role for their new respective teams – Fernandez taking over the leadership mantle of the Beer Hausen team (which acquired Toyota) and Jaworski moving to Gilbey’s Gin, where he emerged as the face of the franchise in addition to being the playing coach when the team changed its name to Ginebra San Miguel the following year.
But the parting of the ways also took a heavy price as it caused the former allies to become bitter rivals – for real. Over the next six years, they were arch nemeses, and the rivalry soon became personal. Naturally, the fans loved it. Media played it up – finally, with a rivalry unmatched since the heyday of Crispa versus Toyota, the league had on its hands a story larger than the game itself.
In 1989, when the league decided to institutionalize the All-Star Game, Jaworski and Fernandez found themselves teaming up again for the first time since their last game together in the third conference of the 1983 season. On the court and in the stands, goosebumps formed that only increased when the two cage superstars were named as starters for the Veterans team, set to face off against the fast emerging Rookies and Sophomores, led by young talented players such as Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, Jerry Codinera, Jojo Lastimosa, and Ronnie Magsanoc.
On game day, each play involving The Big J and El Presidente got shrieks from the fans. It was a perfect game plan initiated by no less than “The Maestro” himself, Baby Dalupan. He knew the All-Star Game was made for the fans, and he loved having the league’s two biggest stars take leading roles.
Then came the final play – Dalupan designed a play where Jaworski would be the designated inbounder and Fernandez the receiver. The ball was inbounded trouble-free, and the shifty Fernandez was able to drive to the baseline to take a nifty up and under shot against the outstretched arms of Paras. A deafening roar sounded as the shot went in – A fitting climax to what is now remembered as the greatest All-Star Game ever played. But the winning shot was just the icing on the cake as Dalupan would gather both Jaworski and Fernandez to shake hands to the delight of the fans. The six-year cold war has come to an end and The Maestro was the one who’d orchestrated the perfect plan for the two bitter rivals to kiss and make up. The hatchet was buried, and it was Dalupan who’d made it all happen.
The following year, the Big J and El Presidente would team up anew, this time in the first ever all-professional national team for the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. Jaworski was chosen as head coach while Fernandez would be named team captain. It was a night to remember, and for solid basketball fans, seeing Jaworski and Fernandez joining forces was like seeing the Super Friends or the Justice League at work, and that titanic pairing may very well have been the most significant of Dalupan’s countless contributions to the sport he devoted his life to.
(Continued in Part 2)
image credit: Retro PBA