By Drei Christopher Villanueva
Having announced plans to revive the PBA invitational international tournaments of old, it would appear that the PBA is slowly beginning to open its doors to Asia. So goes the ambitious plan unveiled by new league chairman Mikee Romero of GlobalPort, who broached the idea of reviving the Invitational Tournament in the PBA, saying, “This is one new dimension, a good way to open up the league to our Asian neighbors.”
Romero is no stranger to joining in international competitions, his Harbour Centre team having backed the Philippine team that claimed the Gold at the 2007 SEA Games. Furthermore, when the PBL folded six years ago, Romero shifted his attention to the ASEAN Basketball League where his Philippine Patriots became one of the pioneering members and, eventually, the inaugural staging champion.
According to Romero, they’re currently eyeing teams from Korea, Japan, the Middle East and other Southeast Asian countries to participate in the tournament.
The PBA Invitational Tournament was one among the biggest attractions in the pro league in the past. It started in 1977 when the league had a visiting club team from Brazil, which featured the sensational Oscar Schmidt, now a Basketball Hall of Famer.
Schmidt powered Emtex Brazil all the way to the Finals of the Invitational Conference, but would lose to Toyota, then reinforced by the late Bruce “Sky” King and John Irving, in three games of their best-of-five Finals series.
Three years later, the league brought back the Invitational Tournament with two foreign club teams, Adidas France and Nicholas Stoodley (of the United States), participating – the latter bannered by two former PBA imports: Kenny Tyler and Larry Pounds.
Tyler was an import of St. George Whiskey (now known as Barangay Ginebra) in 1979, while Pounds played for Royal Tru-Orange, a team which he would lead to that year’s championship. Playing on the same side, Tyler and Pounds’ combined forces would power Nichoals Stoodley to victory over Toyota, making theirs the first guest squad to win a PBA championship.
In the 1982 edition of the Invitational Tournament, South Korea, then preparing for the Asian Games, sent a crack team led by Lee Chung-Hee to face off against the Crispa Redmanizers, Toyota Super Corollas, U-Tex Wranglers and the San Miguel Beermen for the title.
Back then, beefed up by import Norman Black and coached by Tommy Manotoc, the Beermen would defeat Crispa, 2-1, in the best-of-three championship series.
The last PBA Invitational Tournament happened in 2003, with several Asian teams, including Yonsei University and a young developmental team of Chinese Taipei bannered by Tien Lei competing. Alaska went on to win the title after defeating Coca-Cola in the championship series.