Duel for the ages
Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the greatest PBA rivalry of them all?
Barangay Ginebra and Star have packed playing venues in recent years, their duel even earning the label “Manila Clasico” from the television panel to drum up interest in this modern-day rivalry and give it an age-old twist, as if it has been going on for a long time in the PBA.
But experts—or those who have been in the league long enough to know what they are talking about— don’t need a crystal ball to decide what the greatest rivalry of all time is.
“There’s no comparison,” says Andy Jao. Mind you, the veteran television analyst is not referring to the Ginebra-Star best-of-seven Final Four series in the Philippine Cup which the Hotshots lead, 3-2, as of this writing.
“There’s only one rivalry that will define the PBA forever,” says Ernesto A. Gonzales, one of the few sportswriters that covered the league right from Day 1 on April 9, 1975 at Araneta Coliseum in Cubao. Gonzales also isn’t referring to this playoff series.
Crispa and Toyota, or Toyota and Crispa, depending on one’s preference back in the day, set the bar for PBA rivalries. That seething duel in the league’s early years always came close to dividing this nation every season.
“Toyota-Crispa, definitely,” says Star team manager Alvin Patrimonio, the face of the Purefoods team in the 1990s that battled with Ginebra and helped forge the modern-day rivalry that millennials now know.
“I was a (Robert) Jaworski and Mon (Fernandez) fan,” the four-time MVP adds. “There were times I watched the games live as a kid. And I didn’t miss a Toyota-Crispa game on TV.”
Patrimonio ranks the Ginebra-Purefoods rivalry a close second, especially during the time when Fernandez was his teammate and Jaworski was starting to instill the never-say-die spirit in Ginebra together with backcourt partner Francis Arnaiz.
Even PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa believes that Crispa-Toyota was a great rivalry simply because during that time, “it was Martial Law, and people really had nothing to do but watch basketball. And Crispa-Toyota was always the game to see.”
“These days, considering that there are concerts, malls to go to, movies to see, the way Ginebra and Star pack venues says a lot about how popular they are,” he says. “But in terms of player-fanaticism, Crispa-Toyota was it.”
Patrimonio ranks Purefoods-Ginebra a far second; Jao thinks that San Miguel-Purefoods in the late 1980s to the early 1990s was the next best; and Gonzales says every other rivalry pales to Crispa-Toyota.
“The players of both teams back then had genuine hate for each other, and the fans loved that,” Gonzales explains. “The fans of one team also hated the fans of the other. How can you not love your team which spends the night in jail for fighting after a [PBA] game?”
(Martial Law authorities detained players of both Crispa and Toyota on Apr. 17, 1977 in Fort Bonifacio after a post-game rumble at the Big Dome. They were released the next morning.—Ed)
The two teams ruled the PBA from 1975 to 1983, winning 21 out of 26 PBA titles in those years.
Jao remembers how “definitely more than 22,000” came to the old Big Dome to see even elimination-round matches between Crispa and Toyota. “That can never be done again,” he says. “The next big rivalry, to me, was San Miguel-Purefoods, when Fernandez led a bunch of seasoned players against a Purefoods team led by the young pros in the land.
“Alvin, Jerry Codiñera, Jojo (Lastimosa) and Dindo (Pumaren) were the stars of that Purefoods team, and the rivalry developed when Fernandez was traded to San Miguel,” Jao says. “I had fun calling those games.”
Jao, who also held various positions with different teams in the past, says the one thing that made Crispa-Toyota tick was that the fans were divided evenly. “It was 50-50 in ratio,” he says. “You can literally draw a line in the middle and identify the fans for each team.”
Says Patrimonio: “That was the challenge for us during those days: How we could come up with the same number of fans that Ginebra had. We had to play hard so we could repay our fans.”
Ginebra versus Star, this latest edition is attracting hordes of fans every game. And if a Game 7 happens, these experts might have something to look at to consider this rivalry as one worthy of a place in the books./rga
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