If there’s anything Filipinos love more than adobo and rice, it’s probably basketball. The love story between the country and the sport is well-documented. Filipinos of all ages have tried playing the game at least once. Many boys dreamed of becoming PBA players at least once in their life.
This country’s love affair with the sport has produced plenty of outstanding talent. These players eventually ended up in the PBA, the country’s biggest and most popular professional basketball league. Fans in the country and worldwide were treated to years of incredible basketball thanks to these players.
But even among this already-elite crop of players, some stars stand head and shoulders above the rest. These players amazed crowds with their shooting, defense, and ability to influence games to flow in their favor.
While several PBA players deserve to be called all-time greats, this OKBET article will only include five. We’ll discuss their career achievements, playing style, and how PBA fans remember them.
Let’s get on with this celebration of Philippine basketball!
Younger fans may recognize Benjie Paras more as an actor and father of Kobe Paras nowadays. However, old-school hoop heads who watched the league in the 90s and early 2000s know and love him more as the Tower of Power.
Paras stands 6’4”, which is incredibly small by today’s standards. However, he used his explosiveness to get past his opponents and force his way inside. He used his brute physicality whenever he made it deep into the rim to sink the basket.
Another thing Pinoy hoops fans loved about Paras was his explosive hops. He can quickly elevate to the basket and finish with a monstrous slam. He also made emphatic blocks, making him a feared presence in the paint.
He’s a four-time PBA champion and played most of his career as the centerpiece of a successful Shell Turbo Chargers franchise. He had an impressive professional career and hung up his sneakers with 10,322 points, 4,402 rebounds, 1,822 assists, 1,323 blocks, and 221 steals. He also won two MVP awards, ten PBA All-Star nods, and a spot at the PBA Hall of Fame.
However, Paras’ biggest claim to fame is his being the only person to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in 1989. The fact that he’s the only player throughout the league’s almost five decades of existence to achieve that says a lot about how dominant he was in his first professional campaign.
Suppose you ask Filipino basketball fans who is the first true PBA superstar. In that case, those who live and breathe Filipino hoops will mention Ramon Fernandez.
Affectionately called El Presidente by fans, Fernandez enjoyed an incredible career that spanned three decades. He’s widely considered the face of the league during its heyday, and his stats show how consistent he was.
He was a key player during Toyota’s dominance in the 70s and a fixture in the Toyota-Crispa rivalry that captivated the nation. During his nine-year run with Toyota, he averaged 18.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.1 blocks.
The 19-time PBA champion played the remainder of his twenty-year career with Tanduay and San Miguel. The Beermen loved El Presidente so much that they retired his number 19. Fans continue to adore Fernandez, although he last played professional basketball in 1994.
Speaking of players with lasting impact, Alvin Patrimonio captured the people’s imagination during his 17-year playing career. The power forward was a fixture in the Philippines’ professional basketball scene through the nineties.
He was a beacon of loyalty to Purefoods, playing every single of his 857 career games for the famed franchise. His loyalty and consistent production rightfully earned him the nickname of The Captain.
While his production dwindled at the turn of the century, his peak form was sensational. He averaged 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on 53% field goal shooting and 38% from long range.
Patrimonio was a crucial part of the Philippine Centennial Team that won bronze in the 1998 Asian Games. He also won six PBA championships and garnered four MVP honors. The Magnolia Hotshots also retired his number 16 in his honor. The Captain was rightfully inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 2011.
June Mar Fajardo
It’s hard to tell which current PBA players will finish their careers at the level of the names mentioned above. However, even these legends can agree that Junemar Fajardo is already among the best PBA players in history.
The Kraken is the tallest player in this list of elite Filipino cagers at 6’10”. His height alone made PBA teams want him despite him not playing for a prestigious collegiate program. However, he has the skills to back up his size.
From 2012 through 2021, Fajardo has already accumulated an impressive body of work that would easily get him into the Hall of Fame. He has impressive career averages of 17.3 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.6 blocks on 58% shooting.
His stints for Gilas Pilipinas are less memorable than his league performances. Still, the Gilas faithful will forever cherish his dominance in the 2019 SEA Games. PBA and San Miguel fans will surely miss Fajardo’s dominance down low when he puts a close into his career.
Ask any Filipino hoops fan to name five PBA players as the best to lace them up. Different names will likely come up. Some may mention the abovementioned names. Others may list completely different players.
However, almost everyone will include Robert Jaworski in their list. The Big J is a 13-time PBA champion, the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1978, a four-time All-Star, and a two-time member of the PBA All-Defensive Team.
Older basketball fans know him as the star who helped Toyota during their heated rivalry with Crispa in the seventies. His strongest years saw him average 16.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.3 steals a night.
Younger PBA fans will recognize him for his playing coach days with Ginebra. While his athleticism had left him by the nineties, he was still vital to Ginebra’s dominance. He netted a respectable 9.0 points, 4.26 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 0.1 steals in his twilight years.
He’s called the Living Legend for a reason. We’ll unlikely see another player who changed Philippine hoops the way Jaworski did.
Watch the PBA for More Upcoming PBA Legends
You don’t have to feel bad if you missed out on some of the legendary PBA players on this list. There are plenty of exciting talents playing in the league right now. They’re providing fans with unforgettable moments with their brand of basketball that won’t lose to what these legends have produced.
The PBA is the best bet if you want to witness history unfolding in front of your eyes. They have players that will make you fall in love with local basketball.
Read more: Bay Area Looks to Resume PBA Stint