Billy Ray Bates, Tony Harris, Michael Hackett, Bobby Parks, Norman Black and Carlos Briggs. These are just some of the most notable high-scoring imports who have graced the PBA during its 1st 25 years of existence.
Filipino fans were treated to fearless plays, rim-rattling dunks and awesome shooting back then.
Today, Pinoy hoop junkies wonder why imports nowadays are nowhere near the skill level of their American predecessors.
Black, who has seen the evolution of Asia’s first-ever professional basketball league since beginning his PBA career as a young import in 1981 with Tefilin, offered a lengthy explanation on this topic in a chat with FOX Sports.
“Basketball has advanced so much over the last 30 years or 20 years so that when I first arrived on the shores of the Philippines, I would say, 8 out of the 10 scorers from the CBA (Continental Basketball Association), that was the (NBA) D-League in those days, before it came into existence, 8 out of their top 10 scorers were playing here in the PBA,” Black shared to FOX Sports.
“I myself was third in the league (CBA) in scoring, Al Green was #4, Billy Ray Bates was #2 and Jackie Dorsey led the league in scoring and rebounding in the CBA,” he added.
The current Meralco head coach believes the “golden era” of super imports came in the first 25 years simply because there weren’t too many professional leagues in Asia at that time.
The Chinese Basketball Association and the Korean Basketball League, which offer generous monthly paychecks for American imports, who failed to make it to the NBA, didn’t open shop till the 1990s.
It’s no wonder American players, even some former NBA players, then opted to bring their basketball sneakers to the PBA.
“So the top players in the US who were not playing in the NBA at that time, most of them came here to play,” continued the 58-year-old former PBA import-turned-head coach.
“We were getting the top talents here. And the job in Europe, Italy, Spain, France, they only went to retired NBA players back then, while the young players like myself coming out of college and Billy Ray Bates coming out of college if he didn’t play in the NBA, he played in the CBA,” he added.
“And all of us (younger American imports) somehow and someway, managed to end up in the shores of the Philippines. So you were getting the best talents coming in the country at that time who weren’t playing in the NBA,” said Black.
More options for imports
Black, the PBA’s first recipient of the Mr. 100 Percent award, explained that with the emergence of various professional leagues in China, South Korea, Australia and in some countries in Europe, American players have more options.
And since the PBA continues to operate on its 3-conference format each season, including tournaments for imports at just 2 1/2 months long, US player agents tend to bring their clients to leagues, whose teams are capable of giving longer, juicier contracts.
“Our conference was short for imports so they only last 2 1/2 months. So if you are a player, your American agent can send you to China for 8 months, or send them to Europe for 7 months,” he said.
“And you have a choice between the Philippines or one of those places. Of course, you gotta send them to China or Europe or South korea where they can play a longer period of time because as an agent, they could get a bigger commission by the time they play overseas,” he added.
Black said his frequent trips to the US to scout for import prospects, including visits to NBA D-League games, gave him fresh insight on how things have changed today in pro basketball.
“Unlike in the Philippines, one, it’s a short conference for the imports because there’s 2 of them (Commissioner’s Cup and Governors Cup), and two, we can send our imports home any time because there’s no guaranteed contracts. The most guaranteed is probably 2 weeks,” he said.
“So if that’s the case, then if I’m an agent, I’d probably send them where I’m sure they get more money for 7 months than I am sending them to the Philippines where probably after 3 weeks, he’ll be coming back home after failing to play well,” added the PBA’s 3rd all-time winningest coach in history.
Black though reiterated that the PBA’s imports over the last 2 decades are still quality ones. But in terms of getting frequent top-flight imports like in the 1980s and through the mid-1990s, it wouldn’t be possible anymore.
“We still get good players, don’t get me wrong. These guys are still good, but we just don’t seem to get the top players like we used to,” he said.
“So I might be a little biased because I played in the 80s and 90s.”
Just in case you were born in the 1990s, Black played a total of 10 PBA seasons and is the all-time scoring leader among all imports (11,329 points) and all-time rebounding leader (5,333). — By Richard Dy