There was a time when teams, even the lower-ranked ones, had a chance to bolster their roster and gave them a chance to contend against the contenders.
Mariwasa Honda, a perennial whipping squad in the PBA, experienced such luxury when Big Billy Robinson was allowed to reinforce his squad even during an All-Filipino tournament in 1977.
The Emerson Coseteng-owned franchise went on to face the then reigning grand-slam champion Crispa Redmanizers in the championship round, but the former lost to the more experienced squad coached by the late great Baby Dalupan.
U/Tex came in next to break the Crispa-Toyota monopoly in the PBA title series as the Wranglers cracked the finals of the Open Conference of 1977 season.
The Wranglers, then reinforced by Byron “Snake” Jones and Charlie Neal, nearly defeated the Redmanizers, who were handicapped of fielding in only one import at a time as opposed to U/Tex, which had the luxury of playing their imports together.
After leading Crispa to a grand slam in 1976, the Redmanizers brought back Cyrus Mann and had to be relieved by Ricky Hicks. Crispa won over U/Tex, 3-2.
The following season, Crispa was again handicapped and this time, the Redmanizers lost to the Wranglers, who became the first team outside of Crispa and Toyota to win a PBA title. U/Tex was bannered by Jones and Glenn McDonald, who played a crucial role during Boston Celtics’ 1976 NBA title campaign.
Basketball historian Jay P. Mercado agreed that the biggest reason why teams were able to break the Crispa-Toyota stranglehold was because of the handicapping rule.
“For sure,” Mercado said. “It started in 1977 when Mariwasa fielded Billy Robinson in the All-Filipino. First time we saw a non-Crispa vs Toyota finals.”
The same handicapping rule was the reason why Royal Tru-Orange defeated the Toyota Tamaraws in the 1979 Open Conference as the tandem of Larry Pounds and Otto Moore led the San Miguel franchise to its first PBA title, winning the best-of-five series, 3-1.
McDonald returned in the 1980 Open Conference and teamed up with Aaron James at U/Tex. Enjoying the advantage in the handicapping rule, the Wranglers outlasted the Tamaraws, who are only allowed to alternately field in Andy Fields and Bruce “Sky” King.
U/Tex won, 3-2, in what was considered as one of the greatest championship series capped by the Wranglers’ comeback from four points down in the last 16 seconds of Game 5.
The handicapping rule had certainly allowed teams to be given an equal chance of competing against powerhouse squads and with parity now being questioned in the PBA, maybe it’s a good time to revert to this rule.
Of course, fielding in two imports at this time, may not be logical, economic-wise, as not all teams will agree with it, but there are certain ways to deal with it.
For example, the height limit rule. Why not allow all teams, except the two finalists the previous conference, to field in an import of unlimited height and impose the height limit rule to the previous top two squads. A seven-foot import against a reinforcement standing not taller than 6-foot-3 would allow the less talented teams a better chance of winning against the more superior squad with a smaller import.
Seeing a balanced competition means more unpredictable and exciting matches, not to mention allowing the less talented squads an opportunity to vie for a championship.
It’s high time the league considered bringing back the handicapping rule and find ways to balance the competition.
Such was the wisdom of then deputy commissioner Tommy Manotoc, who after the disbandment of Crispa and Toyota, made sure that the players will be properly dispersed to different teams.
There was a time a rule was imposed that Mon Fernandez, Abet Guidaben, Abe King, Manny Victorino and Yoyoy Villamin cannot play together in one team.
Today, you’re going to see 6-foot-7 Christian Standhardinger and 6-foot-9 Japeth Aguilar playing together in one team.