Déjà vu: Import change once kept Beermen’s slam hopes alive

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When the San Miguel Beermen won Games 4-6 of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup championship series, it wrapped up a 4-2 series victory to improve its championship run to back-to-back. It also keep its hopes for a second PBA grand slam alive and pad its championship trophies led over other PBA teams.

The run can be attributed most to a move they made mid-conference, a key import change. It can be recalled that Chris McCullough was brought to replace Charles Rhodes after the Beermen went 2-5 in their first seven games with the 2017 Best Import of the same conference. It didn’t matter that they had won a championship with the latter before.

The early struggles resulted to the Beermen being ranked No. 7 entering the playoffs but resulted to becoming the lowest seed ever to win a championship while staying on course for the rare grand slam.

Did you know that this situation and move could actually be a déjà vu. It actually happened once in the history of the franchise.

When the Beermen won their grand slam, they found little trouble along the way during the first two conferences before making a decision of replacing an import midway through the third conference that made a difference and secured the triple crown.

They were unbeaten in the eliminations in the 1989 Open Conference that was enough to carry them to a first place finish in the round robin semis despite losing 4 out of 8 games. They proceeded to finish Formula Shell 4-1 in the finals.

The Berermen were seeded second behind Purefoods in the 1989 All-Filipino Conference both in the eliminations and semis but came out with a 4-2 win in the championship series against the Hotdogs.

The Beermen got stronger in their grand slam bid as they welcomed the return of Ricardo Brown in the 1989 Reinforced conference after losing him to injury in the same conference the year before and skipping the first two conferences of 1989.

They brought in Keith Smart, best remembered for hitting the marginal basket that gave Indiana the 1987 US NCAA championship, as their import.

After a 2-3 record in the first round of eliminations, Smart was replaced by Ennis Whatley, who reversed the tide and led San Miguel atop the standings, tied with the Purefoods Hotdogs, with six wins and four losses after the elimination round.

They lost their first two games in the semifinals before winning six in a row for a third trip in the finals and went on to blast a Carlos Briggs-led sister team Añejo Rum 65 for 4-1 series win and the grand slam.

Incidentally, this 2019 Commissioner’s Cup championship by San Miguel also displayed its dominance of the league lately as it increases their first place trophies in their case to 27. They now lead second placers Alaska and Magnolia of the Purefoods franchise by a mile. Both Alaska and Magnolia have 14 championships each.

While it is true that San Miguel entered the league as one of its pioneers in 1975 and the teams of Alaska (1986) and Magnolia (1988) were founded later, the Beermen had little advantage in terms of championships won.

The SMB franchise had only two championships up on Alaska upon its inception, as Royal Tru-Orange in 1979 and as San Miguel Beer in 1982, and three on Magnolia, by getting another in 1987 as San Miguel Beer.

The Beermen’s major championship runs actually started right in the maiden season of Purefoods during their grand slam era, reappeared during the turn of the century during the Danny Ildefonso/Danny Siegel era and has gained momentum again during the June Mar Fajardo era that started in the 2014-15 season.

By:  Armando M. Bolislis

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