If there is doubt about the difficulty of building PBA dynasty, the San Miguel Beermen’s championship runs would clearly show implementation of plans isn’t a guarantee no matter how excellent they are created in the front office’s comforts.
Unlike sister team Ginebra, it took a longer while for the Beermen to become a team that sowed fear among its competitors.
12-year growing pains
The Beermen is among the pioneer teams to participate during the debut of the PBA, then starting with the name Royal Tru-Orange.
While the thorny start of the franchise coincided with the storied Crispa-Toyota rivalry coupled with a short two-conference leave of absence in 1986, these were no excuse for performing so sloppy during their first 12 years PBA campaign. It resulted to only two titles, the 1979 Open Conference and the 1982 Reinforced Conference, in just four finals appearances and a paltry three semifinal appearances in other separate occasions.
It would totally surprise a younger fan that the franchise record a measly 228-273 win-loss record during this span. This includes a 5-23 in 1977, 9-23 in 1980, 11-27 in 1984, and 2-10 in 1986.
It’s an unfamiliar sight for fans that were accustomed to seeing dominant records of recent years.
1987-1989: Black, Fernandez, Brown, and the NCC core
The first dynastic run the Beermen engineered originated with an ironic start.
The lineup buildup for the team carrying the name Magnolia Cheese (Magnolia was then a division of SMC) began with absorption of the core players of Northern Cement Corporation team, most notably Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, and Yves Dignadice during their comeback in the third conference of 1986. Also notably added straight from the amateur ranks was defensive monster Alvin Teng.
At the start of 1987, they acquired Alberto Guidaben from a disbanding Manila Beer and reclaim playing coach Norman Black from Alaska to setup their charge.
The moves immediately paid dividends as they got two consecutive third place finishes during the year’s first two conferences.
They then found a future PBA gem in Bobby Parks, Sr. to help them bag the 1987 third conference and set the winning run in motion.
1988 was the year Ricardo Brown made a big jump to as the first piece to complete the dynastic lineup. “The Quick Brown Fox” left the only team he knew, Great Taste, since entering the league in 1983 to join old friend Black and the Beermen.
His addition powered the Beermen to the 1988 Open Conference title and a semifinals appearance in the All-Filipino Conference.
An unlikely event then filled the second piece of a grandslam team when Ramon Fernandez was accused of game fixing during the 1988 All-Filipino Conference, paving way for a second Fernandez-Guidaben swap that brought El Presidente to don a San Miguel uniform.
The then two former MVPs powered the Beermen to four straight titles starting with the 1988 Reinforced Conference up to the 1989 Reinforced Conference where Brown showcased a different side of his game in limiting Anejo’s high-scoring import Carlos Briggs.
All-in-all, the Beermen accumulated 6 titles, 3 third place finishes and 1 fourth place finish in during their brief three-year, 9-conference run, probably the greatest in San Miguel’s history on the average.
This success rate is only second to Crispa’s 6 titles, 2 second place, and 1 third place finish during the PBA’s first three years.
Two-year short drought
Unfortunately, the title-clinching Game 5 of the Reinforced Conference turned out to be Brown’s last game of his PBA career. His absence highlighted the impact he brought to the team as the Beermen miserably relinquished all their titles in silver platter by failing to make the finals in all conferences, including completely failing to make the playoffs in one of them.
The same pattern occurred in 1991, effectively ending the dynasty.
It would take a breakout of an unexpected superstar coupled with another Great Taste scoring demon finding his way to San Miguel’s backyard to ignite another run.
1992-1994: Caidic, Fernandez, and Agustin Big Three
The Beermen got a big lift when Renato Agustin blew every PBA fan’s expectation with his MVP performance to take advantage of the last legs of Fernandez’s playing career.
This resulted to an All-Filipino title and a runner-up finish in the First Conference in 1992.
The Beermen front office got another break in 1993 when Presto (Great Taste) disbanded and allow them to snag Allan “The Triggerman” Caidic into their fold.
This resulted to two more titles in the next two years, the 1993 Governors’ Cup and the 1994 All-Filipino Cup, to go along with another runner-up finish.
Overall, this run produced three titles in five finals appearances during a nine-conference duration.
It was not as impressive as any other San Miguel championship run but the output is still nothing short of a dynastic reign in nature.
1995-1998: Father time takes its toll for another short drought
Fernandez would retire after the 1994 season and most of the NCC players are also aging and often injured, putting the Beermen in another quandary.
As it turned out, luck helped the Beermen survive the loss of Brown but finally ran out as the incapability of the San Miguel front office to accumulated the pieces that would have restack their lineup as Fernandez and most of the NCC core’s aging took its toll.
While it should be noted that PBA teams had to contend with a hot Alaska Aces during this span, a San Miguel gambit disappoints.
The front office moved on from the Agustin era by trading him for Nelson Asaytono. It also acquired Paul Alvarez in a separate transaction and hired Ron Jacobs as coach.
The moves, however, failed to produce a single title, losing to Alaska during the two times they were able to reach the finals.
1999-2001: Danny I, Danny S, Racela and Strothers era
This combination was formed three years earlier when the Beermen hired import Lamont Strothers for the 1996 Governors’ Cup, traded for Olsen Racel in 1997 and Danny Ildefonso in the 1998 draft, making them experience how to be in the PBA finals during their twin 1998 runner-up finishes.
1999 saw the completion of this Big Three with the arrival of Danny Seigle via the draft. It also marked the passing of the torch as they part Asaytono via trade after being eliminated in the All-Filipino.
This move showed why the future pillars of the Beermen is capable to make a dynastic run as they led the Beermen to bag the final two conferences of the season and defended the same in 2000 for a four-title haul in two years.
In 2001, the Beermen start the year by winning their first All-Filipino championship in seven years. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to defend the their titles in the other conferences although they reached the finals in both occasions.
Overall, this Beermen combination collected five titles, two runner-up finishes, and a third place finish in this three-year run.
Strothers’ share consists of two titles and a runner-up finish, all in the Governors’ Cup.
By Armando M. Bolislis