Twenty years later, Ginebra faces another 3-1 deficit

AP Photo
It's the month of May, and Ginebra is in the PBA finals. The league's most popular team faces an uphill battle, down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series against a formidable foe. Can it bounce back and sweep the last three games?

The above scenario best describes Barangay Ginebra's current predicament in the ongoing Commissioner's Cup finals. But it's also the exact same scenario the franchise faced 20 years ago. In the 1991 PBA First Conference, the team, then known as Ginebra San Miguel, squared off with powerhouse Shell Rimula X in a best-of-seven finals that would go down as one of the most exciting ever played.

Ginebra was led by their charismatic playing coach Robert Jaworski and blue-collar import Jervis "Burning" Cole. The locals were a bunch of overachieving journeymen, including Chito Loyzaga, Dante Gonzalgo, The Destroyer Rudy Distrito, Leo Isaac, and the late Rey Cuenco.

Shell had the prolific Bobby Parks, who was in the midst of his reign as a seven-time Best Import awardee, the Tower or Power Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, and talented forward Romy Dela Rosa. Today's generation of basketball fans probably think of Parks as the father of superstar-in-waiting Bobby Ray Parks, Jr., but 20 years ago, he was the best American import in town. Even though the height limit for imports in the first conference was six feet and five inches, Shell figured the six-three Parks was better than any six-five import out there.

The '91 finals was the perfect sequel to the controversy that took place the previous year in the very same conference. Shell won the 1990 First Conference, 4-2, when Ginebra walked out just before halftime of Game 6 in protest of what they felt was biased officiating. Shell was ahead, 62-49, when the walkout took place. Defying a direct order from then-PBA commissioner Rudy Salud to return to the playing court, the Gins refused to leave their locker room and decided to forfeit the game and series. It was a hollow first-ever PBA title for the Shell franchise, while for Ginebra, it certainly wasn't the ending they wanted.

It was against this backdrop of bad blood that the two teams met again a year later to settle the score once and for all. Shell nabbed Game 1, 114-109, behind Parks' 38 points. Ginebra bounced back to win Game 2 in overtime, 125-114, with Jaworski orchestrating a spirited Ginebra comeback in the fourth period. The Big J, then already 45 years old, scored 10 straight points in the fourth to force an extension and add another chapter to his storybook career.

The Turbochargers then took the next two games, 120-113 and 127-125 in overtime, to post a commanding 3-1 series lead. But the Gins extended the series with a lopsided 116-90 blowout in Game 5.  In Game 6, Cole outscored Parks 51-31 to lead Ginebra to a 123-119 victory. Suddenly, what was a sure championship for Shell turned into a winner-take-all Game 7.

An overflow crowd of close to 15,000 packed the ULTRA on May 19, 1991 to witness the seventh and deciding game, with thousands more turned away outside. Crowd control became a major problem as fans came close to rioting in a mad rush for the few tickets left on sale. That's how big the PBA was back in the day.

I vividly remember watching this game because it was the birthday of my high school buddy Jason Paredes, who was hosting a birthday party/championship viewing party at his house in Makati. Practically all the guests there that evening were diehard Ginebra fans. I think I was the only one rooting for Shell. We were all glued to the TV set to watch the game go down the wire.

Paras tied the count at 102-all with only 26 ticks left. Ginebra called a timeout and in the ensuing play, Loyzaga saw a slight opening and drove to the basket. His path was blocked so he spun around and launched a scoop shot that was easily swatted away by Paras. Five seconds left. The ball found its way to Distrito, who drove along the right baseline and, upon seeing Paras waiting for him near the basket, pulled up and launched a fadeaway from around six feet.

The ball swished through the net to the roar of the crowd. Over at the party, the whole street where Jason's house stood erupted in cheers. But there was still one second left. Shell sued for time and set up a play. Magsanoc got the ball on the left flank behind the three-point line and turned around to launch a prayer. Only he never saw the basket. Cole rushed over and blocked the shot as time expired. Somehow, Ginebra had won the series after trailing three games to one, and the never-say-die Ginebra spirit sealed its place in local basketball folklore.

What Ginebra did in 1991 resonates to this day because it was like catching lightning in a bottle. Now, 20 years later, this new generation of Ginebra players has to do it all over again. Not an impossible feat, but a very difficult one. But wouldn't it be nice to catch lightning again exactly 20 after you first did?

You may reach the author at


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Muslim group calls for universal peace
    Muslim group calls for universal peace

    As predominantly Catholic Philippines and the rest of the Christian world observe the Holy Week, peace advocates like the Young Muslim Professionals Network (YMPN) are appealing to Filipinos of various creeds and persuasion to embrace the universal message of kindness, love and peace. The group issued the call as peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front teeter due to the Mamasapano incident where members of the rebel group killed 44 police commandos on a …

  • Ex-WB exec pushes BBL passage
    Ex-WB exec pushes BBL passage

    A former World Bank official has warned of dire consequences for the Philippines if the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is not passed into law. Nigel Roberts, former director on conflict, security and development, said that more conflict could occur without the BBL. “It takes about 15 years to get back to pre-conflict GDP growth rates, and 20 years for trade to recover,” Roberts said in his blog at the World Bank website. The World Bank estimated that economic losses amounted to $10 …

  • Despite typhoon, summer is here
    Despite typhoon, summer is here

    Super Typhoon Chedeng roared toward Luzon as the weather bureau announced the official start of summer in the country yesterday. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced yesterday the official start of the dry or summer season in the country due to the termination of the cold northeast monsoon. “The general public is advised to take precautionary measures to minimize heat stress and take note of the need in optimizing the daily use of …

  • Noy told: Just answer the questions
    Noy told: Just answer the questions

    Just answer the 20 questions. The Makabayan bloc of seven party-list representatives made this appeal to President Aquino yesterday after his spokesman claimed the Chief Executive has already answered most of the questions posed by the militant lawmakers regarding the Mamasapano incident. For instance, he said the President has not yet explained why he allowed then suspended Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima to take the lead in Oplan Exodus or the mission to …

  • DFA: Malaysia paying rent for Sabah
    DFA: Malaysia paying rent for Sabah

    Malaysia does not acknowledge the Philippine claim over Sabah but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) maintained yesterday that the Malaysian government is paying rent for Sabah, indicating it rightfully belongs to the Philippines. The Malay Mail Online reported that Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Malaysia has not and does not acknowledge the Philippine claim over Sabah when asked by media about the reported offer of the Philippine government to downgrade its Sabah …

  • 63 OFWs returning from Yemen
    63 OFWs returning from Yemen

    Sixty-three overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are set to return home from war-torn Yemen, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said yesterday. Baldoz said the licensed recruiters of the OFWs have assured the government of their immediate repatriation. Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has ordered the recruitment agencies to fulfill their obligation to bring home the OFWs. Baldoz called on Filipinos still in Yemen to avail themselves of the government’s …

  • Jinggoy gets furlough for shoulder checkup
    Jinggoy gets furlough for shoulder checkup

    Despite opposition from ombudsman lawyers, the Sandiganbayan yesterday granted detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s request to undergo a medical checkup at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital. Estrada was allowed to undergo a medical examination for pain in his left shoulder from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The senator was ordered to shoulder the expenses incurred by the Philippine National Police in  escorting him. In a pleading filed Monday with the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division, Estrada’s lawyers …

  • Tekken’s Josie Rizal gets flak
    Tekken’s Josie Rizal gets flak

    A professor of the University of the Philippines yesterday hit the portrayal of a Filipino character, whose name was based on Jose Rizal, in a Japanese-produced video game. “(It’s) offensive and unsuited for a big company like Bandai because they have the money to do research,” Gonzalo Campoamor II, professor of Life and Works of Rizal in UP Diliman, told The STAR. Japanese giant Namco Bandai recently introduced Josie Rizal, the first Filipino character in the popular fighting game franchise …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options