Robert Jaworski continues to resonate among Philippine basketball fans even after playing his last game more than two decades ago.
There’s reason why most fans kept hanging on to some of basketball’s great moments authored by “The Big J,” who turned 75 Monday, March 8, 2021
Jaworski achieved success in almost every team he played or coached both at home and beyond while enduring controversies along the way.
The sports section of the Manila Bulletin looks at some of the good and not so good memories in the career of the man they call “The Living Legend.”
TWO ABC CHAMPIONSHIPS
Jaworski was part of two Philippine cage squads that won the ABC Championship, the old name of the FIBA Asia Cup.
The then-University of the East standout helped the Caloy Loyzaga-mentored national cagers claim the 1967 ABC crown with a hard-fought win over host South Korea in Seoul.
Six years later saw Jaworski and the Philippines reclaim the ABC title, this time with coach Tito Eduque at the helm beating South Korea in front of a jubilant home crowd at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
Jaworski’s career almost came to an end before it became legendary when he and Meralco teammate Big Boy Reynoso hit referees Eriberto Cruz and Jose Obias during a crucial MICAA All-Filipino match against Crispa at Rizal Memorial.
The two players initially received a two-year ban by the MICAA, but that was superseded by the ruling Basketball Association of the Philippines, which slapped a lifetime suspension on both Jaworski and Reynoso.
But the ban didn’t last long as the two were eventually reinstated more than a year later.
Jaworski brought immediate success to the Delta Motors franchise by winning the MICAA title on its first season in the league, and added eight more when Toyota became one of the teams that formed the PBA, Asia’s first pay-for-play basketball league.
He was also blessed to be around some of the basketball’s best players, namely Ramon Fernandez, Francis Arnaiz, Arnie Tuadles and Abe King.
His Toyota stint ended before the 1984 season when the team’s top brass decided to sell the franchise to Beer Hausen.
Along the way, Jaworski played one of the starring roles in perhaps the greatest rivalry in Philippine sports by facing off in rugged battles with the team he once played during his early years as a cager.
He was among the players from both Toyota and Crispa who were detained in Fort Bonifacio following a massive brawl that ended the opener of the 1977 PBA season.
But it was in Game 3 of the 1980 PBA All-Filipino Conference where Jaworski became the subject of Toyota’s decision to fire coach Fort Acuna at halftime for benching the team’s ace playmaker. Jaworski would eventually lead the Tamaraws to a comeback win that denied the Redmanizers, who went on to take the title, a 20-game sweep of the tournament.
MOVE TO GINEBRA
Toyota’s sale to Beer Hausen didn’t sit well with Jaworski, who felt that members of the team were not fully informed of the decision by Delta management. In the end, Jaworski and old buddy Arnaiz were among the ex-Toyota players who signed with Gilbey’s Gin, but it also led to a bitter feud with his now former teammate Fernandez, who opted to play for Beer Hausen.
The move paved the way for the La Tondena franchise, which eventually carried the Ginebra name, to become the country’s most popular team with Jaworski leading the charge.
Under Jaworski, Ginebra won four PBA championships before resigning from his role as playing coach in 1998.
NEVER SAY DIE
Historians credited a memorable 1985 game between Ginebra and guest team Northern Consolidated at The ULTRA as the birth of the team’s “Never Say Die” attitude, thanks in part to Jaworski’s decision to overcome pain.
Jaworski was forced to leave the game after sustaining a busted lip courtesy of a Jeff Moore elbow, only to make his return from being treated at nearby Medical City to lead Ginebra for a dramatic 99-96 win over the team that later on in the year gave the country its last ABC title.
Comeback victories made through blue-collar attitude became the mantra of Jaworski teams from then on.
THE END OF THE COLD WAR
The bitter feud between Jaworski and Fernandez came to an end in the inaugural PBA All-Star Game at The ULTRA in 1989 when the two executed the game-winner that propelled the Veterans to victory over the Rookies-Sophomores squad.
The game was tied at 130-all when Jaworski inbounded the ball to Fernandez, who drove to the baseline before converting a layup at the buzzer, much to the delight of the packed crowd,
But the audience saved their loudest cheers when winning coach Baby Dalupan urged the two to shake hands, which Jaworski and Fernandez obliged.
Fernandez would repay the favor 14 years later.
WALKOUT AND 3-1 COMEBACK
Jaworski and his team had a brief but memorable rivalry with a young Formula Shell side in the early-90s that began when Anejo staged a walkout in Game 6 of the 1990 First Conference. The move prompted the PBA to award the title to Shell while slapping Anejo with a then-record P500,000 fine.
Ginebra exacted revenge on Shell the following year in the 1991 First Conference Finals, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win the franchise’s third PBA championship. The comeback ended on a dramatic shot by Rudy Distrito with one second left in the deciding seventh game.
FINAL YEARS WITH GINEBRA
After several years of struggle, Jaworski was able to once again enjoy some success, beginning in 1996 with the selection of Marlou Aquino as the top pick of the Draft. His arrival helped Ginebra complete the formation of a talented core that included Noli Locsin, Bal David, Vince Hizon and Pido Jarencio.
Ginebra made its way to the finals in the 1996 Governors’ Cup, but became the final hurdle in Alaska’s Grand Slam season. After falling short again in the 1997 All-Filipino Cup with a loss to Purefoods, Gordon’s Gin got back at Alaska and ruled that year’s Commissioner’s Cup that turned to be Jaworski’s final PBA championship.
Jaworski, already doing double duties following his election as senator in the 1998 polls, would relinquish his post in frustration over San Miguel Corporation’s decision to appoint Allan Caidic as playing assistant coach.
REUNION TO REMEMBER
Jaworski capped off the 2003 Reunion Game between Toyota and Crispa by hitting a three-point shot late to seal the Tamaraws’ 65-61 win over the Redmanizers at the Araneta Coliseum.
The shot wouldn’t be possible without Fernandez, whose kickout pass from the post led to the dramatic ending to the old-timers game pitting the two arch enemies.
In what is considered as a closure to his PBA career, Jaworski’s famous No. 7 jersey was retired by the team he made famous prior to a game between Ginebra and Petron at the Big Dome.
The ceremony included a 20-minute speech by Jaworski, who thanked those who helped made the legend he became.