Tommy Manotoc continues to feel a sense of accomplishment 40 years after steering U-Tex to one of the most incredible title victories in PBA history.
“(Beating) Toyota was an achievement that we felt like we did a lot,” Manotoc said in June when he appeared in the Usapang Basketball webinar.
The manner by how the Wranglers claimed the PBA Open Conference crown on Aug. 2, 1980 with a 99-98 overtime win at the Araneta Coliseum is a good reason why Manotoc should describe it in such a way.
U-Tex was supposed to be on the losing end of the best-of-five series after being down by four points with 16 seconds remaining. But in a stunning turnaround, the Wranglers were able to force the game into overtime where they were able to complete the remarkable triumph.
Toyota was supposed to have the title won when Francis Arnaiz scored a layup to make it 94-90. There was jubilation all around the Tamaraws bench and their fans while the Wranglers were on the brink of paying dearly for making a curious gamble in Game 4.
U-Tex trailed by as many as 21 points, but tried to mount a comeback by pulling within nine early in the payoff period. But Manotoc chose to do the unthinkable by sitting out his starters, namely Bogs Adornado and even imports Glenn McDonald and Aaron James.
Toyota would pull away to force a rubber match while Manotoc dealt with the responsibility of explaining his decision.
“The game was totally lost for us and it was useless fighting when I knew we could not win anymore,” said Manotoc after the game, adding that U-Tex management supported his strategy.
“I told management that if we could not lower Toyota’s margin to five points early in the fourth quarter, I will be forced to rest my top guns,” added Manotoc, then just 31. “We played badly. I’m happy it happened tonight.”
Manotoc, according to newspaper accounts, later said that he quoted a Chinese proverb which stated: “One step backward and two steps forward.”
Criticism spilled into the opinions section of the major dailies.
“No amount of rationalization will convince basketball ‘aficionados to believe the U-Tex team did not throw the game away for a consideration,” wrote Bulletin Today columnist Jesus Bigornia.
“For their dispirited showing, compounded by the suspicion they have been ‘reached,’ the Wranglers became the butt of jeers and the object of balled-up newspapers thrown onto the hard court. Even the most ardent ‘Wrangler’ fans hung their heads in shame,” added Bigornia.
There was determination for U-Tex to silence the critics with a crew powered by Adornado, who was looking to add a championship to his major comeback after joining the Wranglers following a rash of injuries that hounded him during his days with the Crispa Redmanizers.
There’s also McDonald, who four years earlier played a key role in the Boston Celtics’ epic triple overtime win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, former New Orleans Jazz cager James, ex-La Salle star Lim Eng Beng and Fritz Gaston.
But even that determined spirit looked like it would go for naught when Arnaiz’s layup gave he Tamaraws that 94-90 lead. Manotoc, however, was not giving up without trying.
“Percentage-wise, medyo tapos na,” he said during the Usapang Basketball webinar. “But I said don’t give up.”
James scored a quick basket on the return play to cut the gap to two. Prior to that, Manotoc, known for his emphasis on defense throughout his coaching career, had instructions to wait for the pass and go for the steal, with McDonald tasked to intercept the inbound given his athleticism.
And lo and behold, McDonald got the interception off Tuadles’ inbound before getting fouled by Arnaiz, subsequently making two pressure-packed free throws that sent Game 5 into overtime.
The Wranglers trailed again in the extension 98-96 but Lim Eng Beng hit a free throw off Ramon Fernandez’s sixth foul before Adornado delivered the go-ahead shot with over a minute to go. Adornado’s basket eventually became the match winner as U-Tex became a two-time champion, repeating the feat after its 1978 second conference triumph where it beat Crispa.
Manotoc reflected on the previous game.
“Who knows, maybe it was those six minutes of rest which gave my boys the extra strength to pull off that win. The victory certainly was a vindication on our part,” Manotoc said after being given a victory ride.
For Toyota import Andy Fields, the loss still lingers to this day.
“That was the worst loss in my entire career,” lamented Fields during an episode of An Eternity of Basketball weeks ago.
Now 71 years old, it seems that Manotoc couldn’t still figure out how his Wranglers did it in the most unimaginable fashion.
“In fairness to Toyota, they thought they had it won, which ordinarily you do with four points and 16 seconds (remaining),” he said,
“The basketball gods favored us then. It’s a rarity in basketball, especially at those levels and playing a very high caliber team with very seasoned players.”