If the Philippines were to have one national pastime, it’s a safe assumption that it would be basketball. Our physical size and stature as a people have hardly served as a deterrent to our love of the game. In fact, founded in the mid-seventies, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is the second oldest professional basketball league in the world after the National Basketball Association (NBA), and it’s the first in Asia.
What we lack in height, we make up for in passion, determination, and grit. It wasn’t too long ago that the Philippines was one of the perennial giants in the international basketball scene. And through the years, it’s hardly a surprise that we’ve had some world-class Filipino players grace the hardwood of our stadiums.
Condensing the list of greatest Filipino basketball players to 10 is no easy feat. In performing such a task, we will invariably leave somebody out.
To narrow it down, we carefully considered individual accolades, team accomplishments, stats, longevity, and overall impact on the game. If your favorite player didn’t make the cut, feel free to let us know; by choosing to make a list, we fully expect some vigorous debate. Coming up with a top 10 list for anything is pretty much subjective after all.
Many will agree with us, others won’t be pleased. So here it goes: Here are the 10 best of all time.
Often considered the GOAT of the PBA, the iconic Alvin Patrimonio has several PBA records under his belt, which include the most consecutive games played (596), third most points scored in history (15,091), fourth-most rebounds grabbed in history, and second-most PBA Most Valuable Player awards.
In addition, he also has three Best Player of the Conference awards, won five championships with Purefoods, and is an Asian Games legend. A resume like his is hard to beat.
Teams: Alaska Aces, Pop Cola Panthers/Coca-Cola Tigers, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel
A multiple-time member of the Philippine National Team, the Flying A was the 1996 PBA Most Valuable Player, impressively becoming the shortest player to win the league’s highest individual honor. He was known for his otherworldly court vision and passing abilities. There were even whispers of him trying out for NBA squads at one point. Frankly, we can’t say we’re surprised.
June Mar Fajardo
Team: Petron Blaze Boosters/San Miguel Beermen
There is little debate that the Kraken has to be in the GOAT convo. June Mar Fajardo holds the nearly unattainable feat of having won six straight MVPs. Fajardo is also an eight-time champion, a three-time Finals MVP, and an eight-time Best Player of the Conference awardee—and that’s just tip of the iceberg. His achievements are even more impressive considering he’s still playing at a high level most young athletes aspire for.
Years: 1997-present (yep, it’s unreal)
Teams: TNT Tropang Giga, Coca-Cola Tigers, Meralco Bolts, Air21 Express/NLEX Road Warriors
Asi Taulava may be the oldest active player in the league at a staggering 49 years of age but in his (long) prime, he was a certifiable beast. Standing 6ft 9in (2.06m) tall and weighing 245 pounds (111kg), the Rock is considered by many to be one of the most dominant Filipino bigs to ever play the center position.
Across his illustrious two-decade-long career, Taulava has used his Herculean strength to overpower opponents for points and rebounds. He is a mainstay in the Philippine national team and has made his mark in international play as well. And in addition to that, his individual accolades include the 2003 MVP award, two All-Star Game MVP awards, and the 2013 ABL MVP award.
Team: Toyota, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel
Before he entered the political arena, Robert Jaworski played 23 seasons in the Philippine Basketball Association, becoming the league’s all-time assists leader. He is often on the shortlist of the best and most popular PBA players of all time. He was named part of the PBA’s 40 Greatest Players and was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 2005. He won gold multiple times in the FIBA Asian Games, MVP awards, and championships—a true leader on and off the court.
Teams: Shell Turbo Chargers, San Miguel Beermen
Now a showbiz mainstay, Benjie Paras was once the only PBA player to win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors in a single season (1989). As its star center, Paras led the Shell Turbo Chargers to multiple championship titles. His resume is stacked with a couple of MVP awards, championships, Mythical Five selections, a Comeback Player of the Year award and Best Player of the Conference honors, and many all-star nods. You name it, he’s done it.
He’s also the dad of Kobe Paras, once a top college prospect and now a professional baller in Japan.
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz
Clarkson may not be fully Filipino, but the NBA standout has honorably donned the Gilas uniform several times. In the NBA, he’s a fierce scorer and an asset to every team he’s been on. He’s had the rare distinction of having played with both Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Today, he’s on the Utah Jazz where he has won the prestigious Sixth Man of the Year award. He’s in the prime of his career, and we’re looking forward to what else he has in his bag.
Teams: Great Taste, San Miguel Beermen, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel
The Triggerman has broken numerous Philippine and PBA records. He holds the impregnable record of most points scored in a single game (79 points), as well as the most three-point field goals made in a single game (17), the most consecutive free throws made (76), and second most three-point field goals in a career.
He has played with several PBA teams and won numerous championships. He played for the Philippine national basketball team including the 1998 Philippine Centennial Team. He has also won a league MVP award and countless mythical five selections.
Teams: Toyota, Manila Beer, Tanduay Rhum, Purefoods, San Miguel Beermen
Fernandez has won four PBA Most Valuable Player awards and a whopping 19 PBA titles (the PBA record for an individual player). He has racked up 18,996 points and holds the title of PBA’s all-time scoring leader.
In addition, he is the PBA’s all-time leader in rebounds, blocked shots, free throws made, minutes played, and second all-time in assists, games played, and steals. He also won a gold medal for the Philippines in the 1973 FIBA Asia Championship.
Teams: Magnolia Hotshots, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters
A perennial fan favorite, King James has been selected to start in every All-Star game since he entered the PBA. He is third in Purefoods in points all time, has two MVP awards under his belt, and is a seven-time PBA champion.
He has had international success, too, having won gold in the Southeast Asian games and the SEABA championship.
Words Daniel Mabanta