The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is brimming with sensational imports who have left an unforgettable mark on the league. They’re in the PBA for different reasons: journeymen keeping their basketball careers alive, NCAA studs scouring for their next big break, and pro ballers looking for their next paycheck.
The PBA has seen its fair share of athletic titans in its 48-year history, which is why making a “best imports of all time” list is no easy task. But if we had to narrow it down to the Best Five, the following are the ones we’d pick based on accolades, team impact, and cultural relevance.
Tony Harris via Spin.ph
Played in the PBA: 1992-93, 1996, 1998
Surely, a list of the best PBA imports of all time can’t be complete without the “Hurricane” Tony Harris. Standing 6’3”, Harris was an absolute powerhouse who put up big numbers the moment he set foot on a PBA court.
His PBA debut with the Swift Mighty Meaties on September 22, 1992, was an omen of the scoring explosions that were to come, as he exploded for 87 points in a 134-106 win over San Miguel.
His most memorable PBA outing, though, came less than a month later in Iloilo City, where he scored a mindboggling 105 points in a 151-147 victory over Ginebra. To this day, that number remains the record for most points scored in a single PBA game. And as if to show everyone that his 100-point night was not a fluke, Harris scored 98 more versus Presto the very next week.
Harris carried Swift to the Governors’ Cup title that year and was the no-brainer choice for Best Import of that tournament. Needless to say, Harris was one of the most dominant bucket-getters in PBA history and easily makes this list of the best imports ever.
The Top 5
Billy Ray Bates
Billy Ray Bates
Played in the PBA: 1983-1988
Nicknamed “Black Superman,” Bates was one of the most electrifying and dominant imports with his incredible scoring ability, athleticism, and showmanship. Although he made a name for himself in the NBA as a potent scorer off the bench, his off-court troubles prevented him from fully realizing his potential.
He eventually made his way to the Philippines as the import of Crispa in the 1983 Reinforced Conference. He didn’t take long to make the league his own, as he debuted with 64 points and 20 rebounds in a thrilling 120-119 victory over resident PBA superstar Norman Black and his team, Great Taste.
Bates led the Redmanizers to a second “Grand Slam” in 1983. In 49 games played for Crispa, Bates put up staggering numbers of over 41 points, nearly 11 rebounds, and over six assists per game.
Bates returned in 1986 to play for Sonny Jaworski and Ginebra San Miguel, pairing with Michael Hackett to help the team win the Open Conference title. However, that proved to be Bates’ last taste of PBA glory, as his penchant for the nightlife and off-court troubles prevented him from leading Ginebra to any more titles.
Justin Brownlee via Inquirer
Played in the PBA: 2016-present
No other modern-day PBA import has captured the fancy of Barangay Ginebra and basketball fans alike more than Justin Brownlee. The 6’6” import of the league’s most popular team has won six PBA titles—two in the Commissioner’s Cup and four in the Governors’ Cup—tying him with former Alaska great Sean Chambers for most titles for an import in league history. He’s also won the Best Import award three times in a PBA career that began in 2016.
But more than the highlights and the clutch performances—his buzzer-beating, title-winning three-pointer in Game 6 of the 2016 Governors’ Cup will forever be an all-time PBA moment—Brownlee embracing the Philippines, its people, and its culture continues to endear him to fans. He’s even become a naturalized citizen and has played for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian qualifier against Lebanon.
Sean Chambers via ESPN
Played in the PBA: 1989-2001
Sean Chambers never flew with the greatest of ease, nor did he put up eye-popping numbers like some of the imports on this list. Chambers, though, was the epitome of consistency, so much so that he was awarded the league’s “Mr. 100 Percent Award” in 1991. He also led the Milkmen to their very PBA title that year, averaging 37.7 points in two conferences.
He later sparked Alaska’s “Grand Slam” run in 1996, averaging 29.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in the import-laden conferences. Chambers was never flashy or glitzy, which may be the reason why he’s not often involved in conversations of the PBA’s GOAT imports. Nevertheless, he was an invaluable piece of the Milkmen’s success and holds the record for most titles by a PBA import with six.
Norman Black via ESPN
Played in the PBA: 1981-1998
“Mr. 100%” made his debut in the PBA in 1981 for Tefillin Polyesters, averaging a remarkable 51 points and 24 rebounds per game, which spoke volumes of the all-around abilities of the Baltimore native. The very next year, Black moved to San Miguel Beer and led the team to its second PBA crown, winning the 1982 Invitations with a rousing victory over South Korea. Black averaged nearly 43 points and 20 rebounds during that stretch.
Black would end up with 11,329 points in his 17-year PBA career, which remains the most points by a non-Filipino in league history. He finished his career with two PBA titles and two Best Import awards before transitioning to coaching. To date, Black has amassed 11 PBA and five UAAP championships in what has been a stellar coaching career.
Bobby Parks Sr.
Bobby Parks Sr via Spin.ph
Played in the PBA: 1987-1999
Let’s finish this list with the player they named the Best Import Award: the late, great Bobby Parks. Sr.
The Grand Junction, Tennessee native began his career with San Miguel in 1987, but it was with Formula Shell that he truly made his mark. Parks led the Zoom Masters to two PBA titles and won the Best Import award an unprecedented seven times. To give this feat even more context, no other PBA import has won the award more than thrice.
The 6-foot-4 scoring machine finished his remarkable PBA career with nearly 9,000 points—putting him second all-time before Norman Black—and outstanding averages of 40.5 points, 15.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game.
Norman Black “Mr. 100%” for me is the greatest import.