The PBA All-Star Weekend is the talent showcase of its superstars. The best of the best meet in a battle between North and South and in some cases, it differs in age as well as seasons logged. Most recently, the All-Star Weekend served as a practice to test the national team... in multiple venues and rosters.
The first official PBA All-Star Game happened in 1988 but there have been incarnations that dated back to its inaugural year. There was even a time in which the Crispa Redmanizers took on a PBA Select squad and the league would take on visiting NBA franchises like the Golden State Warriors and then-champs, Washington Bullets.
But this showcase of superstars is at times snubbed. Mark Caguioa had at least three instances of ditching the weekend to heal an injury. Talk N Text pulled out most of its troops so the team can rest. And yeah, through the years, we have seen a couple of all-star participants that averaged fewer than three points and less than 15 minutes of action.
Only in the Philippines.
This blog isn’t about those who played or failed to play in the main game though. Through the years, we have seen the best players in terms of shooting accuracy, dribbling wizardry, and insane hops ditch the side events. In their place, we have a slew of ballers who never made the actual All-Star Game but had their time in the spotlight courtesy of the side events.
The game starts now.
Why is Bitoy Omolon on this list? Omolon had a respectable career playing for the Sta. Lucia Realtors and even had a string of titles as part of the San Miguel Beermen. Heck, he even had a Mythical Second Team mention as part of the Realtors! But the thing about Omolon is that he never made the all-star main event… unlike his 2004 batchmates James Yap, Gary David, Sonny Thoss, Ranidel de Ocampo, Marc Pingris, Paul Artadi, and Rich Alvarez. Omolon is an exceptional player who never got the all-star push because he played for a small market squad that barely had a championship tradition as compared to the other franchises of his era. The closest Omolon ever got to an all-star game is when he became the 2005 and 2006 PBA Blitz Game MVP. While yeah, they are MVPs... but not in the 5-on-5 scrimmage that mattered.
The diminutive combo guard is once part of the San Sebastian Stags squad that ruled the NCAA in the 90s. Romel Adducul is the main man, Brixter Encarnacion is the secondary scorer, Banjo Calpito is the muscle, Rommel Daep is the voice of reason, Buboy Tanigue is the spark plug off the bench, and Jasper Ocampo is the point guard extraordinaire. He had a respectable time in the PBA. In fact, he had the third-best career out of his teammates and at one point, headlined Pop Cola's point guard situation. But when the Pop Cola Panthers became the Coca-Cola Tigers, Ocampo moved to the MBA’s Laguna Lakers. The reason why he's on the list? Ocampo is a two-time three-point shootout champion - winning the event in 1998 and 1999.
Mark Macapagal, alongside Christian Coronel and Jam Alfad, continued the winning tradition of the 90s edition of the San Sebastian Stags. While the Adducul-led Stags was a tough act to follow, Macapagal's version still had contenders status. With that said, Macapagal’s fallen draft stock is basically why players must time their draft applications well. The almost undrafted player got selected by Talk N Text in the late second round in the 2005 PBA Draft but was left unsigned. He would then go to Barangay Ginebra where he became a key player off the bench. Macapagal would finish his pro career bouncing from team to team but only after a record haul of five three-point shootout trophies and he is also the only player in PBA history to win the long-distance tiff as part of three different franchises.
Joey Mente was an odd choice to become the last pick of the 2001 PBA Draft first-round because there were still a lot of MBA refugees in the draft. I am not saying that he was bad… I’m just saying that up until the first MBA season, the Manila crowd wasn’t familiar with Joey Mente’s gameplay (especially since Iloilo had losing seasons during his stint). The former Iloilo Megavolt was picked ahead of Ato Morano, Kenny Evans, Dave Bautista, San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora, Tropang Trumpo alum Maui Roca, and future big names like 43rd pick Peter June Simon and 44th pick Topex Robinson. As the fourth guard off the bench, Mente did a good job of giving the Beermen quality minutes. In fact, there was a time when Mente became the team’s chief firestarter in the second half. But yeah, he was best known as a frequent participant of the slam dunk contest. The undersized rim-rattler would use his athleticism to battle the event's most accomplished stars like KG Canaleta and Cyrus Baguio. Mente only had one slam dunk victory in 2001 but the 5’10 Spud Webb-like baller was a frequent participant of the event.
I would have wanted Rob Johnson to shine in the PBA. The third-round pick of the Barangay Ginebra Kings is a natural on the mic. When he said “Talaga, Talaga”, it came out of nowhere, and in no time, we were using it as an unofficial tagline during my time in PBA on NBN. I mean... the PBA's tagline back then was "Ito ang Game Ko" which is clearly a take on the NBA's "This is our Game". With that said, winning the obstacle course challenge in 2003 and 2004 is, unfortunately, his biggest PBA accomplishment. Johnson bounced from team to team and in an instant was out of the league which led to his retirement. At least, Johnson found his calling as a preacher. As I mentioned, Rob Johnson is a natural talker.
Aside from Bong Alvarez… the number 23 during the 90s is synonymous to Ric-Ric Marata. In fact, Alvarez used number 21 in his rookie year because Marata already wore jersey #23 (by the way, Alvarez is Alaska's first-round pick then and Marata is the team's third-choice after Elmer Cabahug. The Visayan playmaker is a menace from the long-range – much like most stars from the south of his era – which includes long-time Cabahug. Cabahug and Marata took pride in their three-point shooting - as most snipers from the South. And speaking of their long-distance rivalry, Marata dethroned Cabahug as the three-point king in the 1994 All-Star Game. He would later repeat his feat in 1996 as part of the Sunkist Orange Juicers. The thing about Marata though is that while he was a top-notch backup PG, he is also the first player his team would shop as part of a trade bundle. I guess this is one of the reasons why his career never really flourished. Even with the odds against him though, Marata was still able to terrorize his opponents with his treys.
It came as a shock to me that Boyet Fernandez never played an all-star game. This is why I hate some of the names that played in the main game. There was a time when this diminutive guard was almost part of the Philippine Team and yet, he has no all-star nods as compared to some of the Gilas Cadets from the 2016 PBA Special Draft. Now I am sorry for hinting displeasure but… Boyet Fernandez had a couple of seasons where he balled like hell. There was a time when his crunch time bombs were impossible not to guard even if this would win that the likes of Alvin Patrimonio would be left open. Fernandez won the three-point shootout in 2000 and 2001 and could have had a three-peat but the league failed to hold an all-star weekend in 2002.
At the time of this writing, the Alaska slasher has yet to reach 30. And this is good because he’ll have a ton load of opportunities to claim an all-star nod. With that said, he has yet to make an all-star main game appearance. However, he is the 2016 and 2017 obstacle challenge winner so at least his consolation prize from getting the snub is a title. Unfortunately, this was taken from him as well as the obstacle challenge becoming an avenue for the league’s big men to dribble, triple, and hustle as if they are point guards. Sure, seeing Beau Belga dribbling is cool and Ken Bono running a fast break is just as mind-numbing but the PBA could have made another version for the guards. As mentioned, after his two-peat, Ahanmisi’s teammate Beau Belga won the annual competition twice.
Belga could have a separate part on this list but the CEO of Extra Rice Incorporated has been a frequent participant of the All-Star Game.
Chot Reyes had an eye for scouting Fil-Am talent. He discovered Kelly Williams and Gabe Norwood and had a hand in the acquisitions of Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz. In preparation for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, he spotted Matt Rosser – a reed-thin kid who is said to be a cross between Williams and Norwood. I can’t say that MGR is a bust because he got picked ahead of Chris Banchero, Jericho Cruz, the Semerad twins, and Manny F’N Pacquiao (2014 was a weak draft) but it’s not like he had an exceptional stat line. After a solid rookie year, his stock faded in Talk N Text. When he moved to San Miguel, he can’t even average two points per game. With that said, he is still the 2015 Rookies versus Sophomore MVP and he won this despite a 50-point game from Terrence Romeo.
He is the reason why I have this list. The former Letran Knight finished his collegiate career strong when Rajko Toroman chose him to participate in the original Smart-Gilas pool. Amongst other variables, an injury kept him from international competitions like the Jones Cup, Stankovic Cup, and the Dubai International Tournament, among other tiffs. Alongside other Gilas standouts like Rabeh Al-Hussaini and RJ Jazul, Guevarra applied for the 2010 PBA Draft where he got selected third overall by Air21… and that sucked for Fafa Rey. For most of his pro career, he’s either part of the reserve list or the twelfth man off the bench. It’s also hard to invest in his talents because he often finds himself as part of an annual trade odyssey. But Guevarra always finds a good time during the all-star weekend. He once was voted as the MVP of a Greats versus Stalwarts match but he shines the most when he tomahawks a rim-rattler or when he teabags his teammates en route to a perfect score. Guevarra has tied KG Canaleta for having the most slam dunk contest win in league history. Hopefully, he finds a way to cash-in on his in-game talents.
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