PBA Best Import basketball

PBA Best Import Awardees Who Didn’t Play in the Finals

Johnathan Williams III joins 10 other PBA players who were named Best Import but didn’t play in the finals of that conference.

There was a mild surprise on Friday, February 8, just before Game 4 of the PBA Season 48 Commissioner’s Cup Finals between the San Miguel Beermen and the Magnolia Hotshots.

The conference’s Best Import award was about to be handed out, and the two imports that were considered the favorites to win – SMB’s Bennie Boatwright and Magnolia’s Tyler Bey – were shown on the jumbotron.

History was on the side of one of the two winning it. In the 72 times that a Best Import award has been handed out – dating back to the first winner, Toyota’s Andy Fields in the 1981 Open Conference – an import from a team in the finals of that conference had gone on to win it. Only 10 times in PBA history was the Best Import award given to an import not playing in the finals.

Now, it’s 11, after the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters’ Johnathan Williams III, whose team reached only the semifinals of the Commissioner’s Cup, was announced as the winner.

Who were the 10 others? Here’s the complete list in chronological order:

Russell Murray, Yco-Tanduay (1981 Reinforced Filipino)

The Best Import award was only two conferences old when Yco-Tanduay’s Russell Murray bagged the award, even though his team finished only fourth. Murray averaged 47.1 points per game, including a single-game conference-high 74 points, to become the second Best Import awardee and the first not to come from a team that made it to the finals.

Michael Hackett, Ginebra San Miguel (1985 Reinforced)

Hackett came along at the most opportune time, right in the very conference where the Ginebra franchise’s never-say-die mantra was born. Ginebra sputtered in the semifinals to fall to the third-place playoffs, where Hackett made history in the very first game of the best-of-seven series against Great Taste by dropping an all-time single-game PBA record of 103 points. Hackett averaged 50.5PPG and scored 50 or more in 10 of his 24 games for Ginebra to emerge as the clear winner.

Jamie Waller, Añejo Rum 65 (1988 Open)

In the 1988 Open Conference, Waller became the second straight import of the Ginebra franchise, now known as Añejo Rum 65, to win Best Import but not play in the finals after the 65ers fell short in the semifinals and eventually settled for fourth place. Waller averaged 46.0 points per game, with a single-game high of 64, to beat out more celebrated imports Norman Black of San Miguel and David Thirdkill of Purefoods for the award.

Bobby Parks, Sr., Formula Shell Zoom Masters (1990 Third Conference)

During his PBA prime, Parks was an unstoppable player. He won the Best Import award a record seven times, a level of brilliance so unmatched that the league eventually named the award after him. The fifth time he won, in the 1990 Third Conference, was the first and only time his team didn’t make the finals. But such was his talent level that he still won despite a crowded import field that conference where each team was allowed to play two reinforcements.

Ronnie Coleman, Pepsi Mega Bottlers (1994 Governors’ Cup)

Coleman was the first import from the Pepsi franchise to be named Best Import after leading the Bottlers to the top of the elimination round of the 1994 Governors’ Cup, an unfamiliar sight for a team that had mostly been at the bottom of the standings. The Bottlers eventually settled for third place, but Coleman had done enough to win the award, especially since the two imports who did make the finals – Alaska’s Sean Chambers and Swift’s Herb Jones – both came on as replacements and didn’t play as many games as Coleman did.

Stevin Smith, Sunkist Orange Juicers (1995 Governors’ Cup)

Smith was supposed to be the last piece to Sunkist’s 1995 grand slam dreams. The Orange Juicers had won the All-Filipino and Commissioner’s Cups, and were heavy favorites in the season-ending Governors’ Cup, but got waylaid in the semifinals to fall to the third-place series. Still, Smith lived up to his billing as a gifted scorer, averaging 38.2 points per game in 21 games while shooting a phenomenal 62% on 2-point field goals.

Jeff Ward, San Miguel Beermen (1997 Commissioner’s Cup)

Ward and the Beermen came tantalizingly close to making the finals of the 1997 Commissioner’s Cup, losing to eventual champions Gordon’s Gin Boars in overtime in a knockout game. Ward wasn’t much of a scorer, averaging only 19.8PPG with a single-game high of only 29 – but he was a picture of consistency and a team player. The imports of the two teams in the finals – Chris King of the Boars and Kevin Holland of the Alaska Milkmen – were both replacements, whereas Ward was the Beermen’s only import from the start.

Larry Robinson, San Miguel Beermen (1997 Governors’ Cup)

A legitimate NBA veteran, Robinson put up impressive numbers for the Beermen in the 1997 Governors’ Cup, averaging 32.3PPG and 13.RPG with a single-game high on 49 over 20 games. Unfortunately, the top-seeded Beermen were upset in the best-of-five semifinals by the fourth-seeded Purefoods Carne Norte Beefies and had to settle for third place behind the Beefies and the eventual champions Alaska Milkmen.

Arizona Reid, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (2011 Governors’ Cup)

Reid holds the distinction of being the only Best Import winner on a team that didn’t finish in the top four. He pulled off the feat in the 2011 Governors’ Cup, when the Elasto Painters finished fifth overall. Reid had an advantage in that the three of the four teams that finished ahead of Rain or Shine in the standings went through three imports, whereas he was there from day one. He played 13 games and averaged 28.7 points and 15.4 rebounds over 13 games.

Arinze Onuaku, Meralco Bolts (2016 Commissioner’s Cup)

Prior to Williams, Onuaku was the last Best Import winner who didn’t play in the finals. His team, the Meralco Bolts, lost in five games to the Alaska Aces in their best-of-five semifinal series, and much like Reid, he benefitted from the fact that the two teams that did make the finals – the Aces and the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters – both went through multiple imports that conference. Onuaku, on the other hand, was the Bolts’ lone import and played in 16 games with averages of 18.5 points and 17.5 rebounds per game.

Lead photo credit: PBA Images

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