Philippine basketball

LOOKBACK: PBA imports with best NBA pedigree

Ariel Ian Clarito
LOOKBACK: PBA imports with best NBA pedigree

New Jersey Nets Chris Morris (L) slips under the outstretched arm of New York Knicks Anthony Mason on a fast break in the first half their NBA game 27 December in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by MARK PHILLIPS / AFP)

Before bringing their acts to the PBA, these imports delivered notable performances in the NBA

Through the years, numerous former NBA players have played in the Philippines as imports in the PBA. Some had solid NBA careers before coming over toward the tailend of their playing years, while others used the PBA as springboard to getting another crack at a roster spot in the NBA. 

Here’s a list of imports who boast the most stellar NBA careers:

Kevin Porter (1983, Toyota)

Porter was in the NBA from 1972 to 1982 before playing 8 games for the Toyota Silver Coronas until he was replaced in the 1983 Reinforced Conference. 

His 10-year NBA career, however, was far more impressive than his short stint playing alongside Robert Jaworski. 

Porter averaged 11.6 points and 8 assists for the Washington Bullets as they made the NBA Finals only to be swept by the Rick Barry-led Golden State Warriors in the 1974-1975 season. 

He led the NBA in assists for 4 seasons and became the first player in NBA history to register over 1,000 dimes in a season when he averaged 13.4 assists for the Detroit Pistons in 1978-1979. 

Porter finished with career averages of 11.6 points, 8.1 assists, and 1.4 steals.  

Larry McNeill (1979-1983, Gilbey’s Gin, Winston Kings)

McNeill holds the NBA record for most consecutive field goals made in the playoffs, making 12-of-12 for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in their game against the Chicago Bulls in 1975. 

The 6-foot-9 McNeill was a second-round pick in the 1973 NBA Draft. He played 6 seasons in the league, averaging a career-high 11.9 points per game for the Buffalo Braves in 1977-1978. He ended his NBA career averaging 8.5 points and 4.5 boards a game. 

McNeill moved on to play for Gilbeys Gin (now Ginebra) from 1979-1982. He once held the PBA record for most points, scoring 88 points for his last team, the Winston Kings, in an overtime win against Great Taste in 1983. 

Billy Ray Bates (1983, 1986-1988, Crispa, Ginebra)

One of the best imports to ever play in the PBA had the potential to be an NBA star if only he wasn’t his own worst enemy. 

Bates was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1978 but did not play in the NBA until early 1980 when he was offered a 10-day contract by the Portland Trail Blazers. Less than a month of playing in the league, he already earned Player of the Week honors. 

Bates – who had stints in jail and alcohol rehab centers – was an explosive scorer whose athleticism and strength allowed him to bulldoze his way to the basket. In the playoffs, he averaged 25 points in their first round loss versus Seattle. 

In his second year, Bates averaged 28.3 points, a Blazers record to this day, in another first round playoff loss.

His career playoff average of 26.7 points is the highest scoring average by a non-starter in NBA history.

Kevin Gamble (1988, Ginebra)

Gamble had a forgettable rookie campaign in the NBA before he came to the Philippines in 1988 to team up with Bates in Ginebra. He and Bates were replaced after just 4 games. 

He eventually found his way to the injury-depleted Boston Celtics on December of 1988 and became part of the rotation toward the end of the season. 

In 1990-1991, he started in 76 games and averaged 15.6 points, fourth in the team behind Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis, and Kevin McHale. 

He finished second that season in the voting for Most Improved Player. He also scored in double figures in 3 more seasons with the Celtics before signing with the Miami Heat in 1994. 

In 10 NBA seasons, Gamble averaged 9.5 points, 2 boards, and 2 assists a game.

Lewis Lloyd (1990-1991, Pop Cola/Diet Sarsi)

The man known as the Black Magic was an offensive force in the PBA when he led new team Pop Cola to its first semifinals appearance in the 1990 3rd conference. 

This came as no surprise. Even in the NBA, Lloyd was a legitimate scorer.

Lloyd played his first two NBA seasons with the Golden State Warriors before blossoming as a starter with the Houston Rockets in 1983-1984 when he averaged 17.8 points, 3.9 assists, and 1.2 steals. He suited up for 3 full seasons with the Rockets and always scored in double digits in all the games he played. 

In 1986, Lloyd was meted a two and a half year suspension by the NBA for testing positive for cocaine. His career NBA averages are 13.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.

Dennis Hopson (1996, Purefoods)

The third overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in the 1987 NBA Draft, Hopson was selected ahead of Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Horace Grant, Kevin Johnson, and Kenny Smith. 

Hopson had a decent run with the Nets, even scoring 15.8 points a game during his third season with the team. He would go on to play with Chicago from 1990-1992.

He was part of the Bulls team that won the championship in 1991 although he did not get to see much playing time. He was traded to the Sacramento Kings before the Bulls won the 1992 championship. 

Hopson’s six-year NBA career saw him scoring 10.9 points a game. He ended up in the PBA in 1996 but only played one game for Purefoods. 

Chris Morris (2002, Purefoods)

Morris was the fourth overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets. He had an impressive rookie season, norming 14.1 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. 

Morris moved on to play for the Utah Jazz from 1995-1998. He averaged in double figures in his first 8 years in the NBA, but became more known as a defensive player for the Jazz in his last two seasons with the team. 

As part of the Utah rotation that went to the NBA Finals twice against the Chicago Bulls, Morris often had the unenviable task of guarding either Scottie Pippen or Michael Jordan. 

Morris finished his 11-year NBA career with averages of 11 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. 

He joined the Tender Juicy Hotdogs in the PBA as a replacement import but failed to lead the team to the quarterfinals.

Cedric Ceballos (2003, San Miguel Beer)

Ceballos played only one game for San Miguel in the 2003 Finals. But among all PBA imports with NBA experience, Ceballos’ credentials were arguably the most impressive. 

He won the 1992 Slam Dunk Contest with his now iconic blindfold dunk. Ceballos also led the entire NBA in field goal percentage (57.6%) in 1992-1993 and made the finals with the Phoenix Suns.

Ceballos averaged a career-best 21.7 points and 8 rebounds as the starter for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1994-1995 and was named to the West All-Star Team, although he missed the annual showcase due to an injury. 

The next season, he scored 21.2 and grabbed 6.9 boards a game. He ended his 11-year NBA career with averages of 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. –