February 21, 2024

Why no love?: 5 underrated imports in rich history of PBA Commissioner’s Cup

Why no love?: 5 underrated imports in rich history of PBA Commissioner’s Cup
Art by Royce Nicdao

PBA Season 48 is officially underway with the Commissioner’s Cup opening hostilities. And, perhaps fittingly, Tyler Bey of the Magnolia Hotshots got things off to an explosive start, dropping a monster double-double of 31 points and 20 rebounds to highlight the primordial role imports will be playing in this tournament.

True enough, quite a few imports have left an indelible mark in the league’s mid-season conference—so much that their names are already synonymous to the Commissioner’s Cup. Think Derek Hamilton of the Alaska Milkmen way back. Or Denzel Bowles of the BMeg Llamados. Or even Justin Brownlee of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.

Others, though, often fall under the “forgotten man” category for one reason or another, but certainly not because they were not any good. So, with that being said, let us take a look at five such imports who are criminally underrated and why (at least in our book).    

Chris McCullough – San Miguel Beermen (2019 Commissioners Cup)

McCullough is a PBA champion, yet it seems he never got the credit he deserves for what he did in the 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup. Then only 24, McCullough replaced Charles Rhodes to turn around what had been a nightmarish conference for Beermen. He capped off his heroics by outdueling NBA player Terrence Jones in the finals to lead San Miguel to the title against the TNT Tropang Giga.

McCullough averaged 32.4 points, 15.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 blocks in his lone conference in the league. And that’s perhaps the reason why non-San Miguel fans seem to sleep on the now 28-year-old American, who has been hoping to become naturalized Filipino so he can play for Gilas.  

Ivan Johnson – Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters (2015 Commissioners Cup)

Fans probably remember Johnson as the enigmatic and hotheaded import of the Tropang Texters. And, well, they are not wrong. Johnson, though, was more than a temperamental reinforcement. He was actually a perfect fit for a team long on offense but in search of an anchor on defense.

Johnson was that anchor—and more. In 18 games for Talk ‘N Text, Johnson averaged 26.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.9 steals, and 0.8 block aside from providing tenacious D and a toughness the team solely needed. The end result was a championship

Robert Dozier – Alaska Aces (2013, 2014, and 2016 Commissioner’s Cup), Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters (2019 Commissioners Cup)

Dozier was a force when he reinforced Alaska in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup, averaging 20.4 points, 17.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.9 blocks to lead the Aces to the title. His yeoman’s work that season led to two more tours of duty with the same franchise, plus another with Phoenix. Through it all, Dozier remained consistent—productive, workmanlike, and all work.

And that’s precisely why Doizer isn’t exactly mentioned as among the best Commissioner’s Cup imports of all time. He put up good numbers, all right, but they were never eye-popping. He was consistent but never spectacular. He was like Johnson in that case—a do-it-all, fill-in-the-gaps role player of an import.

Henry James – Ginebra San Miguel (1996 Commissioner’s Cup)

James is arguably on the shortlist of “specialist” imports, or those who had one great skill to fall back on. His was shooting, and boy could he shoot the lights out. He was like Klay Thompson, a shooter with unlimited range and an unconscionable mindset.

That out-of-this-world shooting, mind you, very nearly led Ginebra to the finals of the 1996 Commissioner’s Cup opposite the Alaska Milkmen. But Kenny Redfield hit a desperation one-legged runner three-point heave in a one-game playoff to send the Formula Shell Zoom Masters to the finals instead of the crowd darlings. And with that went James’ shot to leave an indelible mark as the one of the greatest marksmen the league has seen.

Ronnie Grandison – Purefoods Oodles (1993 Commissioner’s Cup), Sunkist Orange Juicers (1995 Commissioners Cup)

Hard to call a Best Import award winner underrated, but that’s exactly the case with Grandison. A player with legitimate NBA pedigree, Grandison is often left out in discussions of best imports ever in the 1990s, leapfrogged by names like Ronnie Thompkins, Terquin Mott, and even Devin Davis.

The 6-foot-6 power forward, though, was pretty good in his two PBA stints—first with the Purefoods Oodles in 1993 (27.6 points per game, 15.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks) and then with the Sunkist Orange Juicers in 1995 (25.3 points, 14.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.1 blocks), whom he led to the championship. That he is generally an afterthought is likely due to his no-flash, no-frills game. But he produced, and that’s all that matters.

Now, will this season's batch of Commissioner's Cup imports etch their name in the tournament's lore, or will they be forgotten as well?

There's only one way to find out, and that's to make sure you catch all the action live on A2Z, PBA Rush on Cignal, and the Pilipinas Live App.