Jimmy Alapag’s recent photo with Marqus Blakely got me thinking of the past years in the PBA when imports got multiple opportunities to play in the league.
Looking at the field now, only three imports in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup have prior experience in the league. Only two returned to their original teams with one in Tom Vodanovich only playing a single game for the Converge FiberXers in his first tour of duty.
While it looks like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be TNT Tropang Giga’s resident import and Justin Brownlee will remain the first choice of the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel until his wheels fall off, there have not been many reinforcements who have booked multiple return trips.
On paper, it’s obvious why having a resident import works. Just ask Norman Black, Bobby Parks, Sean Chambers, or Lamont Strothers. Chemistry is automatic, coaches already know what they’re getting, and they don’t have to keep on adjusting to the PBA brand of basketball. The results have also been undeniable. A huge chunk of coach Tim Cone’s championships were won with the help of Chambers, Blakely, and Brownlee.
With that, here’s a look at some of the imports who have at least three trips to the PBA with the same team. The list will only cover the league's 36th season and onward after it reverted to the three-conference setup.
Justin Brownlee - Barangay Ginebra San Miguel
Since linking up in 2016, Ginebra only played four games with another import. Charles Garcia stood in for Brownlee after he won a championship in the ASEAN Basketball League for San Miguel Alab Pilipinas.
Brownlee remains to be the barometer for all PBA imports and is making a strong case to be the best the country has ever seen. With six PBA championships, three Best Import awards, a Southeast Asian Games gold medal, and an Asian Games gold medal, he has won everything there is to win in the Philippines. And he isn’t done yet.
Ginebra may be playing with Tony Bishop for a few games this conference, but the squad is surely waiting with bated breath to have the suspended Brownlee again.
Allen Durham - Meralco Bolts
Whenever the name of Brownlee is mentioned, Durham’s isn’t that far behind. After debuting in the PBA with the Barako Bull Energy in 2014, he found a home with Meralco where he had four stints, including three trips to the PBA Governors’ Cup finals.
With his combination of brute strength and finesse at his height, it’s obvious why Durham became a resident import. These same accolades opened doors for him in the region, and he’s been with the Ryukyu Golden Knights of the Japan B.League for the past three seasons now.
He’s won a championship there already and there remains to be a lot of PBA fans who are hoping he could pursue the elusive crown in the PBA.
ALSO READ: PBA fan favorite import Allen Durham shares formula for staying on top of game
Marqus Blakely - B-Meg Llamados/San Mig Coffee Mixers/Star Hotshots
Did you know that Blakely played for other teams outside of San Mig Coffee? He had very short stints with TNT and the Blackwater Elite but he became unforgettable with the Mixers as he book-ended four straight championships for the franchise that included a rare grand slam.
He was not a great shooter. His offense was a bit rough around the edges and his fans got nervous whenever he was on the free throw line. But he really cared about the game, and his passion translated to effort.
He went up against many talented imports during his day but he helped his locals elevate their game, and that’s why he won multiple championships and was asked to return several times.
Denzel Bowles - B-Meg Llamados/San Mig Coffee Mixers/Star Hotshots
Ah, who could forget about the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals Game 7 in 2013?
Back then, it seemed Cone found his perfect import. Bowles was still young and already a PBA champion. He had two more stints with the franchise but they could not find that same magic again. His last tour of duty was cut short after limping to a 1-4 win-loss tally.
Bowles had a couple of chances to return to the PBA but his stint with TNT in 2017 was over before it even started. He had another chance with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in 2019 but it was also a lackluster performance. The team dropped him after nine games.
Eugene Phelps - Phoenix Fuel Masters
Like Durham, Phelps was perfect for the PBA Governors’ Cup. He stands under the 6-foot-6 limit but is naturally a power forward/center. As a result, he had four campaigns from 2016 to 2019 in the PBA. But his best conference was his first, averaging 36.4 points and 19.5 rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Fuel Masters, they had to battle number one seed TNT in the quarterfinals, where Phelps’ 39 points and 17 rebounds were not enough to get them the win.
Still, Phelps was good enough to get called back multiple times, with his ability to drop 40 points on any given night a much-needed luxury for Phoenix.
Arizona Reid - Rain or Shine Elasto Painters/San Miguel Beermen
A unique player in this list, AZ had three tours of duty each for two different teams. He debuted in the PBA in 2011 with the Elasto Painters, coming back in 2013 and 2014. He was named Best Import twice with Rain or Shine.
He then started playing for the Beermen in 2015, helping them win the PBA Governors’s Cup title.
Fans grew to love Reid, with his flowing dreadlocks, because of his fun character and desire to win. It helps that he also has a memorable three-point celebration.
Wayne Chism - Coach Yeng Guiao
Pardon me as I’ll cheat a little bit with this one. Chism only played two conferences with Rain or Shine in 2014 and 2016 but he had a stint with the NLEX Road Warriors in 2017 when the team was under Guiao.
Chism would return to the PBA in 2018 with the Magnolia Hotshots, but his best conferences were with his original coach in the league.
Honorable Mentions: Henry Walker (Alaska Aces/NLEX/Rain or Shine/ Blackwater), KJ McDaniels (TNT/Meralco/NLEX), and Paul Harris (Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters/Ginebra/Phoenix).
ALSO READ: Why no love?: 5 underrated imports in rich history of PBA Commissioner’s Cup
The current state of basketball in Asia makes it a little more difficult to get imports who’ll keep coming back to the PBA. We have short conferences while other leagues play entire seasons with imports.
Talented reinforcements like Durham and former PBA import Ricardo Ratliffe, who's playing in South Korea, have been signed up to long-term contracts, so PBA teams might have to get a little more creative in looking for ones who can stay.
The PBA currently has imports from Panama, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, Australia, New Zealand, the US Virgin Islands, and Belgium, and many of them have been playing well, so we might see some of them more than once in the PBA.(PM)