FORMER Toyota player Emerito “Emer” Legaspi may have retired in the PBA in 1985, but he still fondly remembers some of his most memorable games as a player 35 years later.
In fact, three of them remain close to his heart even now that he’s leading a new life away from the bright lights of the hardcourt.
They also now form part of the basketball lore in Asia’s first play for pay league.
“Madami din aking memorable games sa basketball, lalo na nun nasa PBA ako kasama sina Jaworski, Fernandez, Arnaiz, Danny Florencio, Abe King at iba pang mga sikat sa Toyota,” said Legaspi during the recent 10th “Usapang Sports on Air” by the Tabloids Organization in Philippibe Sports (TOPS).
“Actually, hindi ako kasama sa mga supestars ng team nun. Kung baga, starlet lang ako. Yun sixth man sa team,” recalled the 66-year-old Legaspi, who bagged seven PBA titles with Toyota from 1977 to 1983.
What are his most memorable games in the PBA?
“Madami akong memorable games. I can’t mention all of them,” added Legaspi, who also worked for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) for 32 years.
“One of my most memorable games is yun laban namin sa Utex. Hindi ko ito talaga makakalimutan dahil 16 seconds to go lamang kami ng apat pero natalo pa kami. Nakakalungkot. Hindi ko makakalimutan,” recalled the 5-11 Legaspi.
Of course, long-time PBA fans still vividly remember that historic Utex-Toyota championship game in the PBA Open Conference on Aug. 2, 1980 at the Araneta Coliseum.
Handled by coach Tommy Manotoc, Utex rallied from four points down in the final 16 seconds to beat Toyota, 99-98, in overtime and capture the title before a stunned jampacked crowd.
That Game 5 victory also led Manotoc’s now famous quote based on a Chinese proverb: “One step backward and two steps forward.”
(Toyota import Andy Fields later called the loss “as the worst loss in my entire career.”)
The second most memorable game for Legaspi was the Toyora-Crispa game.
“Another memorable game was Toyota’s against Crispa.Natandaan ko 19-0 win-loss na sila at one win na lang para champion na,” recalled Legaspi.
“Pero may nangyari. Si coach Fort Acuna tinanggal ng management in the middle of the game.Nagkaroon sila ng rift ni Jaworski at hindi na nya pinapasok sa laro. Sa dugout, kinausap kami para sabihin na tatanggalin na si coach. Ang nangyari ang laki ng lamang ng Crispa sa first half pero nanalo pa kami. Hindi nila na-achueve yun 20-0 sana.”
Interestingly, Legaspi’s third most memorable game involved his wife.
“Ang isa pang memorable game sa akin is yun championship ng Gllbey’s Gin. Elimination round hindi ako pinapasok sa laro ni coach Ed Ocampo. Nagtataka na yun wife ko,” recalled Legaspi
“Hindi ko alam pinuntahan ng asawa ko si Coach Ocampo sa bahay nila sa Alabang. Nagtago nun si Ed at ang nakausap lang yun asawa nya After that, pinasok na ako ni coach Ed at swerte nag deliver naman ako at naging instrumental sa championship namin,” he said.
“Matatapos na yun kontrata ko nun at thank you sa aking asawa, na-renew uli ako.”
Looking back, Legaspi said his playing years with the University of the East where he won two UAAP titles in 1974 and 1975 and Crown Motors in the MICAA where he was adjudged as MVP-Discovery Player of the Year in 1976 paved the way for his PBA career.
“I was recruited by coach Nat Canson for Toyota’s farm team, Crown Motors, in MICAA in 1976. Parang yun kay Benjie Paras nun manalo ako ng MVP-Rookie of the Year at the same year. Pero iba yun kay Benjie dahil PBA na yun,” said Legaspi.
With Crown Motors averaged close to 28 points a game and led the team to a third-place finish in the MICAA after a last-place finish the previous year.
In 1977, Toyota coach Dante Silverio elevated Legaspi, King and Pablo Javier from Crown Motors to Toyota midway through the 1977 season to try to break Crispa’s six-conference dominance in the PBA.
Legaspi said the 1978 season also provided him a big challenge.
“In 1978, Toyota acquired a pair of superstars in Florencio and Estoy Estrada from the disbanded 7-Up side. Akala ko mawawala na ako sa rotation. Luckily, may playing time pa din ako kay coach Dante.”
It was also the start of his friendship with Florencio. “Si Danny (Florencio) matagal ko yan naging kaibigan kahit after our retirement. Mahusay na kaibigan.”
When Toyota disbanded in 1983, he was among the players acquired by Beer Hausen thru Basic Holdings.
“When Toyota went bankrupt, gusto sana ni coach Dante na ituloy yun team kahit sya na ang magpapa-sweldo sa mga players. Pero hindi na natuloy.”
Legaspi played two more years for Beer Hausen before retiring in 1985.
Fron there, he went to work for PAGCOR and even served as its playing coach in various leagues for government-owned companies.
For Legaspi, basketball is life.