SMB’s Grand Slam: Brown’s untold story
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2014 - 12:00am

This year marks the 25th anniversary of San Miguel Beer’s PBA Grand Slam. It was an achievement made even more enormous by what the franchise had gone through during those times. In 1986, because of the economic and political changes of the times, the team took a leave of absence during the first two conferences of the season, the only time the Beermen did not play in the league in 40 years. In the Open Conference, the entire national team, then carrying Northern Cement, entered the league, save for Allan Caidic who was prevailed upon to stay with the national squad. At the end of 1987, the new edition San Miguel Beer won its first championship under head coach Norman Black, almost sweeping Hills Brothers in the finals.

At the time, Ricardo Brown had already had a successful few years with Great Taste Coffee. Despite being a youngster among legendary players from the Crispa and Toyota teams of the 1970’s, Brown was often asked to carry the team, and they won four straight championships bridging 1984 and 1985, and two more in 1987. But the times were changing, and the veterans on the squad were retiring or being traded. Brown knew it was time to leave. Black, whom Brown had played alongside in 1983, was opening the door to SMB.

“It wasn’t easy at first, because they were popular they were already successful, and I was a very popular player myself coming in,” recalls Brown. “I’d won an MVP; I’d made the Mythical Five many times. So coming in to that team I wasn’t quite sure how that’s gonna work, but I trusted Norman, that he wouldn’t bring me there unless he felt that I would be an asset. But obviously, when I came in, there were gonna be playing time issues. Some players got a lot playing time the previous year. To the credit of the players that were affected, it never really was brought to me on a personal level, and we all played together. My relationship with Hector Calma, Franz Pumaren, and Samboy Lim, and Alfie Almario,  we go way back,  you know when I came first here in the Philippines. It became easy, because of the style of player of San Miguel if fit me like a glove.”

Brown also relished the fact that he wasn’t really required to score, and was free to create. Having all that talent on the fastbreak was just such as luxury, and it conjured memories of watching Earl Monroe.

“When I had the ball in the middle, and I had two on the wings and I had a couple of trailers, a couple of defenders, that’s when my eyes got big,” Brown admits. “I didn’t know what I was gonna do, I never knew what I was gonna do. Let just go with this and let’s see what’s gonna happen and what we’re gonna put on the canvas.”

The Beermen also won the Open Conference in 1988, needing seven games to put away Purefoods. In the season-ending Reinforced Conference, they were all set to face Shell in the finals, and were finishing up their games, when tragedy struck Brown in their last game, ironically against his former team, now known as Presto Tivoli.

“Right before the championship versus shell, I took an elbow to the chest and I continued to play,” said Brown, who was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1979. “And all the symptoms were there, you know.  The stubborn guy I am, I didn’t listen to my body. I was rushed to the hospital and there was fluid in my lungs, my valves were damaged and my heart was enlarged. And I’m thinking what happened? I’ve got a wife and two babies at home. This can’t be. I told the doctors, If I had fluid in my lungs, take it out because I have a championship game. Long story short, I went into congestive heart failure, spent nineteen days in Makati Medical, right before Christmas, missed the entire championship.”

Brown, the outstanding former national player out of Pepperdine, could not believe his misfortune. Here he was, a professional athlete at the peak of his career, and he was a heart patient. With unrelenting determination, he spent the next six months in rehab in California. Meanwhile, the Beermen were steaming along, winning the 1989 Open Conference and the All-Filipino. And even when Brown was able to return for the Reinforced Conference, he was still uncertain if he could come back all the way and help a team that, frankly, didn’t need him.

“Number one is: I wanted to help, I wanted to help whatever I could San Miguel achieve this, very, very special accomplishment because they been so good to me,” he explains. “And the second reason was the great fans of San Miguel had welcomed me back, even though I was away for six months, and I could’ve been forgotten.”

What made the comeback even more dramatic was that it was against league darling Anejo Rum, and the league’s most charismatic player, Robert Jaworski.

“I tell you, specially playing against Jaworski with Anejo, that was really special because these were road games, you know,” Brown remembers. “There was no greater feeling for me than to quiet an arena, and we could do that at the Ultra playing Anejo. I mean I really, it was seventy-five percent Anejo, no question about that. So that made is sweeter to help win San Miguel that third championship, for me to make it back and really be a legitimate leader to that championship. I just remember how happy Norman was. I can see it you know, I was happy for him because the pressure on Norman as well you know at that time you know he was an American coach.”

To this day, after a couple of decades being removed from the PBA and becoming a successful administrator in the California educational system, Ricky Brown still sees and remembers all the richness from that experience, and provides an inspiring story from a quarter of a century ago.

“I came back, and I was able to play, and play at a high level when I was all but written off,” he says. “And that’s something I’ll always remember and appreciate. And probably that was my greatest memory of San Miguel, that whole scenario that I just shared with you, because that was a very special dramatic very humbling time in my basketball career. When you say how sweet it was you can imagine how sweet that was?”

Yes, indeed we can.



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