How ‘Black Superman’ landed playing for Crispa

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Billy Ray Bates arrived in Manila on the day Crispa, which had just won the 1983 PBA Season All-Filipino crown, was to play its first game in the Second Conference named Reinforced Filipino.

Billy Ray “The Black Superman” Bates shows slamming wares. PHOTO FROM EDDIE ALINEA’S FILE

From the airport, team manager Danny Floro’s man Friday Jun Nonato whisked the muscle-bound 6-foot-4 former Portland Trail Blazers in the US NBA straight into Araneta Coliseum where he was introduced to his new teammates.

Barely sweated it out in the pre-game shoot around, Bates immediately served notice by banging in 40 and more points to the amazement of his teammates, team officials, including Floro himself and coach Baby Dalupan, immediate fans and media men alike.

In his second outing with the Grand Slam II-seeking Redmanizers, Bates dished out his full potentials from the field, slashing in, dunking and heaving from beyond the arc, everything in another awesome performance never seen before this part of the world.

So impressive in his almost one-man show, one sportswriter lead in his story that appeared in his newspaper the following day: “I thought I’ve seen ‘em all …. “.

Bates became an instant success. A man of awesone natural talent and great leaping ability who would change the course of how the game would be played here.

Soon, he became the main source of excitement and joy and perked up the dwindling turnout at the gates in all the PBA games after that each time his team played. Fans started to call him “Super Bates” in what led media to give him the moniker “The Black Superman.”

Tommy Manotoc, the Crispa coach at that time, said of his import: “He is the best player in this world in his height level.”

“I was born to play basketball,” Bates loved to tell everybody who cared to listen.

In the two tournaments he played that season – Reinforced and Open Conferences — Bates emerged in the Top 10 in seven categories of the game to earn the nod as “Best Import” in those, leading Crispa to its till now unprecedented second sweep of the season, a duplicate of its 1976 feat.

The only department he was not in the Top 10 list was in shot-blocks (No. 11). He was no. 4 in scoring with 41.69 average, second in three-point shooting with 104 made out of 251 tries for 41.43 percent conversion

He was No. 1 in two-point shots (703 of 1,089); No. 6 in free throws (325 of 384); No. 8 in assists (6.1 pg); No. 2 in steals (1.6 average); and No. 4 in time exposure (46.10 minutes pg).

To thousands of basketball fans, perhaps millions, The Black Superman represented what a total basketball player was all about. He possessed extraordinary knack at theatrics, stopping when fans showed appreciation on what he was doing and winked at the crowd in return.

Bates came to Portland in 1980 at a time when the Blazers were struggling in their unforgettable season due to crippled roster plagued with injuries.

The Blazers used the veteran Kentucky shooting star sparingly, though, and when he did inject him in the lineup, Bates erupted for 14 points in the fourth quarter against the Bucks.

In their next outing in Chicago Bates drove, jumped and dunked his way 26 points. In March, having played in the league less than a month Bates was named the NBA’s Player of the Week.

The Blazers made the playoffs that year when Bates averaged 25 points flat in the three-game series against the Super Sonics (which ended 2-1 in Seattle’s favor).

The Blazers waived Bates two seasons after and was picked up by the Washington Bullets where he stayed for only two months. In April ’83 the Lakers signed him and when his 10-day expired, he declined several offers to play in Europe and opted to travel to the Philippines.

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