Retired multi-awarded Alaska Aces import Sean Chambers reached out to this writer and a few other long-time friends to air his hurt over being left out of the latest batch of PBA Hall of Fame inductees announced by the league last week. Chambers is still in a state of utter disbelief, so much so that, after initially sending a long message over the weekend, he sent me a follow-up Wednesday night.
“Please. I don’t want to sound bitter or upset as I still love everything about the Phl,” said the longest-tenured import. “I was just surprised I didn’t qualify with my credentials. The response on my Facebook has been so heart-warming, as I have received over 1,000 Pinoy fans wishing me luck next time.” Chambers also expressed the hope that his former Alaska teammates would also weigh in.
This started when the 47-year old Chambers sent me a lengthy Facebook message expressing his hurt.
“Really, I was truly honored to be nominated, one of the proudest moments of my life. You know how much I love and respect the Philippines, the people and the PBA,” Chambers, now a middle school vice-principal in Sacramento, California, told The STAR.
Chambers was inducted into the Cal Poly Hall of Fame in 2005 after averaging 18.3 points per game for the Mustangs as a senior in 1987, and led the school to two California Collegiate Athletic Association titles. Not making the final selection even with a committee loaded with people who saw him play, stunned him.
“I was extremely shocked I did not get in, as I have more championships than any other import and went to a Grand Slam,” Chambers elaborated. “On career stats and averages I’m only third or second to Norman (Black) or Bobby (Parks).”
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Chambers first impressed Filipino basketball fans as a member of the IBaF selection that played as a guest team in the PBA more than 20 years ago. He shocked the basketball community by beating fan favorite and NBA veteran Billy Ray Bates in a slam dunk contest. After not making it through the Charlotte Hornets try-outs, Chambers helped the Alaska Milkmen win their first PBA title, the 1991 Third Conference. After that, the hard-working reinforcement became the team’s ‘resident’ import, returning almost every season for 11 years. Even when bigger imports were required, even when he had back injuries, he performed. He was acknowledged at Alaska’s 25th anniversary as a PBA member team in 2010, and last came to the Philippines briefly in 2012 to serve as the Aces’ coaching consultant.
The 1996 Grand Slam campaign of Alaska was even more special for Chambers, although in an unexpected manner. After the Milkmen won their first All-Filipino championship at the expense of perennial champion Purefoods, they were on a strong run at the title in the Commissioner’s Cup, where imports were 6’6” and below. Unfortunately, midway through the tournament, their import was sent home after having found to have traces of marijuana in his urine. As usual, in an emergency, they called in Chambers. After facing Shell and import Kenny Redfield in the Finals, Alaska annexed their second title. With Chambers already in game shape, they had a huge advantage in the Governors Cup, which featured imports 6’2” and below.
“If we had brought in another import, a big import, we would have had to teach him our system from scratch,” said former Alaska power forward Bong Hawkins in 2010. “With Sean, he already knew our system, and we knew he would give us his best. After that, the third conference was the Sean Chambers Conference.”
The PBA forms an Honors Committee to select a handful of inductees every two years. Norman Black was among those inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 2007, Bobby Ray Parks in 2009, Billy Ray Bates in 2011. For 2013, multi-titled Toyota coach Ed Ocampo, league pioneer Lim Eng Beng, and two-time Most Valuable Player Benjie Paras and member of the PBA’s 25 Greatest Players list Ronnie Magsanoc are scheduled for induction.
I’ve argued that the long, rich history of the PBA provides such a formidable list of possible honorees, it is not a question of if, but when Chambers would be inducted. Perhaps what grates for him is the inclusion of Bates ahead of him, followed by his not immediately following. Chambers proudly compares his report card with the Black Superman’s on and off the court.
Although he will most probably be among those selected in 2015, the 47-year old Chambers contends that with six championships, eight championship appearances, one Best Import Award, only the second Mr. 100% Award, and winning the slam dunk championship by beating Bates make for an overwhelming argument for his inclusion. With the transitory nature of the job, and the changing height requirements for imports, it is unlikely his achievements will ever be matched. On top of that, at a team gathering in the 1990’s, Chambers was once called over by a member of former president Corazon Aquino’s staff. The beloved Chief Executive told Chambers that he was her favorite import because of his sportsmanship and professionalism. When Sean told me the story in 2010, tears welled up in his eyes.
“I can rest assured that no import will ever win six championships,” Chambers argues. “My last point would be, I held myself to even a higher standard off the court, as I was part of multiple charities and outreach programs out of Manila in the Philippines. Doing charity work with Union Church Manila at Tondo and Pinatubo. Never behaved like Billy (Ray Bates).”
Though he may only have to wait two more years, Chambers makes a compelling case for himself. At any rate, he’s used to beating the odds.