Robert Vincent Salazar Jaworski also known as the “Big J” is a former professional basketball player and head coach for the MICAA and Philippine Basketball Association. He was commonly known for his “Never Say Die” attitude inside the court and been an integral part of championship teams like Toyota and Ginebra San Miguel. He is arguably the most popular PBA players of all-time because of his trademark attitude towards the game of basketball.
Jawo was born to Polish American Theodore Vincent Jaworski and an Ilocana Iluminada Bautista Salazar. He was discovered in the streets of Manila where he was first introduced to play basketball and eventually invited to be part of University of the East basketball team in the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines). He helped the UE Red Warriors for a back-to-back titles from 1965-1966 before he switched to professional league.
In 1967, Robert Jaworski played for the greatest Filipino basketball player of all-time in Caloy Loyzaga as his head coach in YCO Painters owned by Manolo Elizalde. In that same year, he helped the YCO Painters to win both 1967 National Seniors and National Invitational. In 1968, he was later transferred to the MERALCO Reddy Kilowatts but was unable to play due to lack of release papers but he eventually joined the team two years later and became the league’s MVP in 1970.
In 1971, Big J and Alberto “Big Boy” Reynoso was banned for life by the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) for assaulting two basketball officials, Eriberto Cruz and Jose Obias, for officiating a game that were allegedly bias to Crispa-Floro team, MERALCO was disbanded the team afterwards. Big J was reinstated two years later and played for MERALCO for one last time for an exhibition game against Japanese National Team. Big J along with Big Boy Reynoso and other MERALCO players formed the core team of Komatsu Komets (later renamed the Toyota Comets).
In 1975, Toyota Comets became one of the PBA’s founding franchises when the league was formed the same year. Toyota Comets kept the same roster with Jaworski, Arnaiz, Reynoso brothers, Fernandez, Segura, Rocha, Rojas, and Bauzon. Jaworski was part of the Toyota franchise for 10 years as the leader and face of the franchise for Toyota’s nine PBA championships. He was recognized as the PBA MVP for the 1978 season where averaged 20 points, 12 assists and close to nine rebounds per game despite the presence of imports without height restrictions, a near triple-double season for Jawo. His nickname “Big J” was resembled from the nickname of Oscar Robertson “Big O” who has the same approach to the game of basketball.
In 1983, for the second time Jaworski has been part of a disbanded basketball franchise in Toyota. He was offered to be part of Beer Hausen where Ramon Fernandez was the face of the franchise but he opted not to join “El Presidente”. PBA president Carlos Palanca III had to make a decision to where Jaworski will end up in the league and that lead him to put Jawo in Gilbey’s Gin (former name of Ginebra) with his buddy Francis Arnaiz.
Jaworski’s time in Ginebra was the most remarkable time for every PBA fan because that was the moment we immortalized the phrase “Never Say Die” – Ginebra’s mantra for will to win. That was also the time he became a playing coach, being the head coach of Ginebra as well as the star player on the team. Jaworski’s first championship being a playing coach was in 1986 Open Conference where he was helped by two of the most talented imports in the league in the name of Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett. He later won three more championships with Ginebra franchise, in 1988 All-Filipino cup, 1991 First Conference, and 1997 Commissioner’s cup.
Jaworski’s last game as PBA player was held in Dumaguete City where he was recorded as the oldest player ever to play in PBA at 50 years old. In May 30, 2003, he played for an exhibition game for retired PBA players consisting only from Toyota and Crispa teams, where Jaworski and Toyota eventually won the event.
UAAP and PBA Awards
- UAAP MVP from University of the East
- PBA MVP in 1978
- 13x PBA Champion (4 of them where he played as playing coach)
- 8x PBA Mythical team (6 of them where he was part of First team)
- 2x PBA All-defensive team
- 4x PBA All-star
- 4x PBA All-star Head Coach
- Member of 40 Greatest PBA Players of All Time
- PBA All-time leader in Assist made
- Member of PBA Hall of Fame Class of 2005
- Jersey No. 7 retired by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel
- Member, 1966 Asian Games
- Member, 1967 Asian Basketball Confederation (Champions)
- Member, 1968 Olympic Games
- Member, 1969 Asian Basketball Confederation (Third Place)
- Member and team captain – 1971 Asian Basketball Confederation (Second Place)
- Member, 1973 Asian Basketball Confederation (Champions)
- Member, 1974 World Championship
- Member and team captain – 1974 Asian Games
- Head Coach, 1990 Asian Games (Silver Medal)
It’s a wrap
Robert Jaworski might not be the greatest Filipino basketball player in the history, but his contribution in the golden age of playing basketball was second to none. His passion and love for the game was all documented and it was evident that his commitment to basketball endured until the age of 50. And for that, Robert “Big J” Jaworski rightfully belongs as one of the legends of Philippine Sports History.