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Ode to Pinoy basketbol with a heart

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There’s an urgent request to drop a line or two for dear old UAAP which will have its first games of the young season at Smart Araneta Coliseum this Saturday.

Truth is we cannot overemphasize what the varsity league has done and contributed in pushing Philippine basketball to the summit of popularity and acceptance it now enjoys.

“May I request you to write about  college basketball experiences at the Big Dome in your paper?” asks the Big Dome publicist.

Much obliged, Madam, although my earliest live big time basketball happened a good distance from Quezon City, on the other side of the metropolis, at the circa 1934 Rizal Memorial Coliseum off the old flood-prone Vito Cruz St. in Manila.

* * *

Maybe the closest we can do to pay homage to the legendary Philippine basketball of old is visit Rizal Memorial itself, the original mecca.

You know, just like grown-up adult children who have strayed off to their own happy corners, the trip back to the arena where all this filial embrace of the game of basketball had its beginnings should be as comforting as a respecting visit to our ancestors.

Yes, it was there at Rizal Memorial where the fervor for basketball—call it Pinoy basketbol with a heart—started to flare up, until it has burned bright into a religion.

There was a time, mainly after the national basketball team skippered by Lauro “The Fox” Mumar and pillared mightily by Carlos “The Great Difference” Loyzaga finished third in the 1954 World Basketball Championship in Rio de Janeiro, when the immortal duo readily assumed the role of national heroes.

The passion for the game of basketball was forged through the heroic exploits of these glowing gladiators, from Jacinto Ciria Cruz et al. in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, to Loyzaga, Mumar & Co.  in the  1954 World Basketball Championship in Rio de Janeiro, all the way down to the international and Olympic battlefields where the likes of Carlos Badion, Loreto Carbonnel, Narciso Bernardo did battle, and on whose footsteps followed another breed of gifted and gutsy warriors that counted Robert Jaworski, Danilo Florencio and Rogelio Melencio, to name only three.

* * *

My most memorable college basketball experience?

Well, it was in the 60s yet, centered around the rivalry between the two finest collegiate stars of their time, Danny Florencio for UST and Robert Jaworski for UE.

Sorry, but this duo did play their greatest school games, not on the hardwood at the Big Dome. Florencio and Jaworski  gave it their old college try, performed with mythical flare and sharpness, out there at dear old Rizal Memorial.

Before them, there was the fabled confrontasi between Olympians Narciso Bernardo (NU) and Edgardo Ocampo (Ateneo), although the memorable battles happened already in the Micaa, with Bernardo burning the hoops for the Ysmael Steel Admirals and Ocampo manning the fort for the Yco Painters of Don Manolo Elizalde, original sports patron cum laude in the Philippines.

Anyway, it’s not plain coincidence that the UAAP, which continues to contribute its finest players to the national team, is back at Smart Araneta Coliseum, now eminently recognized as the  mecca, temple, for basketball worship, this Saturday.

For one, the UAAP is putting its best foot forward once more in thanksgiving for a heritage of greatness, a tribute to Pinoy basketball with a heart.


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