The call from Wuhan, China, came at about 3 p.m. last Monday, half an hour before the quarterfinal match between the Philippines and Jordan in the Fiba Asia Men’s Championship.
The caller was Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas chief Manny V. Pangilinan and he was touching base with SBP executive director Sonny Barrios.
MVP said he was on his way to the Wuhan Gymnasium when he received word that cagers Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter would not be allowed to play after all, despite a directive from the Fiba Central Board in Geneva, Switzerland, lifting the ban.
Apparently, Fiba Asia secretary general Hagop Khagirian, a Lebanese, had ignored the directive from the Fiba headquarters. He claimed that the letter was “not clear.”
From what I gathered, it was Hagop who had earlier questioned the eligibility of the two Fil-Ams and barred them from the tournament.
Lutz and Lassiter had to sit out three games in the elimination round before SBP officials could secure clearance from the Fiba headquarters in Geneva.
But just when everybody thought everything had been settled, when Lutz and Lassiter had already changed into their jerseys for the 3:30 p.m. game against Jordan, came the information that the ban would be upheld.
MVP had called Sonny B to inform him of the problem.
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With people at the SBP office busy trying to get through to Geneva, I decided it was time to leave.
I had dropped by Sonny B’s office that day on an official mission, but mostly we just talked about what was going on in the basketball community. It was my first visit to the SBP office in Pasig City.
I left just a few minutes before gametime, still uncertain if Lutz and Lassiter would be allowed to play.
* * *
At the Meralco gym in Ortigas, people were huddled around a small television set inside the canteen. The Philippines-Jordan game was already being telecast live. I saw NLEx coach Boyet Fernandez and assistant Adonis Tierra, who said they had just arrived from practice.
Seeing Lassiter playing, I decided to stay behind to finish the game, which we even-tually won.
Sonny B, who flies to Wuhan today, said they finally got through to Fiba secretary general Patrick Baumann after I left.
“Baumann then called Hagop to clarify the decision allowing Lutz and Lassiter to play,” Sonny B said.
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World Boxing Council champ Victor Ortiz would never have been knocked out cold if he had trained under our basketball Living Legend, Sonny Jaworski.
Actually, the Big J immediately came to mind amid the furor caused by the one-two punch thrown by Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Obviously, Ortiz tried to get Floyd’s goat by giving him a headbutt (which resulted in a cut on The Money’s lip,) and then apologizing for it by kissing his foe on the cheek. And then just as the match was about to resume, Ortiz hugged Mayweather.
* * *
When he was still coaching in the PBA, Jaworski’s never told his players to apologize, even if they had committed a hard foul, deliberate or otherwise.
We never found out the Big J’s rationale for this dictum, but I guess the Ortiz experience should be an adequate explanation.