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Remembering Leo Prieto

By Musong R. Castillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:47:00 04/09/2009

Filed Under: Sport, death notices, People

MANILA, Philippines ? Leo Prieto?s greatness will not be measured merely by the extolling words that flowed ? and will continue to flow ? during his wake, but also by the memories of the extent that people went to please the man.

Prieto passed on Tuesday afternoon after a lingering illness. He suffered a stroke two weeks ago and never recovered from it. The league?s commissioner was cremated Tuesday evening and his remains are at the Capilla San Francisco of the Sanctuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park. Interment will be at 10 a.m. today.

The PBA?s founding commissioner is known to be the only PBA chief to have commanded the respect of an entire ego-filled board of governors with no trace of bias for or against any member.

And one amusing anecdote proved that.

The story was told several times to this writer by another late commissioner, Emilio ?Jun? Bernardino, the only man who overtook Prieto in terms of years served as PBA commissioner.

During Prieto?s stint as commissioner, one of his most frequent visitors at his office was Nono Ibazeta, the former San Miguel representative to the league?s board who was one of the most outspoken board members there was and who never minced words on how bad the officiating was.

According to Bernardino, Prieto summoned Ibazeta to a meeting one day to discuss his issues with officiating. Prieto arrived at the PBA office in Ortigas before the designated time only to find out that the San Miguel executive was still not there.

Prieto made a call to Ibazeta, who tried to beg off from the meeting because of pressing matters in his office. Prieto then gave Ibazeta an ultimatum: If he was not in the office in 15 minutes, the league was going to fine him and his team.

Getting from the San Miguel building to the PBA office in Ortigas in 15 minutes in those days was easy, but what made this story funny was that when Ibazeta arrived, the elevator in the building was under repair.

So, to make the deadline imposed by the great commissioner, Ibazeta had to walk up eight floors to be able to meet with Prieto, who, in turn, appreciated Ibazeta?s efforts, listened to the San Miguel representative, and spared him of a fine.

That was the legacy that Prieto left the PBA ? the independence of his office that up to now has remained unmatched.

?He never took bullshit from anyone, not even members of the board, especially if the interests of the PBA were concerned,? said Tommy Manotoc, the grand slam winning coach who sat as board member of U-Tex in those days.

?His integrity was beyond reproach and that characterized the man.?

?Commissioner Leo set the bar of commissioners (in the PBA) so high that no one from among those who succeeded him will ever be able to match it,? present commissioner Sonny Barrios told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone yesterday.

Prieto was also the only commissioner that tendered his resignation after each year only to be rejected by the board each time.

Ironically, the last time Prieto tendered his resignation, at the end of the 1983 season, it was Ibazeta who spoke in front of the board and promised Prieto that he would not say anything bad about officiating again if only he?ll stay.

Perhaps even then, Ibazeta already knew that the man who was about to step away from the PBA would eventually turn out to be the greatest commissioner to ever handle the league.

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