Patron of PH hoops
It would not be a stretch to credit Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. for drawing up the most successful blueprint for Philippine basketball to date.
“It was sustainable at that time and it delivered results,” said former national youth standout Jong Uichico. But Uichico noted that at the heart of the program, underneath the layers of logistics, philosophies, coaching strategies and player development, was the driving force of its godfather.
“He was very, very nationalistic,” Uichico said. “Above anything else, he loved being Filipino.”
Cojuangco, the former ambassador and San Miguel Corp.’s chair and chief executive officer, died on Tuesday night. He had just turned 85 on June 10.In politics and business, Cojuangco may have been a polarizing figure. But in the sporting world, he was unanimously hailed as an unquestioned patron, a vital contributor to the growth of basketball. He blazed several trails, including the creation of a sustainable program that starts with developing players at the youth level, the hunting of talent from among the Filipino migrant communities and the maximizing of Fiba’s naturalization rules.
Tributes poured from several players who toiled under him when he assembled a national program—with innovative American coach Ron Jacobs at the helm—that hasn’t been matched until now. While he was project director for basketball, funding the program under the banner of his Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC), the Philippines won the 1982 Asian youth championship and the 1985 Asian championship. The country hasn’t won both titles since.Cojuangco’s relationship with his players went beyond professional. “It wasn’t just player-manager,” said Allan Caidic, still the greatest shooter the country has ever produced. Caidic was one of the amateurs who grew up under Cojuangco’s watch. “His relationship with us went beyond that.”
“He was not just ‘The Boss,’” Caidic added. “He was like a father to us.”
Cojuangco was known to take care of his former players well after they had retired, from handing out financial help to those who visited him at his San Miguel office to providing jobs for them either in his other basketball ventures or his vast business empire.
New Year’s in Malaysia
“He and RSA (San Miguel top honcho Ramon S. Ang) are really patrons of sports,” said NorthPort coach Pido Jarencio, another former NCC stalwart. “Their support for players extends beyond their playing careers.”
Caidic recalled the time when they captured the Asian crown in Malaysia, a tournament that ran from the last days of 1985 until the championship on Jan. 5, 1986.
“We celebrated New Year’s in Malaysia,” Caidic said. Away from their families and unable to party the way Filipinos do to greet the new year, the team was treated to dinner by Cojuangco in their hotel.
“I remember we were so happy just being together and having [Cojuangco] with us during dinner, we became very noisy in the hallways that some of the team scouts of other countries got mad,” Caidic said.
And more than basketball opportunities, Cojuangco provided several players a path to their homeland. Under Cojuangco, the Philippines searched abroad for talent, luring back players with Filipino lineage. Among them was Ricardo Brown, the 1985 PBA MVP who also saw action under the national program.
“Without Boss Danding, there is no RB23 (Brown wore jersey No. 23),” Brown wrote in an emotional Facebook post. “I owe him so much because he dramatically changed my life. Mr. Cojuangco did more than provide me a chance to play basketball in the Philippines. The Boss brought me home.”
Cojuangco was known as “Boss Danding” in sporting and business circles.
“He had that aura of being the boss, even if he never acted like one,” Uichico said, recalling when he first met Cojuangco in a sweat-soaked dugout at Rizal Memorial Coliseum after a La Salle game. Cojuangco was a staunch supporter of the Green Archers.
And while he also lent his support to San Miguel’s PBA squad, “his heart really leaned toward amateur basketball, toward the national team,” Uichico said.
“I remember when we won in Malaysia, we were happy, of course, for ourselves, for the country,” Caidic said. “But we were also very happy for him because more than anyone else, he was the one who really wanted the Philippines to be No. 1 in Asia.”
That passion was best exemplified by one of Uichico’s enduring memories of Cojuangco.
“It was days before the start of the 1982 Youth tournament. He visited us during one of our last practices,” Uichico recalled. “And he said: ‘There will be 50 million Filipinos supporting you and cheering for you; win this for them.’”
“It was such an inspiring speech,” Uichico said, that he had an inkling there was no way he and his teammates would lose.