Basketball was introduced to the Philippines in the early 1900s by our American colonizers. It is said that at first, early Filipino sportsmen thought that basketball was a game for sissies. So, at first, the sport was played mostly by young girls and women. But soon, boys got crazy about it as well. And for the longest time, the Philippines would be the dominant figure in Asian Basketball.
From the 1st Far Eastern Championship Games (later to be replaced by the Asian Games) in 1913, to its 10th and final Edition in 1934, the Philippines would capture the crown 9 out of 10 times, losing only to China in what was then considered a national disgrace in the 5th edition in 1921 by a score of 30-27. In the next Far Eastern Games in 1923, the Philippine team would come back with vengeance in their eyes. Lou Salvador would establish an all-time record by scoring 116 points (!!!) against a hapless Chinese team on the way to recapturing the gold medal.
In 1936, the Philippines proudly represented Asia in the first-ever Olympic basketball tournament held in then-Nazi Berlin. Unluckily, the Philippines was pitted against eventual champion USA in the knockout quarterfinal match. The Philippines, led by Charlie Borck and Ambrosio Padilla, ended up in 5th place, despite losing only to USA in that fateful quarterfinals 56-23. And to think that our cagers had actually defeated eventual bronze medalist Mexico by a score of 32-30 in the preliminary round. The 5th place finish remains as the best finish by an Asian team in Olympic basketball history.
After World War II, the Philippines would take the distinction of being the first team to have scored more than 100 points in an Olympic game with a masterful lesson against Iraq 102-30 in 1948. Our dribblers would once again show their mettle in Asian Basketball, winning the first two Asian Games basketball offerings in 1951 and 1954 comfortably. Leading the charge then were the Fajardo siblings, Fely and Gabby, and later, Ramoncito Campos and Lauro Mumar.
The 1954 Asian Games championship between the Philippines and China ended with the Philippines on top by a score of only 34-27! In what is now recalled as “the longest freeze”, the Philippines stalled during the entire second half of the game and displayed their dribbling and passing prowess, totally frustrating the Chinese squad. The Philippines had earlier bombed Cambodia by a whopping 105-41 score. But with the stall tactic employed, scoring in the final game dipped. A few years later, a new ruling which set a time on ball possession was implemented.
And in the best-ever finish by an Asian country in the international basketball arena, the Philippines captured the bronze medal in the 2nd FIBA World Championship held in Brazil in 1954. Led by our dynamic duo of Mumar and Caloy Loyzaga, the Philippines surprised the heftier American and European teams with a dazzling display of speed basketball. Loyzaga, arguably the best Filipino basketeer ever, brought further honor by copping a slot in the FIBA world mythical five selection. To this day, no other Asian team has ever made it to the podium in FIBA history.
Our cagers annexed the 1st Asian Basketball Conference title (the precursor to the FIBA Asia) in 1960. Carlos Badion was declared tournament MVP. Ditto with the 1962 Asian Games. And the 1963 ABC. However, with the retirement of Loyzaga, it was clear that the Philippine domination of Asian Basketball was now on the decline.
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