The 60s saw the Philippines still clinging on to basketball supremacy in Asia. We took the Asian Basketball Conference (ABC) crown in 1960, followed this up with a gold medal in the Asian Games in 1962, and topped that with another ABC gold in 1963. Among the standouts then, with Caloy Loyzaga’s exit from active cage service in 1964, were Carlos Badion, who was adjudged MVP in the 1960 ABC; the upcoming offensive machine, Narciso Bernardo; and his perennial arch-rival and defense specialist, Ed Ocampo.
However, it was now becoming clear that the taller and heftier quintets in the Asian region were beginning to learn the ropes and inching closer. Japan took first crack at the Philippines’ enviable record, upsetting our Nationals by taking the ABC crown in 1965. Philippines had earlier breezed through the Japanese squad 74-54 in the no-bearing preliminary round. In the all-important Championship Round however, the Japanese outdid themselves, upending the Filipinos’ amazing run of championships, 71-65.
The following year, in the Asian Games of 1966, Israel emerged as Asia’s new basketball kingpin. And to make matters worse, the Philippines would end up a lowly 6th, the worst finish ever for a Philippine squad at that time. If the previous year’s upset to Japan was considered an affront to national pride, this 6th place finish was certainly a catastrophe! Never before had the Pinoys, renowned to be the best basketeers in this corner of the world, tasted such ignominy. For the first time, the Philippines was without either an ABC or an Asian Games crown.
The venerable Loyzaga was called in to lead the campaign to regain lost pride. Thus, in the ABC championship in 1967 in hostile Seoul, coach Loyzaga’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ prepared hard to gift a distraught Filipino nation with a gold medal finish.
True enough, the final game against the hosts Sokors was filled with drama. Both the Philippines and Korea were toting identical 8 wins – no loss cards, with the winner going home with the crown. Korea had their prolific scoring machine, Shin Dong Pa. On top of that, they had a wildly partisan hometown crowd egging them on. But in the end, the Philippines survived six disqualifications on fouls to win 83-80, thanks to Danny Florencio’s heroics in the last 48 seconds of play in the game. Bernardo and a young Bobby Jaworski were selected to the Mythical Five. And the Philippines was back on top.
But this was all short-lived. In the next ABC Championship in 1969, South Korea turned the tables on the Philippines, clinching the crown for the first time, with an emphatic 95-86 win in the final game of the tournament. The Koreans were led by Shin Dong Pa once again. Added to that, Japan once again scored a pulsating 78-77 come-from-behind win, relegating our cagers to a bronze medal finish.
The following year, in the 1970 Asian Games, South Korea once again captured the gold, despite suffering a solitary loss to the Philippines in the Final Round. An erratic Philippines would end up 5th after following that superb win over Korea with sloppy losses to Taiwan, Japan and Israel. Once again, the Philippines was without an Asian crown.
To be continued…
For Part 1 of ‘Philippine Basketball in Review’, pls read: Philippine Basketball In Review Part 1
For Part 3 of ‘Philippine Basketball in Review’, pls read: Philippine Basketball In Review Part-3: The MICAA Days
(Photos courtesy of skyscrapercity.com, sports.yahoo.com, spin.ph, hubpages.com, philstar.com, tempo.com, natasha reynoso youtube)