From the time Admiral George Dewey and his men landed in Manila following their conquest of the Spanish Armada in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, baseball, not basketball, had been the country’s favorite pastime.
Admiral Dewey and the American soldiers stationed themselves in the coastal province of Cavite where they pitched camp in what is now known as Sangley Point. There, as they awaited reinforcement, the Americans played their grand pastime while transferring their knowhow to the the locals.
Soon, vacant lots in the capital city and in the towns and sitios all over the archipelago became the sites of “beysbol” for both Americans and Filipinos.
That only lasted though till middle of the 20th Century with the establishment of the Asian Games in 1951 where basketball was to be dominated by the Filipinos, thanks to the experience they gained in the Asiad’s precursor known as the Far Ester Games played from 1913 to 1934.
That, notwithstanding the Filipinos’ dominance in baseball having ruled the First Baseball Federation of Asia championship held in Manila.
But while the Philippines was to be disposed as baseball kingpin in the successive BFA series, its basketball teams continued to lord it over their Asian neighbors the next decade or so, not only in the Asiad arenas, but, likewise in the continental Asian Basketball Confederation championships.
The Filipinos basketball title victory in the 1951 initial staging of the Asiad played in New Delhi, in fact, started a 15-year, four gold-medal performances in the Asian Summer Games that, for all intent and purposes, ended baseball reign as the entire country’s craze.
That and our cagers’ equally marvelous title-victory run in the ABC (now FIBA- Asia) tournaments in 1960, 1963, 1967 and 1973, heightened the Filipinos interest in the game that runs until these days even with the coming of the professional Philippine Basketball Association that somewhat affected the country’s campaign for honors in the international field.
Skippered by the diminutive Antonio Martinez, the 1951 team, also made up of Lauro “The Fox” Mumar, Luis “Moro” Lorenzo, Francisco “Kikoi” Calilan, Jose Gochangco, Andres de la Cruz, Meliton Santos, Genaro “Bay” Fernandez, Mariano Tolentino, Ignacio “Ning” Ramos, Rafael “Paeng” Hechanova and the then 21-year-old Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga, demolished the opposition with an average of 35 points.
So murderous were Martinez and company that they beat Burma by a whopping 44 points, 63-19; Iran by 24 points, 65-41; Japan by 24 points, 57-33; and host India by 48 points, 86-38.
In that streak, the Filipinos racked up a total 21 wins as against one defeat, to Repuplic of China (now Chinese-Taipei), 88-93, in the Games’ third edition in 1958 in Tokyo.
They lost the crown to Israel (then part of the Asian region) in 1966 and did not reclaim the diadem again. The nearest the Filipinos were to regain the Asian Games title was 14 years ago in Beijing when an all-pro team coached by Robert “Sonny” Jaworski returned home with the silver medal.
The nationals’ initial stint in the ’51 Games served as the launching pad for the gangling 6-foot-3 Loyzaga to international stardom. Fondly called the “Big Difference,” Loyzaga steered another PH team to third place in the World Championship held in 1954 in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
The former San Beda and Yco standout was named in the mythical selection after the championship as tribute to his all-around skills. The bronze medal finish was the best ever by any Asian country in the world tilt, while Loyzaga’s feat, likewise, remained unmatched up to the present time that could have had earned for him the tag as the finest cager Asia has ever produced.
With Loyzaga in the bronze medal team were ’51 Asiad mainstays Mumar,, the team captain, Tolentino and Bayana Am,ador. Others in the team were Florentino Bautista, Jr., Napoleon Flores, Benjamin Francisco, Antonio Genato, Ramon Manulat, Francisco Rabat and Ponciano Saldana. Coach was Herminio ”Herr” Silva. Francis Wilson and Alfredo Sagarbarria were named alternates.