ASIAN GAMES THROWBACK | When PH was still king of Asiad basketball (Part 1)

6 months ago


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated to include additional information and context about the Philippines’ victory in the 1954 Asian Games.

Eleven years.

Longer than two World Wars combined.

Just enough to cram two presidential terms.

Perhaps raise a child up to the fifth grade.

Yet above all, see the Philippines dominate basketball in the Asian Games, from 1951 to 1962.

To some, it was a foregone conclusion.  Arguably, a country with deep historical ties to the Americans, who invented the game, should not disappoint.

Boy, they certainly did not.

Prior to the Asiad, the Filipinos were the undisputed kings of basketball in the Pacific, winning nine of ten titlesin the pre-war Far Eastern Games.

For starters, the Far Eastern Games was considered the forerunner of the Asian Games. The Philippines as one of its founders, ruled the first four editions of the basketball games under the American flag. China denied the country a fifth straight title in 1921 before the Philippines reclaimed the crown and held on to it until the games were disbanded in 1934.

Seventeen years later, the Asian Games was born and the Philippines made sure itsreign in the defunctFar Eastern Games was no historical fluke.

Restarting the dominance

Basketball was the only team sport played in the 1951 Asiad held in New Delhi, India. The Philippines, six years removed from the horrors of World War II, saw the games as a venue to establish diplomatic ties in the region even with its erstwhile invader Japan. The feelings was mutual as Japan, host India, Iran and Burma joined the Filipino cagers, who paraded a band of wide-eyed youngsters raring to show their wares on the international stage.

Among them were soon-to-be legends Rafael Hechenova, Ignacio “Ning” Ramos, Mariano Tolentino, Moro Lorenzo, Lauro Mumar, and a 21-year old mestizo lad named Carlos Loyzaga.

The Filipinos cut their opponents to size, blasting Burma (63-15), Iran (65-41), Japan (57-33), and India (86-36) in the round-robin eliminations. At the time, there were no playoffs to determine the medal winners and each team’s final ranking was based on its win-loss record. The Philippines in effect ran away with the gold, thanks to an impressive 4-0 sweep of the tournament. Japan bagged the silver (3-1), and Iran (2-2) the bronze.

With the gold proudly swaddled around their necks, the Filipinos – alongside their compatriots who medaled in New Delhi – received a heroes’ welcome upon arriving from the Asiad. But for the country’s new basketball idols, it was a homecoming that predated another celebration three years in the making.

Loyzaga and company practically had one thing in mind: repeat the feat in front of their countrymen, with the Philippines hosting the second Asian Games in 1954.


Higher stakes

From five in 1951, the basketball meet in Manila expanded into an eight-team contest. Only the Philippines and Japan returned to the Asiad front. Yet other countries were as eager to prove their worthy on the hardcourt. Among them was South Korea, which just signed an armistice agreement with the North to end the Korean War in 1953. Then there was Taiwan, also called the “Republic of China,” which had just formally regained its independence from Japan in 1952 but continued to lock horns with Mao’s Communist China.

Singapore, then mired by political riots and appeared on the verge of civil war, also joined the Asiad bandwagon, together with neighboring Thailand, Indonesia, and newly independent Cambodia. To raise the stakes a notch higher, the Manila games also served as the qualifying tournament for the 1954 World Basketball Championship in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in October.

Unlike in New Delhi, the 1954joust instituted a playoff round with the top two teams in each group advancing to the round-robin medal phase.

Bannered by the 1951 core of Loyzaga, Mumar, Hechenova, Ramos, and Tolentino, the Filipinos easily ruled Group A, whipping South Korea (84-45), Singapore (82-63), and Cambodia (106-41) in the preliminaries.

The Philippines and Korea advanced to the medal round together with Group B top-notchers Japan and Taiwan. The highly-touted Filipinos blew past the Japanese (68-40) and the Koreans (76-52), but encountered stiff resistance from a stubborn Taiwanese side before hacking out a 34-27 squeaker to the delight of the 12,000 fans at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Clearly, the defending champions had a hard time disposing of eventual second-placer Taiwan, then powered by a sweet-shooting crew that included Yin Juin Wang and the namesake of two-time PBA MVP James Yap. (Interestingly, the “Taiwanese” James Yap was “half-Filipino,” who grewup in the Philippines and even studiedat the Chiang Kai-Shek College in Manila. He went on to represent Taiwan in the 1954 World Championship and the 1956 Olympics.)

But the final game was almost called off before halftime. The Manila Times said the incident took off from a foul whistled by Japanese referee Yoshihide Makiyama on Hechenova with 55 second left in the first half. The crowd resented the call and began throwing “paper balls, and later soft drink bottles.” (President Ramon Magsaysay’s daughter Milagros, who watched the games from the presidential box, was immediately covered by five security guards and two patrol men when the throwing erupted).

One of those struck by the riotous pelting was Taiwan main man Wang, who was rushed to the hospital after an errant bottle wounded his face.

Taiwan team manager Kiang Liong Kuy had already informed Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation (PAAF) Basketball Committee member Leonardo “Skip” Guinto that they will pull out of the game. PAAF Basketball chairman and former Olympian Ambrosio Padilla persuaded Kiang to continue and “assured him that repetition of the incident would cause postponement of the game.”

But as the debris were carted out of the court, two “Chinese fans” then engaged in a fistfight in the upperbox near the entrance for undisclosed reasons. The police arrested the two before the second half started. During the halftme break, Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson visited the Taiwanese dugout to apologize for the incident. The PAAF Basketball Committee also issued a statement of apology after the game.

Despite the unsightly, perhaps unexpected end for a victory, the Filipinos still did more than enough to retain the gold on home soil and secure a ticket to Rio de Janiero, where Loyzaga and company will soon bask in basketball immortality after claiming the bronze medal in the World Championship. It was the highest finish by an Asian country in the tournament now known as the FIBA World Cup.

1954 RP team. COURTESY: The Manila Times
1954 RP team. COURTESY: The Manila Times

To be continued

(PART 2: ASIAN GAMES THROWBACK | When PH was still king of Asiad basketball (Part 2)

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