ON THURSDAY, THE PHILIPPINES will once again serve as the host of the top regional basketball tournament in Asia for the first time in 40 years. This marks the third time the country will host the FIBA Asia Championship — Manila also hosted the tournament then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation Championship in 1960 and 1973, both times at the historic Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
This year, the Mall of Asia Arena will serve as the basketball capital of Asia from August 1 to 11 when the best teams in the region take part in the monumental event. The top three teams will take part in the FIBA World Cup to be held in Spain next year.
Only five countries have ever won the Asian basketball championship, with the Philippines winning five titles — in 1960, 1963, 1967, 1973, and 1985. China leads everyone else with 15 championship, the Philippines is second, while South Korea, Japan, and Iran are all tied at two apiece. Curiously, all five teams are penciled as contenders in this year’s staging, with China and Iran — winners of the last seven titles — as favorites.
With the tournament starting, InterAKTV takes a look at the last time the Philippines hosted Asia’s top cage competition.
MANILA HOSTED THE ASIAN CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1973, during the Martial Law period. The games were held at the oven-like Rizal Memorial Coliseum, which held up to 8,000 fans. A total of 12 teams participated in the tournament, led by the host country, defending champion Japan, 1969 titlist South Korea, and the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Two brackets were formed — Group A included South Korea, Japan, Iran, Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong while Group B was made up of the Philippines, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Singapore, and Pakistan.
Each group played a round-robin in the preliminary stage. The top three teams from each bracket then moved into a six-team championship round, where teams played each other once to determine the champion.
FOR SIX MONTHS, THE PHILIPPINE national team was on a mission to regain the Asian championship it won in 1967. The country’s heartbreaking defeat at the hands of host Japan in 1971 remained fresh in the memories of Filipino basketball fans, especially after Japan’s coach boasted that his team could easily beat the Philippines. That year, Japan’s defenders jammed the guns of the Philippines’ best offensive player to fashion a 93-69 victory.
As early as May 1973, the team was already practicing with the goal of winning the championship in home soil. Coach Valentin “Tito Eduque and assistant coach Caloy Loyzaga plucked 12 players from the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association — centers Alberto “Big Boy” Reynoso, Manuel Paner, Ramon Fernandez, Abet Guidaben, and David Regullano; forwards William “Bogs” Adornado, Ricardo “Joy” Cleofas, and Jimmy Mariano; and guards Robert Jaworski, Francis Arnaiz, Rogelio “Tembong” Melencio, and Rosalio “Yoyong” Martirez. Named as an alternate was Larry Mumar, a mainstay of the 1971 national squad.
Conspicuously missing for the team were longtime national stars Danilo Florencio and Adriano “Jun” Papa, who were slapped lifetime bans by the Basketball Association of the Philippines for their involvement in a game-fixing scandal during the 1973 MICAA championship between Crispa and Mariwasa. Florencio and Papa were the top two offensive players in 1971, and were considered shoo-ins for the spots occupied by Martirez and Cleofas in 1973.
Eduque opted to go tall, with at least five big men on the team. Guidaben was the tallest player in the lineup at 6-foot-5, but he was considered a greenhorn and was hardly utilized. Mariano stood 6-foot-4, but possessed a soft shooting touch. Reynoso, though only standing 6-foot-2, was a beefy center who was an impregnable inside the paint. Robert Jaworski, the team’s courty general, provided good size in the backcourt at six feet tall.
WITH THE VENUE PACKED TO THE RAFTERS for every single Philippine team game, the players went to work. They beat Pakistan in their first game by 78 points and followed that up with victories over India (36 points), Indonesia (31 points), Singapore (81 points), and Taiwan (17 points). The Philippines topped its bracket with an average winning of 46.6 points, while Taiwan and India also qualified for the championship round.
In the other bracket, South Korea, led by the eminent Shin Dong Pa, showed its class by running roughshod over the competition with an average margin of 44.2 points. They beat Japan in their last game, 88-79 in a battle of unbeaten teams. South Korea wound up on top of the bracket with an immaculate 5-0 card, followed by Japan and Iran. The championship round cast was set.
In their opening assignment in the title round, Eduque’s charges found difficulty cracking the tough Iranian team. They eventually held the Persian nation off in the second half to win 88-80.
After getting criticized in the media for their lackluster performance, the Filipinos came back resoundingly against rival Japan, clobbering the Nippons, 89-68. It was a huge emotional win for the Philippines as boisterous fans cheered them on the whole game and heckled Japanese star players Masatomo Taniguchi and Shigeaki Abe. The rest of the nation was also tuned into the game, watching live over KBS-9.
With their emotions at an all-time high, the Philippines pulled off two convincing repeats against Taiwan (37 points) and India (26 points) to set the stage for a virtual winner-take-all game against the only other unbeaten team in the tournament, South Korea.
IT WAS NO STRANGE TWIST that these two teams would duke it out on the last day of the tournament. South Korea had also been equally impressive with Shin, the tournament’s eventual top scorer, leading the way. They won all their games in the championship round convincingly and were poised to give the biggest problem for the Philippine team.
But the Philippines was ready. They were familiar with Shin, their tormentor in the 1967 tournament. Buoyed by the presence of a loud and supportive crowd that filled up the Rizal Memorial, the players were prepped to achieve destiny.
With Adornado scorching the hoops and Melencio, Jaworski and Arnaiz taking their turns guarding Shin, the game was close in the first half. At halftime, the scoreline read 48-all.
It was in the second half when the Philippine team finally took over. A slight commotion ensued when Melencio got entangled in a loose ball situation against a Korean player.
Cooler heads intervened but it also helped the Philippines build momentum to take over the game. Jaworski’s masterful quarterbacking, Adornado’s sniping, Melencio’s hard-nosed defense against Shin, and the heads-up play of Fernandez inside the paint proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Philippines won convincingly, 90-78 to win its third Asian title, the most among all countries in the region at that time.
With the win, the Philippines qualified for the 1974 FIBA World Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The team wound up finishing 13th overall after winning two of its five games.
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