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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Last Dance at Rio



This is a reprint of my article posted in my old blog site. It recalls the glory days of Philippine basketball during the 1954 World Basketball Championship in Brazil.



A long time ago, the Philippines dominated this sport in Asia as much as the United States dominated it in today's Olympics and the World Championships. After all it was the Americans who taught us the way the game is played.

The Americans regularly played against the Filipinos in this sport in the pre-war era, which is quite surprising when African-Americans were barred from playing the sport. The Young Men's Christian Association is credited for spreading the gospel of the sport throughout the islands, no wonder some churches have basketball courts. Historian/journalist Nick Joaquin said that basketball was first played in the walls of the Intramuros.

In 1913, the Philippines formed its first national basketball team for the Far Eastern Games (the forerunner of the Asian Games) in Manila and played its first international game against China. From the 1910s to the early 1930s, the Philippines dominated the Far Eastern Games basketball tournament winning 9 of 10 basketball championships. The Philippines lost to China 30-27 in the 1921 Far Eastern Games, the only silver medal in the defunct games.

The 1923 Far Eastern Games in Osaka, Japan, the Philippines captured the gold medal highlighted by the highest scoring binge by a single player. Luis "Lou" Salvador scored 116 points against China, their erstwhile tormentor in the 1921 games. Jovito Gonzales has appeared the most in the Philippines' golden run in the Far Eastern Games, he won five gold medals and a silver medal in six tournament appearances.

The Philippines won its eight and ninth Far Eastern Games gold medals in 1930 and 1934, capping the illustrious careers of Augusto Bautista (4 gold medals) and Mariano Filomeno (5 gold medals).

In the domestic scene, the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship was established in 1924 and the University of the Philippines became its first champion. It is the oldest collegiate league in the country. The Basketball Association of the Philippines joined FIBA in 1936. At the same time, the U.S. Commonwealth of the Philippines issued the world's first basketball stamp.

Two-time Olympic basketball coach Dionisio Calvo organized the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (the forerunner of the Philippine Basketball Association) in 1938. H.E. Hecock, Inc. became the first MICAA champions and the league would survive for another 41 years. A rival collegiate league was established in 1938, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines had its first champion, the Far Eastern University. Many of the core players of the national team came from the UAAP champion.

For the first time, basketball was added in the Olympic competition. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, despite an atmosphere of racial hatred and Aryan supremacy, the Philippines shocked the world by placing fifth in the competition. It was the best finish by an Asian country with a 4-1 record, defeating Mexico (32-30), Estonia (39-22), Italy (32-14), Uruguay (33-23) and eventually losing to eventual gold medalist team USA (23-56). The sad part of the placing is that the Philippines has a better record than the bronze medalist Mexico.

During the Japanese occupation, the Philippine team led by former Olympian Charles Borck were forced to play in the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Games.

After the war, the Philippines placed 12th in the 1948 London Olympics with a 4 win-4 loss record but its campaign is highlighted with a 102-30 win against Iraq, becoming the first country to score 100 points in an Olympic game.

In 1951, the Philippines won the first Asian Games basketball gold medal in New Delhi, India. The following year, backed by its success in the Asian Games, the national team improved to a ninth place finish at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics with a 3 win-2 loss record.


The fifties seemed to be a challenging decade for the country and though the Philippines has recently won its independence from the United States, the country is still rebuilding and suffering from political unrest and lawlessness. The country needs heroes to uplift its status and provide inspiration to the nation.

The exploits of the national team has been legendary and its illustrious campaigns in the Far Eastern Games and Olympics were the stuff of legends. The awesome trio of Carlos Loyzaga, Mariano Tolentino, and Lauro Mumar have been the color of the domestic and international scene.

Hoping to improved its finish in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, the national team will play in the 1954 Wold Basketball Championship to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The country did not compete in the inaugural World Basketball Championship, which was won by host country Argentina in 1950.

But prior to the tournament, the Philippines has to play the 1954 Asian Games as the host country. It seems the gold medal is already in the bag as the Philippines is defending gold medalist and also having the homecourt advantage. But aside from these known advantages, the Philippines has yet to unleash its powerful triumvirate for the first time and the question of having these players playing together very well is not yet known.

The Philippines opened its title retention bid against the small but determined Singapore squad but the Loyzaga, Tolentino, and Mumar toyed their bewildered defenders as they steamrolled the opposition. They equally put Cambodia into dreamland with a 106-41 shellacking. Finally, they destroyed the hopes of newcomers South Korea with an 84-45 drubbing.

The Philippines top Group A with a 3-0 record while the Republic of China topped Group B with an immaculate record. Both group runners-up Japan and South Korea made it to the final round. The final round is single round robin series and the top team will win the gold medal.

Preliminary round


The Philippines opened the medal round with a rematch with the South Korean team, but this time the Koreans held the Filipinos to a low scoring affair. The opponents tried to get a monumental upset as the Filipinos struggled in their shooting. However, the Filipinos backed by the partisan home crowd, repulsed every repeated rally by the Koreans and eventually won a hard-fought 76-52 win. The next game was against the strong and tall Japanese team, the Filipinos played an inspired basketball game despite a cold reception by the crowd. The Japanese were seem to be affected by the catcalls and some pelting incident because the war memories seemed fresh to the people's minds. But in the end, the Filipinos ran away with the victory.

Group A

Team Pld W L
 Philippines 3 3 0
 Korea 3 2 1
 Singapore 3 1 2
 Cambodia 3 0 3

Group B

Team Pld W L
 Republic of China 3 3 0
 Japan 3 2 1
 Indonesia 3 1 2
 Thailand 3 0 3

The long-awaited finale is between both unbeaten teams, the Philippines and the Republic of China, and as expected both teams played their hearts out. Both played good defense as the teams battled to a low scoring ball game. It may be some sort of a statement game for the Chinese as they earlier gave the Philippines its first lost in the Far Eastern Games and so defeating the Philippines right in front of their fans would be equally stunning. The Chinese even took a precarious lead in the second half as the gold medal is slowly slipping away. But the inspired plays of Loyzaga and Mumar fueled a furious run for the Filipinos as they took the lead and eventually for good as the Philippines won their second Asian Games gold medal with the final score of 34-27.

Final round

Team Pld W L
 Philippines 3 3 0
 Republic of China 3 2 1
 Japan 3 1 2
 Korea 3 0 3

The Herminio Silva-mentored Philippine team that is bound for Brazil is composed of Bayani Amador, Rafael Barretto, Florentino Bautista, Jr., Napoleon Flores, Benjamin Francisco, Antonio Genato, Carlos Loyzaga, Ramon Manulat, Lauro Mumar, Mariano Tolentino, Francisco Rabat, Ponciano Saldaña, Jose Maria Cacho, Rafael Hechanova, Sr., Eduardo Lim, Ambrosio Padilla and Ignacio Ramos.

The squad gave a courtesy visit to President Ramon Magsaysay at the Malacanang Palace before they fly to Brazil for the tournament.

When the reached Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian officials gave them a warm welcome. In a country where football is the national sport, it seems basketball is virtual unknown to them but in reality Brazil has a world class basketball team.


Twelve nations competed in the tournament, which divided into four groups of three teams. As the selection of the teams for the grouping were done, the Philippines were unfortunately grouped into two South American teams and the most difficult part of it is that we were grouped with the host nation.

Competing nations

Group A Group B Group C Group D
 Brazil
 Paraguay
 Philippines
 Canada
 Peru
 USA
 France
 Uruguay
 Yugoslavia
 Chile
 Formosa
 Israel

The Philippines opened its debut in the World Championship with a group match against Paraguay. With virtually no fan support, the Filipinos faced a hostile crowd of Paraguayans who came to Brazil just to cheer on their team. Despite the unfavorable circumstances, the Filipinos raced to an early lead to silence the crowd, though the Paraguayans have launched rallies after rallies the Filipinos held their ground to a comfortable 64-52 win.

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Next game, was an all-important one because not only they will be facing the host country but their chances of going into the next round depends on it. The Philippines is facing the tall and bruising lineup of the Brazilians. Though known for their football, it was led by their dynamic duo of Zenny de Azevedo (also known as "Algodão") and Wlamir Marques. The Filipinos fall prey to the boisterous home crowd and some spotty officiating that led them to costly turnovers, thus ruining their game plan of preventing key Brazilian players from scoring heavily. The Philippines lost 62-99. The campaign is hanging on the balance because the team's qualification is heavily dependent on the result of the last game, meaning if Paraguay wins against Brazil then its all over for the Philippines. Fortunately, Brazil won a squeaker against Paraguay in a closely fought 61-52 win for the home team.

Group A

Team Pts Pld W L PF PA Diff
 Brazil 4 2 2 0 160 114 +46
 Philippines 3 2 1 1 126 151 -25
 Paraguay 2 2 0 2 104 125 -21




Philippines  64–52  Paraguay
Brazil  99–62  Philippines
Paraguay  52–61  Brazil

As for the other groupings, the United States, Uruguay and Formosa top their respective groups. Runners up Philippines, Canada, France and Israel also qualified to the final round. The final round is a single round-robin affair wherein the best record will win the gold medal. The results of the other group games:

Group B

Team Pts Pld W L PF PA Diff
 USA 4 2 2 0 132 88 +44
 Canada 3 2 1 1 105 117 -12
 Peru 2 2 0 2 109 141 -32




Peru  51–73  USA
Canada  37–59  USA
Canada  68–58  Peru

Group C

Team Pts Pld W L PF PA Diff
 Uruguay 4 2 2 0 113 98 +15
 France 3 2 1 1 113 118 -5
 Yugoslavia 2 2 0 2 112 122 -10




Yugoslavia  52–55  Uruguay
France  67–60  Yugoslavia
Uruguay  58–46  France

Group D

Team Pts Pld W L PF PA Diff
 Formosa 3 2 1 1 115 113 +2
 Israel 3 2 1 1 100 98 +2
 Chile 3 2 1 1 117 121 -4
Group D Games




Israel  52–55  Formosa
Formosa  66–68  Chile
Israel  55–49  Chile

The Philippines opened its Final Round match with a convincing win against Israel 90-56. Then after that was a rematch with host country Brazil, who previously won 99-62. The Philippines has held the hosts by forcing to shot poorly from the field and so the host's lead was still manageable, however, the Brazilian big men ruled the boards as it outrebounded Loyzaga and company. The Brazilians increased the lead for good and they won 57-41.The next game was against the Canadians, hoping to bounce back from the loss, the Philippines fought tooth and nail for a close 83-76 win.

The Philippines made it a back-to-back win with a 66-60 victory against France, wherein it is said that Mumar ran underneath the legs of French center Jean-Paul Beugnot and scored a layup. Another hostile crowd, the Philippines faced Uruguay and its army of supporters, it is said that the match was almost cancelled because of the huge number of Uruguayan fans wanting to get in the venue. The match also ran with some hitches as there are so many stoppages of play as there questionable calls for both sides and pelting incidents because of the fact that wanted to win so that it can still have a chance to win at least a bronze medal. 

Both teams tightened their defenses as the game went down the wire, but the resilience of the Filipinos held as they won 67-63. The Philippines next assignment as against the United States, who previously defeated host Brazil 62-41 to remain undefeated, in a match that is turning point of the team's goal because a win against U.S. and a loss by Brazil will increase the team's chances of winning the gold medal. The Americans lead the whole game from start to finish though briefly holding precariously slim leads on various ocassions but it was not to be as the Philippines lost 43-56. That match was the most competitive game the Americans has played in the whole tournament, meaning it was only the Filipinos that gave the Americans a ran for their money. The Americans is almost guaranteed of a gold medal while the Philippines still has a mathematical chance to win the silver medal if it wins against Formosa, which previously lost to the Philippines in the Asian Games a few months before, and Brazil will lose to Canada by 20 points or more. Though easily defeated Formosa 48-38, Brazil overwhelmed Canada 82-67 to capture the silver medal. The Philippines has to settle with the bronze medal.


Pos. Team Pts W L PF PA Avg. Tie
1  USA 14 7 0 482 300 1.61
2  Brazil 13 6 1 418 341 1.23
3  Philippines 12 5 2 438 406 1.08
4  France 10 3 4 371 392 0.95
5  Formosa 9 2 5 345 405 0.85 1.063
6  Uruguay 9 2 5 422 446 0.94 1.031
7  Canada 9 2 5 433 498 0.87 0.914
8  Israel 8 1 6 330 451 0.73

Final Round Games
Team A Pts. A Pts. B Team B
Canada 50 43 Israel
Uruguay 59 64 United States
Israel 56 90 Philippines
France 58 48 Formosa
Canada 50 84 United States
Brazil 57 41 Philippines
Uruguay 67 62 Formosa
Israel 48 45 France
Canada 76 83 Philippines
United States 72 28 Formosa
Brazil 49 36 France
France 57 49 Uruguay
Uruguay 73 69 Israel
Canada 61 74 Formosa
Philippines 66 60 France
United States 74 30 Israel
Brazil 60 45 Uruguay
Canada 62 66 France
Formosa 51 38 Israel
Philippines 67 63 Uruguay
United States 62 41 Brazil
Formosa 44 61 Brazil
Philippines 43 56 United States
Uruguay 66 67 Canada
Israel 46 68 Brazil
France 49 70 United States
Formosa 38 48 Philippines
Canada 67 82 Brazil

The only consolation for the Philippines is that Carlos Loyzaga was the third leading scorer in the tournament and was included in the mythical team.

Topscorers of the Tournament

Name Country Games Total Points Points Average
Oscar Moglia  Uruguay 9 168 18.6
Carl Ridd  Canada 9 164 18.2
Carlos Loyzaga  Philippines 9 148 16.4
Jean-Paul Beugnot  France

12.0
Kirby Minter  USA

11.1
Amaury Pasos  Brazil

11.1
Doug Gresham  Canada

10.8
Angelo Bonfietti  Brazil

10.7
Abraham Schneior  Israel

10.7
Wlamir Marques  Brazil

10.5

All-Tournament Team

Name Country
Carlos Loyzaga  Philippines
Kirby Minter  USA
Oscar Moglia  Uruguay
Zenny de Azevedo ("Algodão")  Brazil
Wlamir Marques  Brazil

After the tournament, the Philippines failed to reached that position. Brazil eventually won two straight titles in 1959 and 1963 becoming the first country to win back-to-back world championships (Yugoslavia won 1998 and 2002). The only legacy the Philippines has is that its top finishes in the Olympics (fifth place) and World Championships (third) is the best in Asia.

As for Loyzaga, Mumar, Lim, Rabat, Genato and the rest of the team, they will be forever enshrined as the legends that gave us a dream to succeed. They will always be in our pantheon of heroes. 
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