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Henry Liao

CALOY LOYZAGA: *The Greatest Filipino Cager Ever, Part I

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You did not have to love him or hate him; he simply was a charismatic figure who was admired by all.

He was not a living legend because of media’s creation; he was a legendary figure in his own time who simply walked the talk on the hardwood in workmanlike fashion.

His name: *Carlos Loyzaga, the greatest player ever in Philippine basketball history.

Loyzaga, who turns 82 on August 29, now lives in Australia, bereft of any substantial benefits from the Philippine government that befits his stature as one of the country’s national treasures.

How sad it is. *

Long before the People’s Republic of China came to dominate the Asian basketball scene in the mid-1970s, the Philippines was the sport’s undisputed kingpin this side of the Pacific.

This decades-long reign was mainly due to Loyzaga, arguably the most outstanding cager that the Philippines has ever produced.

Caloy, as Loyzaga is fondly called, was largely responsible for turning basketball into the country’s national pastime.

A bull-strong 6-3, 200-pound center in his prime, Loyzaga spanned an era that contributed in no small measure to the tremendous popularity currently enjoyed by the game among the Filipinos.

If there is a single personality responsible for enhancing the mass appeal of any sport in his country, he would be Loyzaga, known as “The Big Difference,” “The Great Difference” and “King Caloy” during his time.

Loyzaga was the Pele of basketball in the Philippines.

Loyzaga was a rarity in that he could play all three positions – center, guard and forward – with equal efficiency.

But it was as a center that he was most recognized – a tough, deadly and grace slotman who sowed terror in the hearts of his adversaries.

Talking about Loyzaga is like leafing through the pages of the sport’s golden era in the Philippines.

In the 1950s, the Filipinos never lost a basketball title in Asia.

Loyzaga was so awesome that the Philippines could then compete creditably at the international level, proof of which was the country’s bronze-medal finish at the 1954 FIBA World Basketball Championship (now known as FIBA World Cup) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Until now, it has remained the highest finish ever by an Asian country in the prestigious quadrennial competitions among the world’s top basketball athletes.

Making it to the national team at age 21, Loyzaga, who was born on August 29, 1930 in San Jose, Mindoro Oriental, represented the national tri-colors for the first time during the 1951 Asian Games in New Delhi, India where the Filipinos broke through with a gold-medal finish and a perfect 4-0 record.

It was the start of a long, brilliant career by Loyzaga as a national player, halted only with his retirement in 1964.

Loyzaga was a hands-down choice to suit up in the 1960 Rome Olympics but failed to join the Nationals when he tripped and broke his right wrist while playing softball at the Cortabitarte Field, which is now occupied by the Ospital ng Maynila.

Still and all, Loyzaga was able to catapult the Philippines to four straight gold-medal finishes in the Asian Games – 1951 in New Delhi, 1954 in Manila, 1958 in Tokyo (Japan) and 1962 in Jakarta (Indonesia), the latter of which was the last time that the country secured the gold medal in the regional quadrennial games.

There also was a pair of championships in the Asian Basketball Confederation tournament (now known as the FIBA Asia Championship) in 1960 in Manila and 1963 in Taipei (Taiwan).

For his winning efforts, Loyzaga was named to the All-Star Mythical Five in the inaugural (1960) ABC games.

Loyzaga also spearheaded the country’s participation in various international competitions outside of Asia during his distinguished playing tenure.

He donned the national jersey during the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, stunningly earned a bronze during the 1954 World Basketball Championship in Rio de Janeiro, and saw action in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, where the Philippines finished seventh; the 1959 WBC in Santiago, Chile, and the 1962 World invitational tournament in Manila.

Loyzaga impressed observers so much during the 1956 Melbourne Olympiad that he was twice offered athletic scholarships at the University of Oregon. *But Caloy rejected the offers.

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