To the greatest, for whom the bells have tolled,
Today is a dark day in Philippine basketball, and no, we're not talking about Gilas Pilipinas getting grouped with France, Canada, and Turkey in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. As tough a draw as that is, it doesn’t compare with the news that you are no longer with us. You are considered the greatest Filipino basketball player of all time, and at a time when we, as a country, are gearing up for the biggest basketball tournament in years, we’re instead bowing our heads in mourning.
A few generations of Filipino basketball fans don’t know who you are and that’s a crying shame. In your heyday in the '50s, you were regarded as one of the best basketball players in the world. Not in the Philippines. Not in Asia. In the world. You were the driving force behind our historic third-place finish at the 1954 Rio de Janeiro World Basketball Championships, a feat that still stands to this day as the best finish by an Asian country in the tournament. You were so good that you were named to the tournament’s mythical selection. Nobody remembers your stats, but the fact that you were the biggest reason behind our success in that tournament speaks to the level of skill you had in the game of basketball.
Anyone who grew up studying in San Beda knows all too well how revered you are along those halls in Mendiola. To this day, the mere mention of your name brings forth the kind of respect and admiration reserved for other equally revered Bedan alumni—Ninoy Aquino, Raul Roco, Manny Pangilinan, Fernando Poe Jr.
In the pantheon of the greatest Bedans in history, you had a seat in the presidential table.
But your contributions to the country extended well beyond what you did for your alma mater. Along with leading the Philippines to that third place finish in the 1954 FIBA Worlds, you helped our local squad win four straight Asian Games gold medals and two straight FIBA Asia Championships. We’ve never experienced that kind of success since so it really spoke to how good you were as a basketball player.
Beyond personal trophies, your victories tore through the thick jungle foliage like an ax. It made us believe that the Philippines can go far in a game that's not exactly tailor-made for the vertically challenged. You were a firestarter—and the fire rages on. Look: Decades since your podium finishes, our local squad still plays with the same fire, heart, and determination. In fact, these have become our trademarks in the international basketball scene. If it hadn't been for you, we might be playing some other ghastly sport right now, say, football. (Kidding.)
Rest in peace, Carlos Loyzaga. From one Filipino to another, you are, and will always be, the Big Difference. We hope we can make you proud as you watch us from your new hardwood home in heaven.
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