Pinoy basketball in the 1970s: A look back

Posted at 08/29/2014 9:49 AM | Updated as of 08/29/2014 7:15 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- Before we start cheering for Gilas Pilipinas at this year's FIBA World Cup, let's take look back at an era in Philippine basketball when the country last competed in the world championships.

Considered one of the most important decades in terms of Philippine sports, the 1970s saw some of the country's biggest achievements in international basketball, including a gold medal finish in the 1973 Asian Basketball Confederation Championship (now known as the FIBA Asia Championship) and its last appearance in the Summer Olympics.

It was also in the '70s when the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was born, paving the way for the likes of Robert "Sonny" Jaworski, Ramon "El Capitan" Fernandez, Atoy Co, Abet Guidaben, Philip Cesar to shine and become legends.

Most importantly, it was in that decade when the Philippines made its last appearance at the FIBA World Championship, now known as the FIBA World Cup, when the country hosted the event in Manila in 1978.

Former basketball player, retired coach and former senator Freddie Webb was part of that golden era.

As a member of the country's national team that competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics, he witnessed how Philippine basketball has evolved into what it is today.

Webb recalled that the training methods then were "crude," especially when compared to the way most teams are run these days.

"Noong araw, we train on our own... bahala ka na dyan, wala magtuturo sa 'yo kung paanong pagtira ng basketball," he said.

"We were never taught that there should be a follow through. We were never taught that we should concentrate on that ring and then shoot the ball on top of it. Even on free throws, patitirahin ka dyan ng 20, pagka naka-15 ka, uwi ka na," he said.

In the '70s, a team was considered lucky if they had five people in their coaching staff. "We have one coach and assistant coach, then the manager, probably the most is five officials in the bench," explained Webb.

“Ngayon eh mahina 'yung walo. Kung minsan 10. These are people whose expertise are offense, people who teach you defense, they will teach you dribbling, they will teach you shooting... they will teach you everything in basketball."

He noted that even the game itself has undergone vast changes.

The plays have steadily become more accelerated and more exciting to the delight of Filipino fans. The physicality has become so much that that most players are encouraged to bulk up to arm themselves for all the jostling and shoving involved in modern basketball.

"Dati makanto mo lang ng konti, pipito nang referee. Ngayon talagang banggaan, p'westuhan na wala namang intensyong manakit," said Webb. "You have to get ready for lot of pushing, a lot of shoving a lot of possibilities that you bang bodies."

'Basketball crazy'

But nothing has changed with the way Filipinos loved the game. Webb said today's fans are as basketball crazy as they were back then.

He said that in the '70s, the most common form of entertainment was the radio as only a handful of people could afford to buy television. Some would follow radio dramas, others would listen to music. But when it came to sports, everybody tuned in to monitor basketball games.

"Ngayon kahit sa depressed area, may television eh. Some watch teleseryes, some watch to have fun. But for sports, what they watch is always basketball," he said.

This basketball madness reaches fever pitch whenever the Philippines hosts an international competition. For instance, when the FIBA World Championship came to Manila in 1978, basketball's popularity grew by leaps and bounds.

"Anything that we host in our home country, particularly basketball, it's second to none. Alam mo naman ang Pinoy, kung hahatiin mo ang katawan, dalawang klase lang: pamilya at basketball," Webb said.

"Other sports are a far second, 'yung interes natin sa basketball ay endless."

'Puso,' it's always there

Another facet about Philippine basketball that hasn't changed through the years is the perennial challenge of having to battle it out with much taller foreign players.

Even today, Gilas Pilipinas owns the shortest line-up among the FIBA Worlds competitors despite the added ceiling brought by the the inclusion of naturalized players Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche.

Webb said they had the same predicament in the '70s.

"Of course, napakamahirap manalo pagka-ganun na. Ang aming pinakamalaking player ay 6-foot-4, tapos 'yung lalaban ka sa mga player na 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10", 7-footers. Talagang hirap na hirap kami," he said.

But just like today's Philippine national team, the heart and pride was always there for Webb and company.

"We played against the best of the world. Big as they were, we gave them a good fight," he said.