(First of two parts)
Eighty seven years ago last August 29, Carmen Loyzaga (nee Matute) gave birth o a big, bouncy, 11-pound boy she and her husband Joaquin would name Carlos.
Despite the boy’s size, no one among those who witnessed and welcomed Caloy’s arrival on earth that he would, later in his life, would assume the role as face of Philippine basketball.
Basketball, after all wasn’t that popular then although father Joaquin, many-time member of the Philippine football team during the Far Eastern Games, precursor of the now Asia Games from 1913 to 1934, wanted his son to follow in his footstep. Which the young Caloy did. In fact, Caloy’s first love, actually was football.
The first thing to know about Carlos Loyzaga is that he’s for real. He stood 6-foot-3 inches, he had five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot. Was handsome, dashing owing to the Cuban-Filipino-Spanish blood flowing in his veins. Both father Joaquin and mother Carmen were born in the Philippines of Cuban-Filipino-Spanish descent.
He played at center but can also play as ably and well at guard and forward positions. As one who manned the slot, it was not so much his ceiling as his asset, but, his “abilidad,” timing, ability to box out the enemies under the boards enabling him to out-maneuver, out-position, out-jump his opponents.
He earned the moniker “The Big Difference” during his more than two-decade long career playing basketball because he was big, not only in size but the way he played. He spelled the difference in many title victories of the Philippines in the Asian Games and Asian Basketball Confederation tournaments as well as the honors and respect the country gained in the Olympics and world fronts.
Caloy served as cog in the Philippine campaign in the 1954 World Championship held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil where the country brought home the bronze medal, the highest fashioned out by any Asian country in the biggest basketball event outside of the Olympic Games.
He even outdid himself in that meet by emerging one of the three top scorers in the entire tournament with an average 16.4 per game next to Uruguay’s Oscar Moglia (18.6) and Carl Ridd of Canada (18.2)
Caloy’s feat earned for him a slot in the world team along with Kirby Minter of the United States, Mongolia, Zenny de Azevedo and Wlamir Marques, both of the host country Brazil, an honor only one other Asian, Yao Ming, would duplicate five decades later.
Reason why many believe that Loyzaga should be recognized as “the greatest Filipino and Asian,” for that matter, to ever play the game. Loyzaga, in fact, should have been elevated to the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Hall of Fame much, much ahead of Yao.
Until his passing away on January 27,2016, Caloy hasn’t earned such recognition.
How good a player Loyzaga was can be gauge that when he hang up his no. 41 uniform in 1964, the Philippines lost its in supremacy in the sport his countrymen love most. The Filipino basketeers, once the apple of the eyes of Asians, likewise, lost their slots in the Olympic Games where they last saw action five decades ago.