There used to be an era when Filipinos were the most respected and feared in Asia in the sport of basketball. It was a glorious time when the Philippinaa+es was a fixture in world championships and even Olympic games. And one of the pillars of such era is a tough looking and burly guard from Davao named Loreto “Bonnie” Delima Carbonell. Bonnie was part of the illustrious Philippine team that won 7th place in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, where he averaged 6.4 points, including a 13-point output versus Uruguay. Three years after, he led all Filipinos in scoring in the 1959 World Championship in Chile with 15.3 points per game, to help the National team salvage a respectable 8th place in the tournament participated by thirteen countries. Against Thailand and then United Arab Republic, he dropped 24 and 21 markers respectively. Among the other legendary names in that squad are Carlos “Big Difference” Loyzaga, Edgardo Ocampo, Carlos Badion, Kurt Bachmann, Mariano Tolentino and Eduardo Lim.
In 2005, I had the honor of meeting Carbonell when then San Beda Red Lions coach Koy Banal brought him as a consultant. Banal played for him in the 1979 San Beda team when Carbonell was the head coach. Coach Bonnie took over from his former National team and Red Lion teammate Loyzaga in handling the coaching chores of the varsity squad in the NCAA back in 1976. In 1977 and 1978, he led the Lions to back-to-back NCAA titles versus Ateneo and La Salle respectively. He was the coach during the historical NCAA closed-door championship game between San Beda and Ateneo in ’77, which the Bedans won. Among his players then were Frankie Lim, Jayvee Yango, Chuck Barreiro, Cholo Martin and Loyzaga’s son Chito.
Coach Bonnie still looked intimidating when he entered the court. Banal and Martin often talked about how Carbonell was a strict disciplinarian as a hoops mentor. Martin, who was team captain under Coach Bonnie, fondly remembers how he would often try to elude Carbonell’s crunching training. One time, he climbed a tree to hide from a furious coach Bonnie, who ordered the players to run around the football field.
But Carbonell was also a pleasant presence in the daily practices and never runs out of stories to tell. He narrated how he was discovered by an American Jesuit priest named Fr. Richard Cronin, who was then coach of Ateneo de Davao. Cronin, an All-American basketball player in his younger years, took a young Bonnie under his wings and polished his game. Bonnie was a tough kid coming from a humble family. He said he would just walk a couple of hours from his home in the hills to the Ateneo campus. There, he developed his signature move – the behind the back dribble – which he said he could do from end to end. It was considered a fancy move at the time and his coaches discouraged him from doing it frequently. But he brought this skill, plus more, to the NCAA as a San Beda star alongside Loyzaga, Tony Genato and Eddie Lim. They dominated the league at the time.
Since 2005 up to early this year, Coach Bonnie commuted daily from his home in Paranaque to Mendiola to attend the daily practices. He still loved sharing his hoops wisdom to the younger generation of Red Lions. After playing and coaching for his alma mater, he continued to serve as consultant under Banal, Lim, Ronnie Magsanoc, Boyet Fernandez and Jamike Jarin. He has shared valuable inputs to different batches of San Beda stars that include Bam Gamalinda, Yousif Aljamal, Ogie Menor, Pong Escobal, Sam Ekwe, Borgie Hermida, Garvo Lanete, Dave Marcelo, Jake Pascual, Anjo Caram, Su Daniel, Rome Dela Rosa, Kyle Pascual, Baser Amer and Arthur Dela Cruz. But over the past five months, Coach Bonnie stopped attending training due to a poor heart condition.
On Saturday morning, Carbonell succumbed to heart failure in his home, according to his son Cocong. He was 84. His remains lie in state at the Funeraria Paz in Sucat, Paranaque City.
Coach Bonnie is the latest of Pinoy hoops legends that passed away after good friend Caloy Loyzaga early last year.