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TRIBUTE TO GONZALO 'LITO' PUYAT


PhilBoxing.com


MANILA (PNA) - In the international basketball scene, they called him “Lito,” the two-term International Basketball Federation president who stood at the forefront of the fight for open basketball and contributed greatly to its success. As vice president of the then Asian Basketball confederation (now FIBA-Asia), Gonzalo Puyat II sought the inclusion of youth basketball, particularly the junior championship, which, up to this days, is in the confederation’s order of activities.

As a long-time head of the now-defunct Basketball association of the Philippines (now Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas), “Tolits,” or “Spar,” or simply “Par,” to the local sports community, or “Ling” to relatives and closest friends, was the man responsible for lifting of suspension imposed by FIBA in the early 60's and bringing to this shore the World Basketball Championship, thus, gifting the Philippines the distinction as the first in Asia to host the prestigious tournament among the best basketball-playing nations on planet earth.


The suspension came about when in 1962, the Philippines was awarded the right to host the world tourney for the first time, but a diplomatic booboo by the government barring entry of Yugoslavia and other socialist nations entry denied the country that honor and reducing the meet to mere invitational.

While his fight for the inclusion of professional players saw fruition in the United States and elsewhere in the world that saw old time greats Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the 90s present day heroes like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play in the Olympic Games, world championship and all FIBA-sanctioned major international competitions, Puyat’s obsession to see the best Filipino players see action and lead the nation qualify in those, remained just that, a dream.

Puyat died of asthma and its complications last Monday with sports, basketball in particular, still running in his blood. He was to celebrate his 80th birthday on May 31 this year.

While this descendant of the rich and powerful Puyat and Gil families of Manila and Pampanga relished the many accomplishments he had contributed in the growth of his favorite sport not only in the Philippines and in Asia but, likewise, in the world, “Spar” took pride more in his presiding over the 1978 World Championship, which was to become the yardstick of all the following tournaments.

“That inaanak (Puyat was one of this writer’s and wife Annie’s wedding sponsors) is, up to this day, the most organized and successful world championships ever,” Puyat told People’s Journal and several selected sportswriters in one of the many drinking sessions he hosted. “And that was one of the things I am very proud I have done in my life na mabigyan ng napakalaking karangalan ang ating bansa in the eyes, not only of our Asian neighbors but of the entire universe.”

Indeed it was because that 1978 seventh edition of the world championship, was for the first time in it’s 28th year history, held in two venues – the historic Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila and the air-conditioned Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

The Rizal hoophouse inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex might not have the first class amenities offered by its Quezon City counterpart, but it was a vast improvement from an ancient court encased in a wire cage of the ol Luna Park Stadium, site of the tournament’s first staging in Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Or the open-air venue in a football field in Santiago, Chile in 1959 and the infamous “frigidaire” arena in an old building swept by biting snow-winds from the Pole in Montevideo in Uruguay in 1967.

All the 12 participating teams and delegations were billeted in Manila’s five-star hotels. All delegation heads were accorded with air-conditioned limousines.

For two weeks from Oct. 1-14, the entire universe was treated to first class basketball by the competing teams headed by defending champion Soviet Union and eventual winner Yugoslavia, who, in return savored the world-famous friendship and hospitality of the Filipino people.

No less than Russian world chess champion Anatoly Karpov was on hand to watch the championship game between the Soviets and the Slavs. He was to return to Baguio City where he was defending his crown against Switzerland’s Viktor Korchnoi frustrated by the Soviets’ loss.

Puyat, a public servant on the side having been a councilor of Manila two times and assemblyman, was a recipient of numerous awards for his exemplary and unselfish service to sports, including the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1972, the Philippine Olympic Committee Gold Medallion for sports leadership in 1986.

FIBA conferred on him its First Order of Merit award in its congress in 1994 during the world championship that year in Toronto. In July, 2000, during the 40th anniversary of the then ABC in Kuala Lumpur Puyat, along with its founders, including founding president, former Senator Ambrosio Padilla and secretary general Dioniso Calvo, were honored with recognition.

Puyat’s leadership acumen ran deep in the blood. He was the grandson of the late Don Gonzalo Puyat. a namesake and noted pioneer industrialist and founder of Don Gonzalo Puyat Sons. His maternal grandfather, the late Don Pedro Gil, was former assemblyman. His uncle Gil Puyat, was a four-term senator who became senate president and head of the Grand Old Nacionalista Party .He was the son son Deogracias Puyat, a member of the undefeated debating team of the University of the Philippines during his college days, and Patria Gil-Puyat.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.


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