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Down memory lane

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson () - April 14, 2010 - 12:00am

Last Friday, several players who saw action in the PBA’s first-ever game showed up to be introduced to the crowd that came for a Fiesta Conference twinbill at the Cuneta Astrodome.

It was the start of the PBA’s Foundation Week celebration and what more appropriate way to toast the league’s 35th anniversary than to recall the game that got the ball rolling.

The historic inaugural game pitted Mariwasa against Concepcion Carrier before 18,000 fans at the Araneta Coliseum on April 9, 1975. Mariwasa was coached by founding PBA president and team owner Emerson Coseteng while Tito Eduque called the shots for Concepcion whose team manager was Dondo Lim. For the record, Mariwasa won, 101-98, with Concepcion guard Joy Dionisio scoring the first basket.

Nine players came for the celebration rites. Mariwasa was represented by Luke Dacula, Mark Arriola, Edmundo Tierra and Ulysses Rodriguez while appearing for Concepcion were Jimmy Mariano, Jimmy Noblezada, Alfonso (Boy) Mora, Boysie Henares and Lim Eng Beng. The veterans walked proudly onto the court as they were called in, one by one, waving to the fans. Mariano, who turns 68 this Monday, was the group’s senior statesman. He played five seasons in the PBA for Concepcion, Seven-Up and Filmanbank. Beng, 58, looked as dashing as ever, with a full head of hair. He’s still actively playing in the seniors league after an 11-year career in the PBA with Concepcion, U-Tex, San Miguel Beer, Crispa and Manila Beer. Mora, 56, typified the hardcourt heartthrob, wearing shades and showing a trim figure. The former Letran star played four years in the PBA with Concepcion and U-Tex.

Noblezada, 59, had specks of grey in his hair and still stood ramrod-straight like in his heyday as the PBA’s “Iron Man.” A successful entrepreneur, he saw action in seven PBA seasons with Concepcion and U-Tex. Henares, 57, played two years with Concepcion after starring for Ateneo in the collegiate ranks while Rodriguez, 63, put in five seasons as a pro with Mariwasa and Gilbey’s Gin. Arriola, 60, played five years with Mariwasa. Tierra, 58, lives in Bulacan and his younger brother Adonis, also a PBA veteran now assistant coach with Sta. Lucia Realty, convinced him to return to the “happy hunting grounds.”

Dacula, 61, played seven years in the PBA with Mariwasa and Gilbey’s Gin. His real name is Lucrecio Dator and for some reason, he was known as Dacula, often jokingly referred to as the “prince of darkness.” Dacula averaged 7.2 points in 232 career games.

* * * *

What made the nostalgic experience more unforgettable was the presence of former Sen. Nikki Coseteng who used to sit on the Galerie Dominique bench as team owner and manager after her father’s death. She threw the ceremonial first toss in the game between Derby Ace and Air21, dwarfed by giants Rafi Reavis and Keena Young who were involved in the jump.

Dionisio, 60, was missing in action. A PBA source said he resides somewhere in Caloocan. Henares promised to bring along Dionisio when the Foundation Week marks its climax at the Araneta Coliseum on April 18. Dionisio played nine years in the PBA with Concepcion, Crispa, U-Tex and Galerie Dominique.

Also in the April 9 program was Danita Paner who sang at halftime of the Derby Ace-Air 21 contest. A Suzuki motorcycle, donated by Norkis, was raffled off as the highlight of the night.

Today, the FEU pep squad will perform at the Big Dome and a laptop will be given away as a raffle prize. On Friday, another laptop will be raffled off with the UST Salinggawi dance troupe and balladeer Richard Poon performing.

* * * *

On the final celebration day this Sunday, a Suzuki motorcycle will be up for grabs and players who suited up in the second-ever PBA game between Toyota and U-Tex will be honored. Among the invited veterans are Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Bogs Adornado and Ompong Segura. Toyota nipped U-Tex, 105-101, in the contest.

PBA commissioner Sonny Barrios said former commissioner Rudy Salud has also been invited to grace Sunday’s affair. Singer Luke Mijares and acoustic artist Paolo Santos will be the guest celebrity performers. The doubleheader features Air21 versus Sta. Lucia Realty and San Miguel Beer versus Barangay Ginebra. A big crowd is expected to witness the end of Foundation Week.

PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial said the other day to immortalize the 35th anniversary, the PBA will produce a coffee table book, commemorative personalized car plates with six alpha numerical slots and a special jacket.

“It’s a big deal for any sports league to mark 35 years of existence,” said a grizzled sports fan. “The PBA was created in 1975 under shaky circumstances because team owners just wanted to break away from the BAP. Calling itself a pro league was the perfect excuse to disengage from the BAP which was strictly for amateur basketball. Now, it’s 35 years old and still going strong, thanks to the Board of Governors and a long line of competent commissioners, starting with Leo Prieto.”

The PBA has come a long way and no doubt, it’s here to stay.

A SUZUKI ARANETA COLISEUM CONCEPCION CONCEPCION AND U-TEX DACULA DIONISIO FOUNDATION WEEK MARIWASA MARIWASA AND GILBEY PBA
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