Danny Florencio: the original Skywalker
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - May 31, 2014 - 12:00am

Danny Florencio has never been interviewed on-camera. He has always been shy and unassuming, telling sportswriters to just write about his game and what they see. He did not feel he was someone who should be on television. He was too humble, and didn’t think he had much to say that would make a difference.

Until now.

The original Skywalker, now 66 and retired from working in a hospital in San Francisco, is back in the Philippines to build himself a new home, literally and figuratively. His house burned down, and he had been staying in hotels whenever he would visit every two years. He has been mostly keeping to himself, a little antsy that he really doesn’t have much to do anymore. With much encouragement, one of the most dynamic players in the history of the PBA faced the television cameras for the first time ever.

“I grew up in Quiapo, playing near the fire station,” the 5’8” dynamo began. “The firemen would throw stones at me because I kept playing, but I didn’t mind them. I just wanted to find ways to play the game differently. I was happy.”

In a very conservative culture of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Florencio was already a firebrand, trying moves that nobody had ever seen, and that coaches strongly discouraged. But that would really excite fans, because when he went up in the air, you didn’t know what he would do next.

“I just wanted to be different,” Florencio admitted in the vernacular. “Whenever I would move the ball from my left hand to my right hand while airborne, the coaches would call me over. ‘Are you trying out for the circus or something?’ They would ask. Even dribbling behind the back was not allowed. But I enjoyed doing those things.”

Florencio was part of a UST squad that ran headlong into the mighty “Sherman tank” UE team of Robert Jaworski back in the 1960’s. In one of the most memorable games in UAAP championship history, Florencio lit up the Warriors, singlehandedly keeping the Tigers (then the Goldies) in the game, until he fouled out, and that was that.

“I remember that very clearly,” Florencio paused. “Jaworski was driving to the basket. I blocked Jaworski’s shot, but they called a foul on me. I was disqualified. You only had five fouls back then.”

Florencio gained fame with the original Crispa franchise in the MICAA, expressing his eternal gratitude to team patriarch Danny Floro and his coach Baby Dalupan, most especially for letting him play the way he wanted. He used to drive seven-foot imports crazy with his original tear drop, a finger roll lay-up he would loop over their outstretched hands that fell cleanly through the net. Today, the San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker has resurrected that move and made it his own, but almost half a century ago, Danny Florencio patented the move. He played with a fearlessness that succeeding generations like Samboy Lim and others would emulate. Some basketball fans considered Florencio the prototype Filipino player, the greatest to ever play the game, bar none.

“That was really how I played,” he explained. “At the time, the MICAA was considered amateur. I don’t know if I should say this, but the PBA was also formed to make things more tansparent, to put our contracts on paper. I loved playing, especially for Bossy Danny. I got everything from playing with Crispa. He treated us like family.”

Later in his career, Florencio ended up playing for their bitter rival Toyota, and had to shed his trademark number 8 in deference to the already established point guard of the Comets, Francis Arnaiz. Still, his deadly shooting form and daring drives to the hoop fired up audiences, but it was not the same. In 1984, as he started to lose some of his quickness, he realized it was time to call it quits. Fourteen years ago, he was named to the PBA’s Greatest Players, a rare group of exceptional players, a dream accolade this little kid from Quiapo never expected. But his legacy lies on in all the athletic, aggressive, high-flying players who may not know that they derive their exciting, fearless style of play from a little kid from Quiapo back when it was forbidden to be creative with the basketball.


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