King Caloy will reign forever
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2016 - 9:00am

Caloy Loyzaga is gone. Long live the King of Philippine basketball forever in our hearts. He is immortalized by his exploits on the court, a legend in his own time. There is no greater Filipino basketball player who ever lived. And for what he exemplified as an athlete on and off the court, the POC will honor the Big Difference with a rare citation during the PSA Awards Night on Feb. 13.

No less than POC president Jose Cojuangco, Jr. thought of citing Loyzaga with an Olympism award. POC first vice president Joey Romasanta has arranged with the PSA to allot a special portion in the program for the unprecedented recognition. Both Cojuangco and Romasanta condoled with the Loyzaga family at the Arlington wake last Saturday night. Romasanta said the award will be one of a kind because Loyzaga was one of a kind.

Loyzaga passed away at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday last week at 85. He was confined at the Cardinal Santos Hospital for nearly two weeks and would’ve been discharged the day of his death. “We brought my dad to the hospital because he wouldn’t eat,” said Loyzaga’s oldest child Chito. “Doctors found out he had pneumonia and a urinary tract infection. When his infection and pneumonia were addressed, Dad got stronger and wanted to go home. But he had difficulty swallowing. Doctors put a peg near his colostomy bag in the stomach for his nutrition. He didn’t like the idea of a tube through the nose for his food. Then, early last Wednesday morning, he passed away peacefully.”

Loyzaga survived a quadruple heart bypass in 1999 and a stroke that took away his speech in 2011. Chito gave up his job with the PSC to be with his father in Australia for an extended period in 2012 until deciding to bring him back home. Loyzaga and his wife Vicky settled in Australia in 1987. Loyzaga was a celebrity in the Philippines and after hanging up his sneakers in 1964, became a Manila councilor and worked at the airport. When he relocated to Australia, Loyzaga enjoyed his private life, took a job as a security specialist, played golf and tended to his garden. Three of his five children – Joey, Princess and Teresa – also moved to Australia. His two other children Chito and Bing stayed in Manila.

Friends, relatives, admirers and fans from all walks of life paid their respects to Loyzaga at his wake. His body lay in state from Thursday to Sunday then last Monday, he was cremated. His remains were brought to his alma mater San Beda College in Mendiola after the noon Mass at Arlington. San Beda was special to Loyzaga. He led the Red Lions to three NCAA senior titles in 1951, 1952 and 1955.

One of his San Beda teammates Tony Genato was at the wake every day. Genato was married to Loyzaga’s first cousin and they grew up playing basketball in the dirt court behind the Sta. Mesa Church as teenagers. The Loyzaga-Genato tandem endured through the 1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne Olympics. They were also together when the Philippines took third place at the FIBA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro and first place at the Asian Games, both in 1954.

Loyzaga played on the Philippine team that took four Asian Games gold medals in 1951, 1954, 1958 and 1962. He was also on the national squad that hit paydirt at the FIBA Asia (then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation) Championships in 1960, 1963 and 1967. In all, Loyzaga starred for 12 national squads. With the YCO Painters, Loyzaga anchored the team that captured seven straight national championships and five MICAA crowns. Loyzaga wasn’t just a phenomenal player, he was a winner. He retired as a player in 1964 at 34. In 1967, he coached the Philippines to the FIBA Asia title in Seoul.

At the height of Loyzaga’s playing career, he was hailed even in Spain. In 1955, he spearheaded the YCO club that barnstormed Spain with coach Leo Prieto. A photo of the Painters with a description of Loyzaga as being “famous” appeared in the Spanish basketball history book “El Libro de Oro del Basket – 1923-85” by Fernando Font.

At the wake last Sunday, Loyzaga’s wife Vicky recalled her wonderful life with the man of her dreams.  They were married when he was 27 and she was barely 19. There was a constant stream of visitors expressing their condolences. Her close friends Conchita Razon and Connie Guingona sat beside her. Genato, Nenita Matute and Lily Genato were with her, too. Piolo Pascual came. The late Kurt Bachmann’s sons Dicky and Bob paid their respects as did Recah Trinidad, his son Chino and Luigi Tabuena.

 More than his achievements as a player, Loyzaga will be remembered for his integrity and pure love of the game. “When you wear the colors of your country on your uniform, your country comes first before yourself,” he once said. “You look at what’s in front, not your name at the back of your jersey. If you have to break a bone to fight for your country, you break it. It’s not about money. When we played for the national team, we got an allowance of $3 to $5 a day during the Asian Games and $10 a day for the Olympics. We weren’t promised any bonuses for winning. We went out there to play for our country – we played for honor, nothing else. We were proud to represent the Philippines as Filipinos.”

  Loyzaga will always be an inspiration to all Filipinos. In 1954, he was honored as one of the world’s top 10 basketball players, a recognition no other Filipino has gained. Loyzaga put the Philippines on the world basketball map and brought honor to the country as a player, sportsman, gentleman and an exceptional human being. Here’s a warm salute to King Caloy.

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