The debate continues
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2020 - 12:00am

The debate continues. How do you quantify greatness, and how do you unify the differences between disciplines and make a single, measurable determination of who was better? It is the Holy Grail of quests for sports journalists, because any outright declaration will be met with opposition. Everyone will have their own favorites, their own evidence, skewed or not. In our book, “The 50 Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time”, fellow The Star columnist Joaquin Henson contribute to the discussion.

Basketball will be the battleground for one of the biggest arguments of all. How fo you compare the value of the achievements and contributions of teams and players from different generations? In our book, we profile a few key teams and significant players who helped advance the sport. Obviously, hoops is a big part of Filipino sports history and culture. We picked three teams for their accomplishments: the pioneering Olympic team of 1936, the world contender team of 1954, and the first all-pro team of 1990. But there is really no way to comprehensively compare all three teams. No computer simulation could unify the differences in rules, circumstances and opposition. The 1936 team had no shot clock, played outdoors and was cheated out of a gold medal in Berlin. The 1954 team played against a larger international field. The 1990 team was playing against China, in China, in front of the Chinese Army.

In a similar vein, how do you compare Ambrosio Padilla and Jacinto Ciria Cruz with succeeding generations of basketball players? In essence, how do we juxtapose the naturally segregated post-Olympic, pre-PBA and open basketball players? Caloy Loyzaga was named one of the best players in the world. In the world. Robert Jaworski is the logo of the PBA. Junemar Fajardo has won five league MVP awards, eclipsing Mon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio’s four apiece. Allan Caidic and Samboy Lim were named to the Asian Games Mythical Team.  How do you measure one against the other? It’s like the Ne Jack City generation of NBA players saying they’re better than the old-timers because there are more teams. The old-timers reply that they were better because in the 1960’s, they played the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell more often. Who wins?

Even within a sport, it is hard to narrow down. There are also a handful of bowlers, boxers and billiards players in the book, all justified in their inclusion. But which accolades (and how many) will place one a rank over the other? Does a world championship held every year mean more than an Olympic silver? What about Olympic medals given per weight class versus an overall world title in a non-Olympic sport? Jethro Dionisio was already a six-time pistol shooting world champion when he dedicated a decade of his career to shotguns because it is an Olympic event. How do we evaluate that?

What about newer sports, or fresher ascendancy in an old sport? Bodybuilders Dondon Cortuna and Cheryl Nakanishi have followed in some really big footsteps (like those of Roland Dantes) and taken it up a notch. Some say the sport is better because there are more competitors. Some argue that it is diluted with more categories. This isn’t just noise, but legitimate evolution of the sport. How does one filter out what is extraneous?

Boxing is a major example, both pro and amateur. Originally, there were much fewer weight divisions. Amateur rules were also very different. At first, there were no weight divisions, no time limits to rounds, no limits on the number of rounds. Does that cheapen ir color any achievement that came after? Would we rate Manny Pacquiao differently had he been an outstanding national team boxer? Would ha have bested Flash Elorde in his prime? I would pay to see that fight.

Lastly, we’d have to separate contributions as athletes from their accomplishments as coaches, trainers, managers and officials. They are, after all, different roles. For example, we never heard of Coach Baby Dalupan the basketball player because, as early as grade school in the 1930’s, The Maestro realized he was not cut out to play. But for previous generations of basketball fans, we was the greatest coach in the game.

All this, and still no answer to the question of how to decide who is the fairest of them all.

You may order “The Fifty Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time” for P2,000 by calling 83327452 or e-mailing In this writer’s name. Delivery is free within Metro Manila.

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