Cage community pays tribute to ‘Godfather’

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star
Cage community pays tribute to �Godfather�
Mikee Romero
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The grieving Philippine basketball community fondly remembered the late Danding Cojuangco, the tycoon-sports patron who engineered the hoops-mad country’s return to Asian prominence in the 1980s.

“Phenomenal,” was how Deputy Speaker and NorthPort owner Mikee Romero described Cojuangco, the “godfather” of the highly-successful Northern Consolidated Cement team.

“He is the real phenom of Philippine basketball. He taught all of us how a Philippine team should be put up, by creating the Northern Consolidated-bannered Philippine team in the 80s. The creation of this team has been the gold standard and prototype for the many Gilas teams that followed suit,” said Romero.

The NCC pooled together the top amateurs and later tapped naturalized players like current Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland.

It first reaped success at the 1982 Asian Junior Championship with a cast that included Hector Calma and future accomplished coaches Jong Uichico and Leo Austria.

NCC reached great heights in 1985, ruling the Asian Interclub, Jones Cup, PBA Reinforced Conference and the Asian championship. Its standouts became PBA greats like Calma, Samboy Lim, Ricky Brown and Allan Caidic.

“As project director for basketball, his program brought back Philippine basketball. And I am proud to be a part of that program,” Uichico said.

“He was personally responsible for the development of our RP team in the 80s and oversaw the NCC team led by coach Ron Jacobs that brought pride to the Philippines. The result was the development of some of our all time great PBA players. It is a sad day for Philippine sports,” said Meralco mentor Black, who coached the Cojuangco-owned San Miguel Beer from 1985 to 1996.

An emotional Brown summed up his feelings for “The Boss” in three words:  Respect, admiration, and loyalty.

“Without Boss Danding, there is no RB23. I owe him so much because he dramatically changed my life,” Brown posted on Facebook. “Mr. Cojuangco did more than provide me a chance to play basketball in the Philippines. The Boss brought me home.”

Black vividly recalled one fateful morning in 1985 when Cojuangco asked him to come on board as the franchise’s playing coach.

“I will never forget going to his office at 7:30 in the morning thinking I would be signed up as the SMB import again, only to be told by him that he wanted me to head the SMB sports program and become the player coach for the PBA team.

“At that time he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” said Black, who won nine of his 11 rings with SMB, spiked by a grand slam in 1989.

Uichico also got his first coaching break from Cojuangco. The current head of SBP’s Coaches’ Academy served as SMB assistant from 1993 to 1998 then called the shots from 1999 to 2006.

“My basketball opportunities started with him and his continued support and trust in my coaching career is (reason) why I am here,” said the nine-time PBA champ.

Cojuangco will never be forgotten for his vision, said Romero, who admitted to “copying” the NCC template when he formed the Harbour Centre-Philippine team for the 2007 SEAG.

“Danding Cojuangco will forever be etched in basketball history as one of its fore founding godfathers who has made our basketball history very, very rich. Without Danding’s vision on Philippine basketball, our standards of playing might not be this high in the totem pole of basketball in the world,” he said.

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