The Hong Kong nightmare
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2020 - 12:00am

It went down as one of the darkest chapters in Philippine basketball history. Although the Philippines never lost a game on the court, coach Ron Jacobs’ team was bamboozled out of the playoffs and finished ninth in the 15-nation Asian Basketball Confederation (now FIBA Asia) Championships at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong in 1983.

Jacobs brought a team of 10 locals and five naturalized players to Hong Kong with the idea of finalizing the 12-man roster a day before the tournament started. At the time, FIBA allowed each country to recruit up to two naturalized players but made exception for “marginal cases” such as with Spain whose national team listed three foreigners in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The three naturalized Spanish players were Wayne Brabender, born in Uruguay to American parents, Antonio Candido Sibilio of the Dominican Republic and Juan Domingo de la Cruz of Argentina. Sibilio was considered a “marginal case” for acquiring Spanish citizenship by marriage.

The Philippines’ five naturalized players were Jeff Moore, Dennis Still, Chip Engelland, Johnny Nash and John Hegwood. Moore and Still arrived in Manila with Jacobs in 1980 and played on the Northern Cement team that topped the Jones Cup in Taipei in 1981. Engelland, Nash and Hegwood were in the reserve list as “marginal cases” since they received Filipino citizenship by presidential decree. The locals were Hector Calma, Franz Pumaren, Jong Uichico, Dante Gonzalgo, Alfie Almario, Teddy Alfarero, Tonichi Yturri, Jun Tan, Naning Valenciano and Derick Pumaren.

When the team arrived in Hong Kong, Jacobs was advised that Engelland, Nash and Hegwood wouldn’t be allowed to play because they hadn’t established the required three-year residency as naturalized players, regardless of whether they were “marginal cases” or not.

The decision left the team with Moore and Still as eligible naturalized players or so Jacobs thought. With Moore and Still in harness, the Philippines swept its two preliminary round games, blasting Kuwait, 78-57 and crushing India, 90-60. The 2-0 record qualified the Philippines into the eight-team quarterfinal round. But things got ugly when the ABC Board convened a meeting to question the eligibility of Moore and Still. Apparently, the Basketball Association of the Philippines failed to notify FIBA three years before that they would be recruited as naturalized players. It didn’t help that FIBA president Lito Puyat, a Filipino, wasn’t in Hong Kong to back up his country.

Because the ABC had no authority to rule on the eligibility of players, it looked to FIBA secretary-general Borislav Stankovic for adjudication. Stankovic, who flew in from Munich, was assured that the passports of Moore and Still bore the stamps to establish the required three-year residency. Besides, the ABC had already allowed Moore and Still to play in the preliminaries. Even as the spirit of the law was upheld, the ABC disregarded Stankovic’ interpretation and voted to forfeit the Philippines’ two wins, citing the failure of notification. A heated debate preceded the vote as China, Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia went against the Philippine position which was argued by a lawyer from Baker McKenzie. There was no doubt Moore and Still had stayed in the Philippines for three years but that didn’t matter to those whose title aspirations were threatened by Jacobs. Stankovic backed off and granted authority for the ABC to hang the Philippines out to dry.

Clearly, the ABC acted in bad faith. It allowed the Philippines to suit up Moore and Still in the preliminaries then staged the ambush to invalidate the wins over Kuwait and India. The blow below the belt had to be premeditated. The Philippines went to Hong Kong with a clear conscience and was bushwhacked. Despite the setback, the Philippines held its head high as Jacobs led the Philippines to a clean slate in the relegation round, beating Malaysia, 85-80, Indonesia, 95-64 and Thailand, 74-69.

Two years later, the Philippines got its revenge in the ABC Championships in Kuala Lumpur and that’s our story in tomorrow’s column.

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