Requiem for two ex-imports

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2021 - 12:00am

Last year, two former PBA imports passed away. Catholic priest Tim Hirten, who suited up for Tanduay in the 1976 Open Conference, was killed after he was struck by a train in Wichita Falls, Texas, last Aug. 16 and NBA veteran James Hardy, who played for Crispa in the 1981 Open Conference, died of a heart attack in Long Beach, California, last Dec. 29. Hirten was 66 and Hardy, 64.

Hirten was a US Air Force chaplain for 18 years and had the rank of major. He was stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and four US installations the last of which was Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. Before his ordination in 1993, the 6-5 Hirten played basketball as an import in the PBA, Belgium and Israel. For five years, he saw action on the Washington Generals team that toured with the Harlem Globetrotters as a sparring partner. Hirten was an athletic scholar at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and a varsity all-star who collected 1,149 points and 627 rebounds in his collegiate career. Although never drafted, he tried out for the New York Knicks, New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. Hirten was one of the Nets’ late cuts in 1975.

Hirten’s brother-in-law Steven Agostinacchio recalled an incident in Baghdad. “Tim used to say ‘there are no atheists in a fox hole,’” said Agostinacchio. “They (Hirten and military staff) were headed over to the barracks and took on heavy fire. Everybody gathered around with their heads covered while the bombs were blasting and Tim, on his knees, crawled around and heard confession to whomever wanted it while the bombs were dropping on him.” Sports played a key role in Hirten’s ministry. In 1971, he set up the Catholic Sports Camp at St. James Catholic Church and it’s still active in Long Island. Hirten played on an all-priests team called the Runnin’ Revs (Reverends).

In the PBA, Hirten teamed up with another import 6-11 Bill Bozeat of Texas Christian University. His teammates included the Cleofas brothers Joy and Benjie, Botchok de los Santos, Rino Salazar, Marte Samson and Rene Canent. His coach was Bobby Littaua and team manager was Caloy Loyzaga. “I recall Dad was impressed with Tim’s talent and work ethic and considered hiring his services in the future,” said Loyzaga’s son Chito. “I can remember Tim being liked and welcomed by his teammates. He had good basic skills and great basketball sense, a remarkable jump shot. I also recall Dad inviting him for lunch to the house to meet the family. He was kind-hearted, thoughtful and an accommodating person.”

Upon his death, it was revealed by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of Military Services that Hirten suffered from depression and was isolated from his duties at the Sheppard base. “It’s hard to imagine this usually exuberant, gregarious man so weighted with distress that he could not recognize the presence of light in his life and surroundings,” said Archbishop Broglio. Police detectives ruled that Hirten’s death was a suicide. As a pedestrian, Hirten walked into the path of a moving train at a railroad crossing. Filipino priest Patrick Longalong, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Queens Village, New York, remembered Hirten as an ex-PBA import, a good priest and a good athlete. Hirten, who earned a Master’s degree in social work at Fordham, spoke at least seven languages and visited 75 countries in his lifetime. He listed Tagalog as one of the languages he spoke.

Hardy teamed with another import Snake Jones for Crispa whose stars included Atoy Co, Abet Guidaben, Bernie Fabiosa, Freddie Hubalde and Philip Cezar. The Redmanizers battled Toyota in a best-of-five series for the Open crown and lost in the only PBA conference where Hardy played. The 6-9 Hardy was the New Orleans (now Utah) Jazz’ first round pick in the 1978 NBA draft. He played four years with the Jazz from 1978-79 to 1981-82, sneaking in a tour of duty in the PBA during the period. Hardy also took to the hardcourt in Italy, France and Spain. At the University of San Francisco, Hardy’s varsity coach Bob Gaillard described him as poetry in motion.  Co said Hardy was “a very quiet guy, not much of a talker, the opposite of other imports na loud at mayabang ... a perfect example of a gentleman.”

After retiring from basketball, Hardy settled in Salt Lake City where he established a trucking business. He went through several failed relationships before finally finding his soulmate Catherine McLamb whom he married in 2009. Hardy ended up with 10 children from different women.

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