Farewell to a hero

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star
Farewell to a hero
Tony Genato
STAR / File

The last surviving player on the Philippine team that took the bronze medal at the 1954 FIBA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro has passed away. Tony Genato, 94, died at the De Los Santos Medical Center on Rodriguez Avenue, Quezon City, last Wednesday morning, signaling the end of an era when the Philippines was the undisputed king of Asian hoops.

Genato played at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics but his crowning glory was seeing action at the 1954 FIBA World Cup where the Philippines soared to third place, the highest finish ever by an Asian country in the global tournament. For years, Genato was Jeff to Caloy Loyzagas Mutt, reprising the cartoon characters of a pint-sized tinhorn and a lanky partner. Their combination was magical on the hardcourt. A trick they used to execute with precision was when Loyzaga would purposely miss his second free throw and angle the shot to land in Genatos hands for a follow-up. When their club YCO toured Spain in 1955, Spanish writer Fernando Font was mesmerized by Genato whom he described as a “fenomeno pequenajo que saltaba como un gato y se quedaba en el aire horizontal, tiraba y metia de fuera” (phenomenal small man who jumped like a cat and stayed in the air horizontally, shot and scored from distance.”

Genato stood close to 5-8 but played bigger than his size. He was fondly called “Bulilitfor his size. On the floor, he was greased lightning. His running shot was deadly. His passing was pin-point accurate. He stuck to his man like glue and was a nightmare defender. Most of all, Genato was a team player, a facilitator who brought out the best in his teammates, particularly Loyzaga, a FIBA Hall of Famer who was his late wife Menchies cousin. After retiring from playing, Genato had a brief stint as the Presto Ice Cream coach in the 1977 PBA first conference.

Valenzuela Rep. Eric Martinez honored Genato with a marker in the newly-built Gilas court in his district last month. Three years ago, Martinez also paid tribute to Genato in a virtual jersey retirement ceremony at the Bahay Alamat, also in Valenzuela. During the online rites, Genato regaled the audience with stories of the 1954 feat. He said the Philippines couldve won gold if only coach Herr Silvas squad beat the US in the eight-team final round. Even as the Philippines lost to Brazil in the final round, it wouldve clinched the gold with a win over the US via the quotient system. Martinez called Genato the X-factor of the 1954 squad. Coincidentally, X was Genatos middle initial for Xerez-Burgos, his mothers maiden name.

Genato was loved by his family, friends and fans. The love of his life, Nenita, was abroad when he died and that was undoubtedly how he wanted it without her seeing him go and leaving her to cherish the memories of their happy moments together. He was my father-in-law Pepets brother and our wedding sponsor. My wife Menchu and I were close to him. On our birthdays, he would never fail to greet us by phone. On family get-togethers, we would always gravitate towards each other because of our common love for basketball. He was our hero, our clans claim to fame. Well miss his jokes, ribbing and stories. Most of all, well miss his love of family. Genato leaves behind five children, 13 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren and a great great grandson. The last day of his wake is today from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Funeraria Paz, Araneta Avenue.

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