Goodbye, Yoyong

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Farewell, Yoyong Martires. The basketball Olympian, PBA legend and public servant passed away earlier this week. He was 77.

I knew the different personalities Yoyong had, and like millions of Filipinos, saw how he seamlessly evolved from one to another. He often talked about how his generation – PBA pioneers – lived in a simpler time. He even marveled at how long he lasted in basketball, despite never even learning to dribble with his left hand.

But boy, was he quick. Arguments would ensue regarding his status as the fastest player in the league. But he never took any of that seriously. He was a grown man enjoying a young boy’s sport, and he relished it. Yoyong would light up a room and lift the mood spontaneously with his good cheer. It led him to dabble in movies and television. It was hard to tell whether comedy or basketball was his greatest gift. I suspect it was the former.

The only time you knew he was serious was when he discussed his concern for others. You saw this side of him more often when he became councilor and later, vice-mayor of Pasig City. This writer saw it firsthand in private meetings with his compatriots from the country’s 1968 and 1972 Olympic basketball teams. Many were ailing and needed help. Some had passed away. We were discussing how the last Olympians would be able to get any benefits from the government for their service to the nation so long ago. Sadly, COVID overtook the discussions.

Unknown to many, Yoyong stayed fit by jogging at the track oval at PhilSports each morning, before heading to work. He always had a ready smile and a quick quip even early in the morning. You almost never saw anything get him down. He gave freely of his time, his laughter, his listening. There was never a dull moment, but later on, you would realize, there was always depth, always concern.

Thank you, Yoyong. The basketball world is a little dimmer with your passing. We hope to carry on your lessons of grace and good cheer, in your honor.

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