President Magsaysay: ‘Sixth Man’ of bronze medal-clinching national men’s basketball team in 1954 world championships

If not for the intervention of then President Ramon Magsaysay, team captain Lauro “The Fox” Mumar could have missed the Philippines’ best finish in the world basketball arena.

WHEN a player is called the “sixth man” in basketball, he’s a guy who comes off the bench when his team is in retreat, takes the ball, picks the team up, again, turns the game around and corrects the situation.

Jayson Castro  of TNT Tropang Giga in the Philippine Basketball Association, for one,  is an example of such as he approached the latter years of his career.

For members of the 1954 Philippine team that came home from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil with bronze medals hanging from their necks, the sixth man in that successful campaign never made a basket, drew a foul, blocked a shot, inbounded a pass or grabbed a rebound for the team.

Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga emerged as member of the World Team after the tournament, alright, but had it not for then Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, King Caloy couldn’t have been accorded the honor or the nationals the third-place finish—until the present time the only Asia team to to make the podium.         

President Magsaysay, “Monching to relatives and friends, “My Guy” and ”Man of the Masses” to the Filipino electorate, was elected as the country’s seventh head in the 1953 elections, beating incumbent Elpidio Quirino. He served until his death in a place tragedy in March 17, 1957.

The “Guy,” would’ve turned 115 years old today  was sworn into office wearing the Barong Tagalog, a first for a Philippine Chief Executive, in what signaled what kind of government he will be doing on his way to earning the distinction as “The Best President” the country ever had.

Magsaysay’s administration earned the distinction as  one of the cleanest and most corruption-free in modern Philippines history—his term is often cited as the Philippines’ “Golden Years.”

Trade and industry flourished and the country gained international recognition in sports, culture and foreign affairs. The Philippines placed second in Asia as the s clean and well-governed countries.

In sports, the Philippines was also ranked second to then powerhouse Japan in the Asian Games, the second edition of which was held also in 1954 in Manila where the Filipino contingent finished runner-up in the overall medal standing with a 14-14-17 gold-silver-bronze medal harvest, the richest in the quadrennial conclave also known as the “Olympic Games” of Asia.

The preparations undertaken and presided over by the former automobile mechanic, congressman of his province Zambales and Secretary of National Defense, among other government positions Magsaysay held before becoming President, earned the distinction as the best Asian Games host in those times, thus cementing the Filipinos’ world-famous hospitality.

In these times when the Philippines is hard-pressed to even qualifying for the FIBA World Cup, it’s but timely to remind those still not in the know that the Filipino cagers were already permanent fixtures of that global event and had, in fact, finished third in that 1954 edition held in Rio .

And that very memorable moment in the history of Philippine basketball and Philippine sports, for that matter, couldn’t have happened had it not for the intercession of President Magsaysay.

That team left Manila for the United States where the Filipinos were scheduled to play several tune-up games at the date of departure without team captain Lauro “The Fox” Mumar in what led the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, then the governing body for Philippine sports, to ban him for life for “failing to honor an international commitment and conduct unbecoming of an athlete of national stature.”

The late Arsenio Lacson, former Manila Mayor and a Congressman at that time, denounced on the floor of the Lower House what he termed as the “oppression of the oppressed” on Mumar by the high lords of basketball. He filed a motion for investigation.

The late sportswriter Eddie Ticzon, then writing for the Roces family-owned The Manila Times, reported on the “Missing Fox” whose only crime, he said, “was his having been poor unlike the other members of the basketball aristocracy.”

Magsaysay, also known as the champion of the poor, made his move, held his own investigation and summoned the team captain to Malacang Palace twice where he told the President he promised basketball officials that he’d just follow as soon as the money his parents were supposed to send arrives.

“But nobody simply cared to listen. They suspended me without due process,” he said then.

Convinced, President Magsaysay ordered the PAAF high priests, who, in a subsequent public hearing held at the Manila Hotel, lifted the ban on Mumar.

The sports public, elated by the development, conducted a fund-raising campaign for Mumar’s trip to the US to join his teammates who at that time, had lost three of their first six build up games in the land of sweet and honey.

After everything has been settled and having the needed money in his pocket, Mumar left for Florida with more well-wishers on hand than when the national team itself flew out of Manila.

After a three-day rest with friends in Florida, Mumar along with his teammates Loyzaga, Pons Saldana, Mariano Tolentino, Antonio Genato, Francisco Rabat, Rafael Barredo, Bayani Amador, Ramon Manulat, Nap Flores, Ben Francisco and coach Herminio “Herr” Silva flew to Cuba for a one-game exhibition with the Cuban national team.

Lending his experience and leadership, Mumar, whose basketball career was nearly jeopardized by the fiasco, led the Philippines to a 49-45 victory over the Cubans in a triumph described by the Cuban media as a “humiliation” by a crew of “little-known Asians.”

That defeat to the “Little Known Brown Dolls” resulted in the Cuban government’s decision not to send the team to the world championship.

Mumar, Loyzaga, who was named to the world mythical five after the tournament, and their teammates compiled a 6-2 win-loss record, beaten only by eventual champion US and runner-up Brazil, to bring home the bronze medal for finishing third, the still the highest finish by any Asian country up to the present day.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Article

WHO director in Asia accused of racism, abuse put on leave

Next Article

Cignal HD Spikers tame young Lions in Spikers’ Turf opener

Related Posts

Read more

EJ lurks in Mondo’s shadow

ERNEST JOHN “EJ” OBIENA settled for a bronze medal at the Mondo Classic Indoor Pole Vault Championship on Friday in Uppsala, Sweden, to go 3-of-3 on podium finishes in the indoor season.