Remembering sports greats, including Kuya Orly

By Al S. Mendoza

 

IT’S good that tradition has been maintained through the years.

As I write this, the annual awards to recognize the greats in Philippine sports was to have been held on March 27 at TV5 Media Center in a virtual show.

This has been a much-awaited ceremony held almost yearly by the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA), the nation’s oldest media outfit founded in 1951.

The San Miguel Corporation-sponsored event will be aired starting at 7 tonight on Channel ONE-Ph Sports+ of TV5 ending at 8:30 p.m.

Both the living idols and departed legends will be honored in a glittering night of adulation and admiration.

Some of the awardees include Commissioner Willie MarciaL of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) as the PSA’s “Executive of The Year.”

Marcial, who rose from the ranks as a humble statistician to head Asia’s first play-for-pay basketball league, will be feted for his fearlessly successful staging of the PBA bubble at Clark.

He will take home the Danny Floro trophy as Marcial becomes only the second PBA commissioner to win the award after Chito Salud in 2012.

I am profoundly proud of Willie’s feat.

I had worked with him for years at Vintage Enterprises, the media outfit owned by the late and lamented Bobong Velez.

Vintage E used to hold the rights to cover the PBA games from the late ‘80s to the late ‘90s.

Willie was one of our statistical experts then while I was doing the radio coverage of the PBA.  Willie was always humble and super energetic in his work.

Willie marshalled the PBA 2020 tournament with an uncanny ability as he defied the odds in the PBA’s 45th season against the pandemic, with Ginebra San Miguel winning the Philippine Cup.

In victory, Barangay Ginebra ended the record five-season winning streak of San Miguel Beer, which played severely handicapped with the absence of June Mar Fajardo.

The 6-foot-10 Fajardo, a six-time PBA MVP, was sidelined by a season-ending leg injury that required a major operation in 2019.  He remains indisposed.

There are other noteworthy awardees, including golfer Yuka Saso, the daughter of a Japanese married to a beauteous Bulakenya.

After watching Saso hit her first tee shot in my round with her in 2017 at the Manila Golf Club inside Forbes Park, Makati, I knew at once she’d hit the big time in no time.

She won two tournaments in Japan last year that netted her millions of pesos and, not yet 20 years old, Saso became an instant sensation on the Japanese Tour.

Among the departed honorees include Danding Cojuangco, the country’s first basketball godfather.

I was with Danding twice overseas in the ABC cagefest in Hong Kong in 1984 and in Girona, Spain, in 1985 for the World Interclub Basketball championship.

Also feted posthumously were former basketball coaches Aric del Rosario and Nic Jorge, basketball Olympian Alfonso “Boy” Marquez, boxing’s grand matriarch Laura Elorde (widow of the late Flash Elorde) and Teddyvic Melendres.

Melendres succeeded me as Inquirer’s sports editor in 2005.

Not to be forgotten, of course, is the late Orlando “Orly” Bauzon, the former Olympic cager from Calasiao town.

Kuya Orly was an enduring symbol of humility.  I miss him.

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