MANILA – Carlos Loyzaga, recognized by many as the greatest Filipino basketball player of all time, died at Cardinal Santos Medical Center at the age of 85, his son Chito told Rappler.com in a phone interview.
His son said details of the wake will be announced shortly.
Loyzaga had been in failing health after a stroke struck the man who had been called ‘The Big Difference’ in his playing years, which coincided with the Philippines’ dominance in Asian basketball and a seventh place in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
The 6-foot-3 Loyzaga could shoot, dribble, pass and defend against big men, using his long arms and timing.
“If you notice, in some games, he was not the highest scorer but his presence was a big plus,” said Ramoncito Campos, 90, his teammate in two Olympics, included the fabled 1956 crew, in an interview for a forthcoming book tentatively titled Years of Glory.
Before him, only Charlie Borck, 6-foot-1, and a member of the 1936 Berlin Olympic team, had the youth and ability but World War II robbed him of his best years. However, Borck did not have Loyzaga’s all-court skills.
Despite his abilities, Loyzaga was not a ball hog. “He would get angry if you didn’t cut to receive a pass,” said Loreto Cabonnell, another mainstay of that 1956 team.
Loyzaga was discovered in a basketball court in Teresa, Sta Mesa. The court, named Teresa Valenzuela or Tervalac, pitted the players in that area, where Loyzaga was living with his family, and a team piloted by Olympian Gabby Fajardo in 1949. He impressed Fajardo immensely with his well-rounded game and it eventually became his ticket to play for San Beda in the NCAA.
Joe Lim, a center of Fajardo’s team, remembered Loyzaga in an story for Asian Dragon magazine 4 years ago that Loyzaga “was not a rough player and he blocked shots cleanly.”
The Philippines won 4 Asian Games basketball titles when Loyzaga was playing and lost it in 1966, two years after he retired. In the Asian Basketball Confederation, forerunner of FIBA Asia, the Philippines won in 1960 and 1963, where he played with an injury in the final game against Taiwan.
“He could not move much but just his presence was a big factor,” said Ed Roque in an interview for the basketball book last year.
Loyzaga retired in 1964 at that time playing point-center, a big man who stays on the top of the keyhole and pass, recalled Felix Flores, a small center with Yco’s farm team in the old MICAA, Tanduay.
Loyzaga’s fame took a wider dimension when he coached the national squad, nicknamed The Dirty Dozen, to regain the ABC title in 1967, two years after it yielded the crown to South Korea.
He later became a councilor in Manila, got a job at the airport and coached in the PBA for Tanduay. He and his family immigrated to Australia, but he returned to the Philippines in 2013.
He has 4 children: Chito and Joey, who followed in his footsteps; and actresses Bing and Teresa.