WE have known Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco since the early days of the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos.
We hadn’t seen him for some time in recent years after occasionally meeting him in the corridors of the Araneta Coliseum during the Philippine Basketball Association games of San Miguel Beer.
When we started writing our Reflections on 50 Years in the Philippines, we realized that he would have to be an integral part of our remembering, and recently met with the Chairman of San Miguel Corporation who, to those who know him well and respect him both as a friend and a gentleman-sportsman of consummate class, refer to as “Boss Danding.”
His secretary set an appointment for 11 a.m. on Aug. 11 at his 8th floor office.
We arrived early as is our custom and were ushered into a waiting room before being accompanied by his secretary to his office.
A broad smile lit up his face as he shook our hand, obviously pleased to see us after quite some time. We greeted each other with the warmth of long-lost friends, who shared many things in common, foremost of which, at least in the beginning, was a passion for basketball.
He explained: “My passion for basketball only stems from the intramurals we were playing during my school days at La Salle.”
Unfortunately or fortunately, he recalled, “I was tasked to handle basketball for the Philippines during the administration of President Marcos as part of the Project Director concept for different sports.”
He confided ,”I tried my best to do my best for the job.”
Reminded that he indeed had accomplished a lot by building a team that won the Asian Youth Championships, stunning China before a jam-packed Araneta Coliseum crowd and in July 1985 beating the mighty United States in an epic overtime battle to win the Jones Cup with outstanding performances by shooting star Allan “The Triggerman” Caidic and the “Skywalker” Samboy Lim, who virtually took over the game in the extra period with their three-point shooting aided by the outside sniping of naturalized player Chip Engelland and the inside presence of center Dennis Still and high-flying 6’3” forward Jeff Moore, who outhustled an American squad that had eight players, who subsequently entered the National Basketball Association.
Boss Danding was his typical modest self as he told us, “Let’s just say we were lucky. We had good boys. We were able to recruit boys who came from all over the Philippines, but I think mostly the credit for that accomplishment should go to Ron Jacobs, our coach. He mentored the boys, he trained them well, he motivated them very well and the result was quite satisfying.”
Ron was a stickler for details as Cojuangco pointed out.
“I think he started scouting in the Philippines. The first guy who did scouting here. Unfortunately, he was short on luck and he passed away in a not too nice way, being in a coma 12 years before God took him. How very sad.”
Jacobs was driving home after a practice with the Busan- bound Asian Games team with his lady, Mennen, an incredible woman who remained by his side through all the years of hardship and pain, when he had a stroke, had the presence of mind to park his car and allow Mennen to take the wheel and drive him to the nearest hospital, where he was regrettably made to wait before being attended to, with one of the nurses stuffing a tube down his throat and injuring his windpipe causing him to lose his voice.
We reminded Danding that he showed amazing care and concern for coach Jacobs, whom he looked after for so long at what certainly cost a small fortune.
To Mr. Cojuangco it was the least he could do.
“I thought it was incumbent on us to treat him well because he treated us well. He took at heart the interests of the country every time we competed. Especially in the Jones cup when we played the American team,” he said.
Cojuangco remembered it as “a nice game. We won by 1 point at the end, in overtime. That was really exciting and at that time, the Jones Cup was really the Jones Cup with strong teams competing.”
To Danding, “Those are nice memories to recall once in a while.”
He remembered that we covered the games and even the Youth Championships against China. Memorable games, moments worth remembering.
We recalled that when we passed by the US dugout in Taipei, the coach said: “Let’s go and whip these guys and go home.”
When we went to the dugout of the Philippine team, which carried the colours of San Miguel Beer, Ron had a litany of detailed instructions and play situations on a giant white board. It was typical of Ron. Meticulous as always.
I’ll never forget one incident during the game when Dennis Still raced by the side of the US bench and shouted at the coach “we are gonna whip your ass!”.
According to Cojuangco, Dennis and Jeff Moore now live in France, while Chip Engelland is the regular assistant of San Antonio Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich.
Cojuangco said he had plans of inviting Chip again next year when the UAAP season comes along.
We both remembered Chip as “a nice-cultured young man who loved to visit art galleries and museums” during trips abroad.
Danding Cojuangco, a La Salleite to the core, said he is right now “taking care of the La Salle team.”
“We didn’t have too much luck last year, we didn’t make the quarterfinals, but we are hoping we can make it to the quarter finals (this season).”
To him, as to many others of the younger generation, the UAAP has “more thrills and passion involved in an amateur league than a professional league. They are proud to represent their school and we also emphasize the schooling of the kids. In La Salle, all our players have tutors. We want to see them graduate.
Turning to the Philippine national team, Cojuangco said: “At least, the guy funding it now (Manny Pangilinan) is doing his best and he deserves congratulations for that.”
But as so many have time and again repeated, “Basketball is height and if you don’t have height, it’s almost impossible to succeed in international competitions (like the World Cup and the Olympics). It’s the same as swimming.”
We turned to basketball once again and brought up the issue of a FIBA rule which stipulates that Fil-foreigners, who wish to represent our country, have to choose the country they wish to play for at the age of 16, which we have criticized consistently because its a ridiculous rule that hurts us.
Imagine, you have to choose which country you wish to represent even before you reach voting age!
We also mentioned the fact that one or two Middle East countries embark on wholesale recruitment of tall and talented African players, give them financial incentives, provide them with passports of the country that picks them up and gives them new names.
To Danding, “there’s no pride in that.”
He suggests that the national team must “get a good coach we can all agree to, get businessmen to support the team and get players permanently for the Olympic team.”
We informed him about the Gilas cadet program, which he believes is in the right direction, but he thinks “the players must live abroad, get used to playing big guys all the time.”
“It’s a hard call, not easy and it’s not cheap,” he said.
Danding told us that Kobe Paras, who will suit up for a US NCAA Division 1 school was “supposed to be with us,” and play for De La Salle, ”but he wanted to go abroad and I said “ if it’s for the betterment of his future why not. He is a good kid.”