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A Lasallian Standing Ovation for the Bedans

Although I seldom ever was a willing basketball participant, the rest of my family was into basketball and I understand and can even appreciate the game. In fact, in college, I was a habitué of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

I went to watch the Green Archers, naturally; albeit, in all honesty, I probably went more for the fun in the bleachers rather than the basketball. Then again, so did most everyone else.

I started watching the Archers while still a freshman in college. It was not a good year to be in green, however. The Lim Em Beng era had already concluded and a Steve Watson-led Ateneo was preponderant over the rest of the NCAA.

In fact, in one game that I attended at the Araneta Coliseum, the Ateneans defeated the Archers by all of 25 points. We had such a difficult time scoring that the Ateneo crowd applauded in sarcasm whenever we did. How annoying was that!

Some things, though, are just not meant to be. That exchange of sporting gestures between two school communities could easily have been the turning point in the volatile and frequently belligerent history of NCAA basketball.
Still, it was always an occasion to come face-to-face with Ateneo, not least of which was because the Brothers always had the good sense to call off classes after lunch of each game day. Just so the green hordes could migrate to the far end of the metropolis for an afternoon soiree with the favourite foe.

Ateneo was so strong that they won back-to-back championships in seasons 1975-76 and 1976-77. For those of us on the green side of the Great Divide, there was little joy to be had beyond the chance to shout profanity at the team in blue. And those who supported them.

Of course, in those days, the words basketball and brawling were actually synonyms; even if Merriam-Webster refused to confirm it.

In season 1977-78, Ateneo and San Beda College were involved in a tumultuous championship series, the final game of which had to be played behind closed doors. The time had come for Ateneo to leave the league.

While those of us on the green side would have grudgingly admitted that we would somehow perversely miss Ateneo, it was also a case of having one strong contender out of the way in the coming season. In other words, Ateneo’s voluntary exile opened the door for other pretenders to the basketball throne which, it has to be said, was part of the furniture at Mendiola at least until the next season.

At DLSU, we had a fairly decent team anchored on the likes of Kenneth Yap, Jong Uichico and Alex Marquez. That said, whatever optimism there was about our chances was always tempered by the knowledge that this was the Chito Loyzaga-Frankie Lim era for the Red Lions.

Not to mention the little matter of the Bedans being the defending champions.

And so on to the new season, the details of which I will not bore you with, not least because I have little recollection of them. What I do recall is that, as anticipated, the Archers earned the right to play against San Beda College for the championship of the 1978-79 senior basketball tournament.

I cannot be sure after all these years of the format of the final; but I seem to recall a one-off championship game at the Rizal Memorial. Either that or what I recall is the decisive match of a championship series.

At any rate, this match was held midweek. The talking point around the university in the morning was, needless to say, if classes would be suspended. It was, after all, a championship game; and the first since the Lim Eng Beng-led win of 1974.

For reasons I have yet to discover even 35 years after the fact, the Brothers were curiously timid about the suspension of classes; and especially so since this was done routinely even for elimination round matches against Ateneo before the Blue Eagles left the league.

The morning and early afternoon, thus, were spent by everyone trying to feel each other out. I mean, the question of the day, to put things poetically, was ‘to skip or not to skip.’

Classes never were called off; but by early afternoon the mass exodus out of DLSU began. First in trickles; but the infectious effect of the occasion started to spread like a tsunami that, a quarter of an hour before the game, the university had become something of a ghost town.

Some professors must have sneaked off as well. We could see them in the lower and upper boxes.

But, of course, we lost the match. We stayed with Beda for as long as we could; but in the end, defending champions that they were, the Bedans always had this something extra in the end game to ensure that the furniture stayed in Mendiola.

After the Bedans jubilantly sang their alma mater song, something happened on the green side of the coliseum. We were already on our feet getting ready to sing our own alma mater song.

Suddenly, the entire DLSU side of the coliseum broke into spontaneous applause not only to congratulate the champions but also, I suppose, in appreciation of the quality of the basketball that they played. It was a stunning act of sportsmanship that I have never before seen in Philippine basketball; and, in fact, I don’t think I ever again did.

When we finished singing the alma mater hymn, the Bedans reciprocated the gesture and loudly applauded us. In fact, when our side started chanting ‘Animo La Salle! Beat Ateneo!’ in anticipation of the coming exhibition matches against the Blue Eagles, our chanting was echoed across the court on the San Beda side of the coliseum.

The following week, a letter from San Beda College’s Father Rector thanking and congratulating the entire DLSU community for its rare sporting gesture was posted on the bulletin board at the ground floor of the La Salle Hall right next to the football field.

Some things, though, are just not meant to be. That exchange of sporting gestures between two school communities could easily have been the turning point in the volatile and frequently belligerent history of NCAA basketball.

That said, there never really were any deep-lying animosities between La Salle and San Beda, which I suppose allowed the two communities to be generous to each other. The same could not be said of the relationship of either school with the other members of the NCAA; or the other schools with each other.

Indeed, just one more year would elapse before DLSU took the same route that Ateneo did and left the NCAA after a tumultuous championship game against Letran.