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My First Ateneo-La Salle NCAA Basketball Game in 1975


Then there was my first-ever NCAA basketball game. DLSU was still a decade or so away from moving to the rival league, the UAAP. We were required by our Physical Education teacher to attend the opening of the NCAA one weekend, just as other freshman and sophomore PE classes were. I arranged to travel to the Araneta Coliseum with some classmates. Although I was not a basketball fan, the novelty of the experience still excited me. Besides, I was not totally ignorant about the game. Because there was so much basketball on television at home when I was growing up, it was inevitable that I understood at least the basic rules if not the game’s tactical nuances. Enough, at any rate, for me to even grudgingly appreciate the game.

At the time, seating at the Araneta Coliseum or any other NCAA venue was still segregated by school. I was warned by my older brother Ronaldo not to wear partisan colors so I wouldn’t attract the attention of thugs. Therefore, I went to the game wearing just a plain white shirt. But there were many who wore their school colors with pride, opposing school thugs notwithstanding. Thus, the bleachers inside the coliseum were a burst of colors, quite the sight to behold especially for a novice such as I was.

I don’t recall who DLSU was playing or what the result was that opening day of the league. What I remember to this day is the sight of thugs from San Beda and Letran rushing at each other at the far end of the arena. They were quite far from where we sat, but because of the coliseum’s excellent acoustics, we could hear the sounds of faces being smacked with fists as though they were just close by.

It was somewhat scary but also exhilarating to watch. While the melee was going on, the bands of the two schools started playing and the neutrals watching even started to applaud. It was like watching a live version of a Fernando Poe Jr. or Joseph Estrada movie.

The most remarkable thing about the incident was that San Beda and Letran were not even playing each other. The rumble, some conjectured, was probably because of grudges spilled over from the previous season.

Coming from Lipa as I did, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry at first meant less to me than it did to my classmates from La Salle Greenhills. At the time, Greenhills was for all intents and purposes DLSU’s secondary school. There were still elementary students at DLSU during my freshman year. After graduation, they either transferred to Greenhills for their high school education or moved to another school if their families thought Greenhills was too far. De La Salle Santiago Zobel School in Alabang would not be opened until 1978.

My first Ateneo-La Salle game was highly anticipated because the Green Archers were the defending champions, but had lost the previous season’s heroes Lim Eng Beng and Mike Bilbao to graduation. Ateneo, on the other hand, had a formidable team anchored on the talents of Fritz Gaston, Chito Narvasa, Padim Israel and Steve Watson.

At the time, afternoon classes were customarily called off when an Ateneo-La Salle NCAA basketball game was scheduled so students and employees could all make the trek to the Araneta Coliseum to watch. I met up with two classmates outside Rustan’s Supermarket in Makati then took the Metro Manila Transit Love Bus to Cubao.

It was a good thing that, because we were watching to fulfill a PE requirement, we had already been issued tickets by the PE Office at DLSU. The queues outside the coliseum when we arrived were horrifyingly long, and scuffles broke out intermittently because the fans of both schools mixed freely with one another. My classmates and I hurried up the stairs to the bleachers sections, but if there were signs saying where students of each school should sit, we never saw them.

That was why, when we opened one door and started to tentatively walk into one section of the bleachers, we were shocked to find in front of us a sea of blue. Unlike in the present day when students of La Salle and Ateneo sit next to each other in volleyball matches at the Mall of Asia arena with loathsome civility, back in the day one could end up in the hospital for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Upon discovering that we were in the Ateneo section, my classmates and I quickly sprinted out to the opposite end of the arena. Because I was an athlete, the sprint was quite effortless. But my classmates were left breathless. Safely seated at the La Salle section, we all laughed about the close call.

There were San Beda students who stayed on their seats next to the La Salle section after their team’s game concluded. Apparently, they would also be watching the Ateneo-La Salle game, but not as neutrals. Soon, they asked for a DLSU cheerleader, and one gamely came to stand in front of them. In the ensuing years, I would understand that there was this almost fraternal affinity that the students of La Salle and San Beda felt for each other. I don’t believe that there were any fights that broke out between students of the two schools in my years at DLSU. I don’t even recall that there was any particular animosity towards San Beda even when La Salle was being routinely beaten by their team in the NCAA in my latter years at the university.

I suppose the relationship between the two schools’ students was a perfect example of the saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The enemy, but of course, being Ateneo.

The game itself was an abject loss for the Green Archers, despite the fact that they were the defending champions. La Salle eventually lost by 25 points, but Ateneo was certainly leading my much more than that at various points of the game. In the second half when Ateneo was routinely scoring and La Salle unable to do so, the entire Ateneo section started sarcastically applauding the Green Archers on the rare occasions when they did score. The irony in the applause was so blatantly insulting that for the first time, I started to loathe Ateneo. If there was ever a point in my life when I fully began to understand the raw emotions of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, it was during that humiliating game.


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