Thursday, June 21, 2018

Why the PBA needs a trade deal criteria

A few days ago, former Gilas 2.0 scorer Jeff Chan moved to Barangay Ginebra for the latter's first round pick next year. Chan, a gifted shooter, is a perfect fit for the Kings as he shores up perhaps the weakest spot in its lineup.

Jeff Chan in his first game with Ginebra (photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News)

Under normal circumstances, the deal looks fair for both teams. First round picks are pricey in today's standards, and not all teams are willing to part with this as more up and coming talented and athletic players from the amateur ranks will be joining the league in the coming years. Phoenix, in its effort to build a young core around sophomore Matthew Wright, would have two first round picks next year while Ginebra acquires someone who can free up the interior for Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar to frolic.

Eight months ago, the league was rocked with controversy causing a major dent in its popularity. Then Commissioner Chito Narvasa approved a deal that gave powerhouse San Miguel Beer the first pick of the 2017 draft, using this to snag Fil-German Christian Standhardinger, in lieu of a couple of reserve players - Ronald Tubid, Jay-R Reyes and Rashawn McCarthy plus SMB's 2019 first round pick.

Christian Standhardinger drafted 1st overall by SMB (photo courtesy of

The move brought divisiveness within the Board of Governors and threatened the opening of the 2017-18 PBA season. Eventually, Narvasa resigned and incoming Willy Marcial, in an effort to regain the trust of the basketball public, immediately set up a 5-man selection committee (made up of legal counsel Melvin Mendoza, technical team members Junior Benga and Roscelle Fabie Teotico, technical director Eric Castro, and Marcial himself) tasked to ensure that all trades to be made will be fair and just. Said move was greeted positively by the fans, obviously sick and tired of the continuous lopsided trades that seemed to favor the bigger market teams.

Two of their first decisions happened to involve Talk 'n Text. The Ka-Tropa worked out a deal to acquire Jericho Cruz from Rain or Shine in lieu of their first round pick. They later added rookie Sidney Onwubere and reserve Kris Rosales to get the committee's approval. At that time, Cruz, a promising shooting guard from Adamson, and whose best games were when Yeng Guiao was still ROS head coach, had his numbers plummet to all-time lows brought about by his disagreement with coach Caloy Garcia. His playing time dwindled, and his marketability went down, despite the promise he displayed in his early years with the team under Guiao.

Jericho Cruz in action for TNT vs NLEX (photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News)

Yet, the committee felt Cruz's value was worth more than just a first round pick, hence, the fillers. A month and a half later, TNT snagged Global Port's point guard Terrence Romeo and reserve center Yousef Taha for Mo Tautuaa (the 2015 first overall pick), TNT's 2020 first round pick, and 2021's second round pick. Assuming Taha is worth the value of the second round pick, that would equate to Romeo's value equivalent to Tautuaa and a first rounder. Again, the committee made sure that adjustments in the deal were made to make it appear fair.

Terrence Romeo, donning his #7 jersey for TNT (photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News)

Fans were generally happy with the decisions made by the committee. While Cruz and Romeo may have come out overvalued, it's not everyday when the bigger market teams would come out in the "losing" end of trade deals. "You want a marquee player, then you have to earn it," as what the PBA was telling everyone.

Fast forward two months after and we see Chan getting traded for a first rounder. The Negros Sniper was averaging 11, 5 and 4 for Phoenix this conference, better numbers than Cruz prior to leaving ROS. The previous season, Chan averaged 11.5 ppg, 3.0 boards and 2.3 dimes while Cruz was doing 10.2, 4.3 and 2.5. In the recent PHL Cup, Chan averaged 13.73, 3.91 and 4.36 while Cruz, in his 3 games with ROS in the conference, came out with a paltry 2.0, 1.3 boards, and 1.6 feeds. Cruz's numbers eventually improved when he moved to TNT.

One would wonder what is the basis of the selection committee when deciding the real value of a player. If Cruz, whose numbers are lower than Chan's, would command a first rounder and 2 fillers, then how come Chan is worth much less? Is age a factor? Chan is 34 years old while Cruz is 27. Perhaps. But then, won't experience effectively balance things out? Chan proved his championship pedigree when he was named Finals MVP in the 2012 Governors' Cup and played an equally crucial role with Cruz in the franchise's annexation of its second title in the 2016 Commissioner's Cup.

Potential? Many claim that Cruz is a future Gilas player because of his intensity and passion to the game while Chan's play is on the decline. Again, that may have a point but then, can't basketball IQ be factored in as well? Chan has been a facilitator for both Guiao and Alas, normally acting as a point forward while setting up his teammates. As Tim Cone mentioned in Chan's first game with Ginebra last night, his presence and basketball IQ were factors in his wanting to have Chan aboard the team.

Bottomline, when reviewing trade transactions, it's imperative to look first into the tangibles as these are undisputed and factual. The other intangibles are secondary, albeit, may carry consideration. To be objective, one has to look at numbers and figures to measure the value of a player. Weighing more on potential, age, impact, etc. will lead to subjectivity, the very reason why the committee was formed to mitigate these.

It would have been easier had the committee vetoed the deal and Ginebra add a couple of fillers - maybe a Jammer Jamito and a Paolo Taha (who was recently traded to GBP for Julian Sargent) or a Jett Manuel, to sweeten the pot and replicate the Jericho Cruz benchmark. As such, it becomes confusing not just for the team officials but for the fans as well what would constitute the trading of a first round pick. Without any established guidelines, the PBA will continue hearing endless debates on future decisions they'll be making and would be hard-pressed, as what Narvasa experienced, to rationalize their decisions.

In the NBA, a way of determining the worth of a player is through his compensation package. Which is really logical because the player's value is determined by how much a team is willing to pay him. Chan is receiving the max salary of P420k, while Cruz is presumed to be receiving slightly less than the max. Assuming that this was part of the criteria, along with their statlines, then we can safely say that Chan's worth is much more than Cruz. So the question now is: how come Ginebra got him for less?

Similarly, when the committee made a decision that a mid-tier star like Jericho Cruz is worth more than just a first round pick, then that should have been used as a minimum benchmark for future trade deals involving a first rounder. Forget about the past decisions made by Narvasa, Chito Salud, Sonny Barrios, Noli Eala and Jun Bernardino before him, the creation of the selection committee made it possible for a new standard to be created when determining trade deals. Sadly, despite having only handled less than 10 transactions so far, the committee overlooked their previous decision on the Jericho Cruz deal when they decided in the Chan transaction.

Some would claim that so long as the two teams find nothing wrong with the transaction, then it shouldn't be a problem. Why would one team allow itself to be put in a disadvantageous position when their objective is the same? But wasn't that the same scenario in the SMB-KIA deal? That both teams have agreed into this trade, even if practically every knowledgeable basketball follower knows that this was a lopsided deal favoring the Beermen? That's the reason why there's a PBA Commissioner - to ensure that these deals are fair and just, not just to protect both teams but, more importantly, the league in general.

With gate attendance down, and its popularity getting eroded, the league has been trying to lure its fans back. They've come out with barangay programs that allow the players of the past and present to mingle with their fans in their communities. They have come up with more out-of-town games to gain better reach. They've allowed the return of physicality to generate further excitement and made sure that the game is much shorter with less fouls and better continuity.

Yet, they also have to be wary of the increasing popularity of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL), which, despite lower quality games and experiencing organizational growth pains, are generating support from the grassroots. They may not be a threat to the PBA now, but in a couple of years, they may end up eroding the PBA's fan base.

The MPBL in action (courtesy of the MPBL FB page)

Even more if the PBA is still regarded as a league that favors the bigger market and more popular teams. Credibility is non-negotiable, and we saw that when Messrs. Leo Prieto and Rudy Salud were running the league. But as long as the perception that the PBA is partial to a particular company or companies, then no amount of barangay visits or provincial games can make the fans follow the PBA as enthusiastically as they did from the 70's to the 90's.

Narvasa was sacked because of the SMB-KIA deal. That's a major writing on the wall - fans do not want preferential treatment for certain teams. They also want parity - when all 12 teams are given opportunities to win PBA championships. Imagine what a Standhardinger could have done for Columbian Dyip's (KIA's new name) cause this conference? But if trade approvals remain subjective and lacking in basis and criteria, then the PBA unfortunately may not be able to get their heads above water soon.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Marte Saldaña - The Mighty Mite of Philippine basketball

MARTE SALDAÑA – the cerebral Mighty Mite of Philippine basketball

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has produced a bevy of top quality court generals in its 43 years of existence. Some, like Robert Jaworski and Johnny Abarrientos, merited some consideration from NBA scouts. Ricardo Brown himself was a third round (59th overall) draftee of the Houston Rockets in the 1978 draft but the former Pepperdine star wasn’t able to sign up with the team.

            Coming up with a list of the top point guards in the PBA always poses a nightmare for every writer to have a credible and generally-acceptable list. With an abundance of talents to select from, the list normally extends beyond the maximum ten.

            One under-the-radar PBA legend who may not merit consideration, particularly among younger writers, but is definitely acknowledged by those who have seen him play, is Marte Saldaña. The late broadcaster and anchor, Pinggoy Pengson, gave Saldaña the moniker, “Mighty Mite,” in reference to his ability to flex his muscles and dominate games despite his lack of size and heft. A winner in every level of his playing career, Saldaña is best known as the Rookie of the Year in 1982, besting several other candidates that included Toyota stars Terry Saldaña, Ricky Relosa, Tim Coloso, and Ed Cordero.

Early Life

            Marte Divinagracia Saldaña was born on February 23, 1959 to parents Bartolome of Leyte and Diana of Iloilo. He was raised in Murphy, Cubao in Quezon City and studied at General Camp Emilio Aguinaldo High School located inside Camp Aguinaldo, not surprising since his father was a military man. It was also not uncommon that Marte wanted to join the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) himself, having been exposed to the strict regimen of his father. He transferred to Far Eastern University High School in 1974 after being discovered by then MICAA standout Bert Dela Rosa (later played for YCO/Tanduay in the PBA), enticing Saldaña to join Dennis Roldan, Ed Corpuz and the rest of the Baby Tams. He eventually took up BS-Management at FEU from 1975 to 1981.

The FEU Tamaraws 1976

Start of Something Big

            The diminutive 5’9, 160 lb. Saldaña rose to prominence at a young age of 16 when he was part of the FEU seniors basketball team as a freshman. His teammates included the likes of Renato Lobo (,  Anthony Dasalla, Roy Deles, Nic Bulaong, Ben Brillantes and Pablo Javier. He was then a reliever at the point guard position, but in the Finals against the eventual champions, the UE Red Warriors, led by the prolific Emerito Legaspi (, he sizzled with 19 points in a losing cause.

            1976 turned out to be the breakout year for the cerebral point guard. He was inserted by his head coach, Arturo Valenzona, to the starting point guard position, playing alongside Danny Manalastas, Armando Valencia, Lobo and Dasalla. From the getgo, the Tamaraws stamped their class and became not just the champions of the UAAP 1976 season, but also, the then prestigious Battle of the Champions tournament featuring the top collegiate schools from other leagues. The Tamaraws upended the NCAA champion Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles that featured Steve Watson, Joy Carpio, Padim Israel, Fritz Gaston, Louie Rabat, Chito Narvasa, among others.

            It was also in 1976 when Saldaña finally started earning on his own, receiving P400 a month to play for the Mohawk Brokerage under Valenzona in the Interclub. He later moved with Valenzona to Solid Mills in the second conference to form a formidable team made up of his FEU teammates Dasalla and Lobo, along with Benjie Chua, Butch Beso, Conrado Pasco, Bernardo Caparas, Valencia and Rey Obias. True enough, the Denim Makers stamped their class, demolishing the Abe King ( and Emer Legaspi-led Frigidaire in the finals for the crown.

            Frigidaire though was able to exact vengeance the year after, this time at the MICAA tournament, when the Silverio franchise defeated Solid Mills in a close series of the 1977 first conference. In the next conference, Saldaña teamed up with Lobo and Dasalla to give Solid Mills its first MICAA title, defeating the YCO Painters in the finals. By then, this triumvirate, along with their head coach, Valenzona, became fixtures in various national teams.

Saldaña selected as MICAA Mythical 5 member by SWM
National Team stint

Saldaña was part of the victorious 1978 RP Youth team that won the crown in Manila, earning the right to represent Asia to the 1979 World Youth Championships. He was also one of the driving force of the national team that won the 1978 Pesta Sukan tournament. By the end of the year, Saldaña suited up for the national team that played in the Bangkok Asian Games, wounding up 5th overall.

He also led the RP Youth team in the 1979 World Youth Championships held in Brazil, where he ended up being the team’s second-best scorer (behind Cristobal's 18.7 ppg) and the tournament’s 8th best with 17.0 points per game. In their game against the powerful Yugoslavian team, Saldaña and teammate Bay Cristobal kept the team’s flickering hopes alive, even leading their European rivals at the end of the first half, 53-48. In the end, the Slavs’ height and firepower proved too much for the fighting Pinoys, eking out a slim 106-102 victory in what could have been a major upset. Saldaña led all scorers with 31 points despite being the smallest guy in the court, backstopped by Cristobal’s 27. Saldaña similarly scattered an impressive 31 points against another mighty Euro team, Italy, losing out 88-71. The Philippines ended up 10th overall (out of 12 teams) in the tournament won by the United States in dominating fashion, winning by an average of 41.57 points against their rivals. Curiously, that US team was made up of future NBA pros James Worthy, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Fat Lever, Scott Hastings and Sam Perkins, a testament to the talent and skill level that participated in this tournament.

He was later plucked by Coach Freddie Webb to lead the Philippine charge in the 1979 Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC, now called FIBA-Asia) to be held at Nagoya in Japan. Unfortunately, the team lost to their three main rivals, China, Japan and South Korea and missed out in the medal podium. It was a sorry loss against the Sokors in the elimination round, 118-107, making it difficult for the Filipinos to contend for the crown as they had to face a hostile crowd plus bad officiating from the Japanese on a cold December weather. The Chinese eventually won the crown, beating the eventual runner-up hosts in overtime, 70-68 and the Sokors on the last day, 94-88.

Moving to APCOR

            When business tycoon Herminio T. Disini became actively involved with amateur basketball through the HERDIS Group of Companies, his business empire involved in oil exploration, mining, textile manufacturing and flight chartering, it wasn’t long before he decided to put up his own basketball team. He formed APCOR, his financing company, and named his team the APCOR Financiers. Together with his right-hand guy, Nonoy Toledo, Disini assembled a dominant team and his first step was to lure Valenzona. When they succeeded in acquiring Valenzona as the head coach from Solid Mills, his old FEU and national team wards joined him. Saldaña was perhaps Turing’s first choice as it was critical for him to get the star guard to lead the team. Other big names followed suit: Cristobal, Pasco, Yoyoy Villamin, Ramon Cruz, Padim Israel, Terry Saldaña, Gary Vargas, Zaldy Latoza, Rey Lazaro (, Gerry Samlani, Alex Clariño, Alfredo Amador, the Guzman brothers – Joel and Noel, Allan Meimban, Florante Dela Cruz, Rudy Garcia, Joselito Danggoy, Romeo Martina and Rey Ramos. For Saldaña, he had no second thoughts of joining a rookie team – while he was a reluctant superstar who didn’t see himself playing in the pros, the APCOR offer was too lucrative to pass up on.

            Backstopped by a huge budget, it was almost inevitable for the Financiers to become champions. And true enough, in their debut season of 1980, the Financiers started dominating all the amateur tournaments at that time – the MICAA, the National Seniors and the Interclub. By then, Disini was also engaged in a personal rivalry with another Marcos crony, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. Cojuangco was appointed as the project director for basketball in the midyear of 1980, and immediately took steps to strengthen amateur basketball. Being rivals with Disini, Cojuangco decided to put up a pool of players made up of Americans (Steve Schall, Steve Lingerfelter, Eddie Joe Chavez, Dennis Still, Bob Worthy, David Wear, Jeff Moore), Fil-Americans (Ricardo Brown and Willie Pearson) and homegrown talents culled from other MICAA teams like Frigidaire and YCO and collegiate schools to be coached by Ron Jacobs ( from Loyola Marymount. Eventually, Cojuangco had another set of top local players on his side – players like Ricky Relosa, Manny Victorino, Frankie Lim, Itoy Esguerra, JB Yango, Bokyo Lauchengco, Ed Cordero, Teddy Alfarero, John Copada, Elmer Reyes, Louie Brill, and the Pumaren brothers – Derrick and Franz. There was a special tournament when Cojuangco’s American-led NCC national team got to play against APCOR with the Cement Makers flexing its muscle by routing the Financiers.

            By this time, Saldaña suffered a right knee injury that he needed to recuperate and couldn’t play. His loss was a blow to the team’s chances as he was their best player as well as their leader. He was also the one person capable of guarding Hector Calma, then already being groomed by Jacobs to be his court extension. In 1979, Calma, who led the Adamson Falcons to its only UAAP title in 1977, was only a backup point guard to Saldaña at Solid Mills. Nevertheless, with Still, Moore and Brown leading the Cement Makers, APCOR didn’t stand a chance. At that time, Disini was also entertaining the possibility of bringing his entire APCOR team to the PBA as a new franchise. It was bound to be the team of the future as APCOR was able to beat the PBA champs, Crispa, in tune-up games, underscoring their strength and vast potential.

Turning Pro

            Disini eventually left the country and was exiled in Austria after being involved in several cases  including the controversial Dewey Dee caper of 1981. APCOR disbanded and the players were dispersed, most of them turning pro midway into the season. Villamin, Cruz, Cristobal and Israel joined the Crispa Redmanizers, Lazaro and Latoza went to Tanduay, Samlani suited up for U/Tex, Clariño went to Gilbey’s Gin, Vargas with Galleon Shippers, Joel Guzman to Galerie Dominque and twin brother Noel to Great Taste. Saldaña joined the PBA in 1982 along with other rookies like Relosa, Cordero, namesake Terry, Lauchengco and Tim Coloso. Marte went to the San Miguel Beermen under Coach Tommy Manotoc as he was convinced by his former Solid Mills teammate and brother-in-law Obias to join him at SMB. Marte went to the SMC office, then based in Makati, and met with Manotoc who tendered him a 2-year contract right away.

Saldaña donning jersey #7 for the Beermen

            1982 turned out to be a good year for Marte. Running second to Terry in the rookie of the year race (, Terry found himself getting disqualified from the ROY race after being involved in a fracas against a South Korean player in the 2nd conference – called the Asian Invitationals. As such, Marte became the undisputed leader in the rookie stats board, and, strengthened with a championship, a runner-up finish and a 3rd place finish for the Beermen, won the ROY award. He also was fortunate to play in the Mello Yello All Star series held in Manila and Cebu where he suited up for the North team coached by Robert Jaworski ( Arnie Tuadles (, who scored 50 points in one of those two games, was adjudged All Star MVP. It was a phenomenal recognition for the young Saldaña to be named an All-Star on his rookie year.

PBA Success

            Marte made sure he won’t be suffering from the sophomore jinx syndrome, a situation when players on their second year would suffer a drop in their game or experience an injury. Fortunately, he continued his successful foray in the PBA for the Beermen.

            With Crispa dominant in the 1983 season, Saldaña continued to earn the respect of his teammates and opponents with his cerebral court generalship. One of the more memorable games for that year was when the Beermen snapped Crispa’s 21-game winning streak in the second conference. That run remains a record to date. With Dasalla making Crispa super import Billy Ray Bates lose his temper, import Donnie Ray Koonce scoring at will, Lim Eng Beng ( playing the veteran role, and Saldaña quarterbacking, the Beermen pulled off a 110-99 shocker on that fateful June 23 playdate. Koonce topscored for the Beermen with 32, with Marte tallying 18 points, 4 boards and 5 dimes in a solid all-around effort.

            Manotoc, who left SMB for Crispa prior to the start of the 1983 season, is credited by Saldaña to have given him the trust and confidence from a PBA coach. He distinctly remembered Manotoc’s advice to study his opponent’s moves, a strategy that Saldaña took to heart and continued applying until the final days of his career. But with Manotoc moving to Crispa, Saldaña had to work with a new coach, Nat Canson, erstwhile head coach of Frigidaire in the MICAA (

The Quick Brown Fox vs. The Mighty Mite

            It was under Canson that Saldaña intimated having played the best years of his life. From 1983 to 1985, Saldaña flourished under Canson’s tutelage and prodding and where he emerged as one of the top point guards in the league. In 1985, partnering with Norman Black and forming a potent Mutt and Jeff tandem, the two led the Magnolia Ice Cream Makers to the Finals of the Open Conference. They lost to the mighty Great Taste Coffeemakers of Joe Binion and Ricardo Brown but Saldaña acquitted himself well in this tournament, proving to all that he can stand toe to toe versus the Quick Brown Fox, the eventual MVP for the year.

Turning Milkman

As lead point guard of Hills Bros fighting for the loose ball vs. Shell's Totoy Marquez
Saldaña defending Presto import and NBA veteran Tony White

            When the People Power Revolution broke out on February, 1986, San Miguel decided to take a two-conference leave of absence from the PBA. Saldaña, along with SMB teammates Noli Banate and Rudy Distrito, were taken in by new team Alaska. Marte struggled a bit in the onset as his first two coaches, Tony Vasquez and Cesar Jota, weren’t able to maximize his skill set as much as he wanted. Fortunately, in the season after, Alaska hired Canson as head coach, reviving hopes for Saldaña to regain his confidence. When Canson left, the Milkmen hired Valenzona, another coach that Marte was very comfortable with. For nearly two seasons, Saldaña thrived with his coaches, including Bogs Adornado, who took over Valenzona’s job in the third conference of 1988. Everything was still ideal and Marte was confident that he’ll be given a fresh contract by Alaska management.

From Milk to Tivoli

            To Saldaña’s surprise, the verbal commitment given to him by Adornado to renew his contract didn’t come to fruition. The worse part was that the 1989 season was about to begin and Marte would end up clutching an empty bag. Fortunately, it was Bay Cristobal, his national team, Solid Mills and APCOR teammate, and Abe King, his Gold Eagle Beer teammate, who convinced Ignacio Gotao and Presto management to get Marte’s services from free agency. He got himself a roster spot with the Tivoli at the start of the season, sharing point guard chores with Onchie Dela Cruz, Willie Generalao, and Bernie Fabiosa.

            But in the second conference, Saldaña had to undergo an operation for treatment of his left pelvic bone. He returned later and continued to play for the Gokongwei franchise on the very same year when SMB, his old team, won the grandslam. When the season ended, his Presto contract has already expired.

Last PBA Team

            Not many fans would remember Marte being part of the expansion team Pop Cola Sizzlers at the start of the 1990 season. While many would recall Joey Loyzaga, Elmer Reyes, Pido Jarencio and Sonny Cabatu taken from the expansion draft, Saldaña quietly convinced a young Yeng Guiao that he can help provide stability in the backcourt for the RFM franchise. Unfortunately, Saldaña only got to play 4 games for the franchise, paving the way for his retirement at the young but full age of 31. It was an enriching and fulfilling career as Saldaña proved to everyone that he was a winner wherever he went – winning titles with the national team, the PBA, the MICAA, the Interclub, and the collegiate league.

Personal Musings

            Marte Saldaña recounts his PBA career and pays tribute to Ricardo Brown and Francis Arnaiz as the players that he found difficulty to guard. Similarly, he acknowledged Arnaiz for being the best player to defend him. True enough, he had his battles with Mr. Clutch as early as his rookie year when SMB faced Toyota in the Finals of the Reinforced Conference.

            When Saldaña was still playing for FEU and the national team, he donned jersey #7, in honor of his very first idol, Robert Jaworski, Sr. While Jaworski is known to be an extremely physical player capable of bullying guards from other teams, Saldaña chuckled that not once did the Big J display roughness against him. Perhaps it was the mutual respect that they had for each other, starting with the 1982 All-Star games where Jaworski was his coach, that made the Big J think twice. It was also his dream to play for Toyota ( in the PBA and team up with Jaworski and Arnaiz, something he never got to experience in his career.

            He regards Turing Valenzona as the greatest influence of his playing career. Valenzona was his very first real basketball coach and looks up to him as his second father. For seven years, Saldaña knew of no other coach than Valenzona, starting with FEU and ending at APCOR. His career blossomed under Turo’s tutelage – a common denominator for several FEU players who started learning the game from the former FEU enforcer.

            His biggest dream was to play for Jacobs – especially in the national team. But Saldaña admits that was difficult to happen with the politics involving Cojuangco and Disini, and it was unfortunate that he couldn’t suit up for the national team when Jacobs was running the program. Jacobs, at that time, was also profuse with praises on the young Saldaña, considering him as one of the country’s best point guards alongside Jaworski, Brown and Calma.

Post-Basketball Career

            Marte Saldaña is now based in San Francisco, USA with his wife, the former Emelita Reyes and four children, Mark, Miko, Morris and Matthew. Mark is a nurse based in Boston, Miko and Morris are Respiratory Therapists, and Morris is an accountant. Marte also has one grandchild from Mark and is expecting two more on September, 2018 and January, 2019.

His classic set shot 25 years after

            He now works as a Deck Hand offering labor services to a shipping company based in San Francisco. Previously, Marte was an Operations Manager for LBC International, a Filipino-owned logistics company with office locations all over the world. He and his wife also own a caregiver services manpower company that provides caregivers to various institutions all over the United States.

Blogger’s Views

The blogger with the Mighty Mite at Westin Hotel Union Square

            From previous articles in this blog site, this blogger has professed his admiration to FEU and their basketball products, most especially from the 70’s. When Saldaña joined forces with Lobo and Dasalla at FEU, it didn’t take long for this writer to gravitate towards the Tamaraws. Saldaña eventually became his favorite amateur point guard, while cheering for his teams in the amateur ranks – first with Solid Mills, and later, with APCOR.

            This blogger went to the West Coast last May. Because of the blogger’s association with Renato Lobo from a previous article, the latter was able to convince Saldaña to have his profile done. Saldaña and this blogger met at the Westin Hotel in Union Square where the blogger was staying in his 3-day visit at the city. It was a casual moment as Saldaña turned out to be as warm, friendly and pleasant as described by Lobo. It wasn’t difficult to make him open up, albeit, there were some tidbits that are best kept and not written anymore. The two spoke for more than 3 hours and could’ve been longer had it not for prior commitments of both parties.
Marte, seated in the middle, with other PBA legends and stars

            Saldaña’s poise and grace under pressure was probably his greatest asset as a player. Although he’s known for a lot of things – his cerebral quarterbacking, his adept ballhandling skills, his pinpoint accuracy from beyond the range, Marte was clutch personified. He has done this several times particularly for FEU, Solid Mills, APCOR and SMB. Abe King, the franchise player of SMB in 1984, refers to Saldaña as his favorite court general of all time. Lobo is awed by his court vision and generalship, twin facets that not all point guards of his time possessed. Many remembered him as a John Stockton play-alike, not flashy but gets the job done with nifty passes and timely outside sniping.

            This blogger has always been a fan of Saldaña since his FEU days. But after the opportunity of meeting up and knowing the Mighty Mite, he looks up to him far greater from his storied playing career. Marte Saldaña, the unassuming and humble person that he is, has become a larger than life person.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Renato Lobo - the last breed of pigeon-chested sweet shooters

In 1975, as I was slowly opening my eyes to various sports, I grew a certain fascination with anything that began with the letter "C." I started cheering for the Chicago Bulls in the NBA, after cracking the Western Conference Finals (yes, Chicago was at the Midwest Division and in the West back then) to face the Golden State Warriors. It's apparent I also cheered for the Crispa Redmanizers, and their lead stars, Atoy Co and Philip Cezar, despite having 7 male siblings cheering for their arch rivals, the Toyota Comets. In tennis, I was fascinated with Jimmy Connors, who conquered the sport by winning the 1974 Wimbledon, Australian and US Open titles.

Curiously though, Crown Motors, the Silverio-owned franchise in the PBA, never really caught my fancy. Perhaps because they were owned by the arch rivals of Crispa. But the real reason? Renato "Etok" Lobo, the first amateur player I followed closely.

The name Lobo first caught my attention in 1975 when he was already playing for the FEU Tamaraws in the UAAP. His name was always at the top of the boxscores of the winning team, normally scoring in the mid-20s every single game. His name, along with a certain Anthony Dasalla, were the ones I gravitated to and made me want to actually study at FEU.

The two would eventually become inseparable, even up to the pro league. Broadcasters of the 70's used to describe them as a "Mutt and Jeff" combination although Lobo wasn't exactly a midget. The two were teammates in college, in the MICAA, and with various teams in the PBA. They would've retired at the same time as well, had injuries not intervened.

Two Sundays ago, Lobo and I got to meet each other at the FEU Tamaraws basketball reunion ( held at the Vikings Buffet & Restaurant at MOA. We exchanged numbers, hoping I can do his player profile. This Sunday morning, I finally got my chance to meet the one player who epitomized the kind of player I wanted to be: a gifted offensive player, someone who possessed a deadly pair of hands from outside, pigeon-chested - in the same physique as my other shooting idols Estoy Estrada, Jun Papa and Botchok Delos Santos.

Lobo was born on April 08, 1955 at Barangay Pinagkaisahan in Makati City. He played high school varsity ball at Pio Del Pilar HS in Makati for 4 straight years under Coach Moncada. Pio Del Pilar is the same school where future PBA pros Ricky and Molet Pineda hail from.

College Life

Lobo's skills were first discovered by former YCO player Egay Gomez who invited him to practice with the YCO Painters in the MICAA at the old YMCA gym back in 1974. After making a very good impression after sinking basket after basket, Coach Fely Fajardo invited him to try out for the Painters, at that time, was loaded with star players like Freddie Webb, Gomez, siblings Joy and Benjie Cleofas and Lobo's first cousin, Elias Tolentino. Tolentino had no inkling that Gomez would accompany Lobo to the Painters' practice...and no one realized that this was the turning point in Lobo's basketball life.

But since Lobo was barely out of high school at that time, it was best for him to season himself further in the collegiate league. He tried out with the UE Red Warriors and impressed Baby Dalupan. Dalupan instructed UE coach Pilo Pumaren to acquire his services immediately. But Lobo also tried out for the FEU Tamaraws under Turo Valenzona and the latter didn't waste any time in recruiting him.

His very first game as an FEU Tamaraw was in the Dream Invitational Tournament featuring the Warriors and the Tamaraws in the UAAP and the Ateneo Blue Eagles and La Salle Green Archers of the NCAA in early 1975. UE was led by Emerito Legaspi, Tito Varela and Ramon Cruz. FEU had Bokyo Lauchengco, Marte Saldaña, Nic Bulaong, Ben Brillantes, Armando Valencia and rookies Lobo and Dasalla. Ateneo had the likes of Joy Carpio, Fritz Gaston and Padim Israel while the Archers were led by the deadly Lim Eng Beng.

Lobo as the King Tamaraw

FEU was locked in a battle for UAAP supremacy with the mighty Warriors. In the last 4 stagings, both teams won two titles apiece with UE entering the 38th season as the defending champions. FEU strung up win after win only to forfeit around 4 games when Bokyo Lauchengco was found to be ineligible because of academic issues. Still, the Tamaraws went on a run and secured a Finals seat against the Warriors, the latter winning courtesy of a crucial steal by Varela in the final seconds of play.

With Legaspi gone in 1976 (, the Tamaraws took advantage and went on a tear, winning the championship with an unbeaten slate for the entire season. Lobo was at the forefront of that winning season, leading the team in scoring and becoming the best player in the league, upstaging Legaspi's heir apparent, Jimmy Manansala.

Joining the Commercial Leagues

With his first team, Villar Records

As Lobo's name became bigger, it wasn't long before commercial teams would recruit his services. His first team was with Villar Records in the Interclub alongside Dasalla. Other teammates included former national team player Nat Castillo, former future Tanduay player Alex Marquez, and skipper Dick Marquez. Villar went on to win the 1975 Interclub title in impressive fashion.

Winning his 1977 MICAA MVP award

Solid Mills 1977 and 1978 MICAA champions

After his short stint with the Mareco-based rccording company, t was natural for him to move to his mentor, Turing Valenzona, and Solid Mills. With Lobo and Dasalla leading the way, the Denim Makers went on to win a couple of championships in the MICAA and the Interclub. Other teammates included big names like Marte Saldaña, Yoyoy Villamin, Ray Obias, Benjie Chua, Butch Beso, among others. Lobo eventually won the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1977.

As a national team member

It wasn't long before the call to serve the country came. Lobo suited up for practically every national team in 1977 - the 5th-placed Philippine team in the 1977 Asian Basketball Confederation in November, the 1977 Asian Youth competitions which the Philippines won for the 4th straight time in Kuwait, the victorious team that participated in the Pesta Sukan league in Genting Highlands, Malaysia, and the gold medal-winning team that played in the 1977 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur. In all those sojourns, Lobo was a main cog as the leading offensive weapon of the team.

Jumping into the pros

It wasn't a surprise that Lobo (and Dasalla) eventually found themselves playing for Solid Mills' mother team, the U/Tex Wranglers, in the PBA. Lobo was able to meet with representatives from Crispa and Toyota who were interested to lure him into their respective teams. But he eventually settled for his comfort zone - as Andy Jao, U/Tex's team manager, was also running Solid Mills. He was signed for two years with the Wranglers.

First PBA team - the U/Tex Wranglers

And just like with FEU, Villar and Solid Mills, Lobo brought his good fortune to the Wranglers. In only his second conference as a pro, Lobo provided bench support for Tommy Manotoc's charges in ending the Crispa-Toyota championship duopoly in the PBA. Reinforced by the tandem of Byron "Snake" Jones and Glenn McDonald, the Wranglers demolished the defending Open Conference champions, the Crispa Redmanizers, via a 3-0 sweep to collar its very first PBA title. Lobo averaged 7.45 ppg and 3.90 boards for the two seasons, including a single game high of 22 points registered in the 1979 season.

Lobo with the Cuenca-owned franchises, Galleon Shippers & CDCP

A higher offer came Lobo and Dasalla's way before the start of the 1980 season when new team Galleon Shippers took over the Filmanbank franchise. The Rodolfo Cuenca-owned squad paraded a lineup that had the likes of former Bankers' Boy Kutch, Larry Mumar, Angelito Ladores, Romy Palijo, Nilo Cruz, plus Lobo and Dasalla good enough to make this Nic Jorge-mentored team competitive right away. The succeeding year, Galleon was re-branded as CDCP (Construction Development Corporation of the Philippines), another company owned by Cuenca. They lost Mumar and Kutch but acquired the services of Manny Paner and bolstered their lineup further with rookie Gary Vargas who used to play for the APCOR Financiers in the MICAA. CDCP made PBA history by assembling two of the tallest imports in the league, featuring the 6'11 Edmond Lawrence and the 6'9 James Lister, who was later replaced by their previous season's reinforcement, the 6'11 Jeff Wilkins. CDCP wasn't able to crack the playoffs in their two-season stint, despite compiling a winning record. Lobo jacked up his scoring average to 9.36 points, 4.64 rebounds and 1.86 assists, including a single game high of 32 points in November 25, 1980.

Lobo as a Beerman

With CDCP disbanding at the start of the 1982 season, Lobo, Dasalla and Paner went to the San Miguel Beermen, the first two reuniting with new SMB coach Tommy Manotoc and Paner rejoining his original PBA team. The Beermen, powered by import Norman Black, went all the way to the Reinforced Finals in the first conference, losing to the Toyota Super Corollas in heartbreaking fashion, in Game 7. But SMB came back in the 2nd conference, the Asian Invitationals, and defeated Crispa in Game 3 of their best of three Final series, 103-102, to clinch their second franchise title.

Manotoc eventually left the Beermen in 1983, joining Crispa to replace multi-titled coach, Baby Dalupan. Nat Canson took over and this was the period when Lobo finally flourished as a pro. With Canson putting his full trust in him, Lobo blossomed, especially in the 1984 and 1985 seasons, regaining his deadly touch from the outside. It was unfortunate that sometime in the latter part of 1985, Lobo injured his left knee. He continued receiving his salary with SMB despite the team going on a leave of absence while rehabilitating his knee. He started practicing with Tanduay Rhum Makers in the 1987 pre-season under his original coach, Valenzona, and was about to secure a roster spot but re-injured his knee and never got to play competitive basketball again. He retired soon after and left for Chicago in April, 1987.

Life in America

Lobo went to the United States with his mother-in-law, with wife, the former Lina Lacsamana, staying behind to attend to the children. He did odd jobs like helping out in a factory that made home furnishings. Lina eventually followed him after seven months, while the kids were able to join their parents in 1990.

Lobo is presently working at a warehouse for a hospital company, Cardinal Health Midwest Distribution Center of Waukegan, Illinois. He's been employed there since 1989.

Lobo has 4 children who are all based in the United States, the eldest being 38 and the youngest at 28. The youngest was born in the United States after Etok and Lina migrated to the US in 1987.

Personal Musings

Lobo recounts his May 25, 1982 game versus the Crispa Redmanizers as his most memorable ever. In that game, San Miguel beat Crispa, 118-113, with the sweet-shooting forward knocking down 25 points, just behind import Black's 37 points. The Redmanizers led practically the entire game, and was nursing an 88-87 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter when Lobo and Black conspired to give the Beermen the win. Glen Hagan led the Redmanizers in a losing cause with 32 points, with Atoy Co chipping 24.

He credits Turing Valenzona, Egay Gomez, Elias Tolentino, Andy Jao and Tommy Manotoc as the most influential personalities in his career. The late Tony Dasalla was his closest buddy, having been his teammate in practically all the teams that they played for - FEU, Villar Records, Solid Mills, U/Tex, Galleon / CDCP, San Miguel and the national teams. They would have been teammates also with Tanduay in a reunion with Valenzona if not for the left knee that Lobo re-injured early 1987.

Lobo finds Philip Cezar and Abe King as the best defenders who have ever guarded him while Bogs Adornado being the player that is most difficult to defend. Speaking of defense, if there's one chink in his armour that he would have wanted to improve, that would have been his ability to defend his guard better, as Lobo has always been known as a knockdown shooter from outside.

Renato "Etok" Lobo entered the basketball scene at a most unfortunate time when the big names joined the PBA in 1975. And when he joined the PBA in 1978, these big names remained dominant for another decade until the new guns like Alvin Patrimonio, Jerry Codiñera, Benjie Paras, Jojo Lastimosa and Ronnie Magsanoc entered the scene. Lobo struggled to earn playing time at the onset, having to play behind guys like Lim Eng Beng, Romy Cabading, Romeo Frank, and later, the revered Bogs Adornado, among others. And since his game was founded on confidence, he needed the floor burn to become effective. Alas, when he found his game and started to enjoy playing basketball again, that was when injury struck.

During the 70's, Philippine basketball had an abundance of exceptional outside shooters. Curiously, a lot of these players had a common physical trait: they were pigeon-chested. Guys like Jun Papa, Estoy Estrada, Botchok Delos Santos, Joy Dionisio, among others were deadshot gunslingers from the perimeter. Lobo perhaps was the last breed of deadly barrel-chested shooters in the league, capable of knocking down an outside shot from almost every angle. His offensive game was varied as he was also capable of penetrating the interior and get some easy layups, using his nifty pivoting that offset his average quickness.

With Rey Lazaro and Lobo
Etok Lobo today

The first time this blogger met Lobo was at the FEU Tamaraws basketball reunion held at the Vikings Buffet Restaurant at the Mall of Asia a couple of Sundays ago. It was a surreal moment for this blogger, and when he confessed to Lobo that he was a fan, he didn't really think the ex-pro took it seriously. He has received countless similar admissions, albeit loosely done, from people from all walks of life. What he may not have realized was that he was standing beside a genuine fan who followed his career since 1975 when this blogger was only seven years young.  Lobo shaped his life as a basketball fan, influencing the teams that he rooted for, including the university he initially wanted to study in college. Wherever Lobo went, this blogger followed his path.

Philippine basketball today has a dearth of deadly consistent outside shooters. It's unfortunate especially in this era when the three point shot is regarded as the great equalizer, particularly for small teams like our national teams. Lobo would have a flourishing career today as a designated spot up shooter from beyond the arc or fake the defender and come closer for a 15 foot jumper. But it was his sweet-shooting crafty style that made him special. More than that, Lobo was a clutch player who won several games because of his late game heroics, and was a winner wherever he went. One UAAP title, a couple of MICAA and Interclub championships, gold medals in the SEA Games, Pesta Sukan and Asian Youth championships, and two PBA titles - plus an MVP title in the 1977 MICAA season make Lobo one of the most decorated players to ever join the PBA back in the 70's.