By JONAS TERRADO
(UPDATED) The local sports community on Wednesday mourned the loss of San Miguel Corporation Chairman and CEO Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, who passed away at the age of 85.
The PBA was among the organizations and sports personalities that paid tribute to Cojuangco, who outside of his role in business and politics was active as a sports patron.
“Thank you for your countless contribution to the PBA and Philippine sports! Our prayers and condolences to his family and loved ones,” the PBA said in a tweet Wednesday morning.
Under Cojuangco, San Miguel was one of the companies that broke away from the MICAA to form the PBA in 1975. The company currently has three teams in the professional league — the San Miguel Beermen, Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok.
SMC also owned the Coca-Cola Tigers from their inception in 2002 when the food and infrastructure conglomerate held a majority stake of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines. SMC relinquished ownership of the PBA franchise as part of the subsidiary’s sale to the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company in 2006.
Cojuangco, however, is famously known for bankrolling the national team program in the 1980s under the Northern Consolidated banner.
Appointed basketball godfather by President Ferdinand Marcos, Cojuangco tapped the services of American coach Ron Jacobs to run the NCC program with aim of bringing Philippine basketball back to respectability.
After hiring eight Americans as naturalized players, subsequently resulting in winning the 1981 William Jones Cup in Taiwan, the NCC eventually settled on Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Chip Engelland as naturalized players while recruiting amateur standouts like Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic and Hector Calma.
Calma was part of the national squad that beat China for the 1982 ABC Youth Championship played before a packed crowd at the Araneta Coliseum.
The NCC squad went on to capture the 1984 Asian Interclub and the 1985 Jones Cup and PBA Reinforced Conference as a guest team before winning the prestigious ABC Championship that same year in Kuala Lumpur. The program became inactive after Cojuangco went into exile following the EDSA People Power Revolution.
Former PBA Commissioner and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director Noli Eala and current NorthPort owner and 1Pacman party list representative Mikee Romero cited the NCC program as a blueprint for their national team programs they formed in the past.
“His NCC concept was my inspiration for the Gilas program,” said Eala, who launched the first Gilas team in 2009 with a group of collegiate stars and coached by Serbian Rajko Toroman under a long-term program that ended in 2011.
“Danding Cojuangco’s contributions to Philippine Basketball history can be described in one word ‘phenomenal.’ He is the real phenom of Philippine Basketball,” said Romero, who bankrolled the Philippine team that won the gold in the 2007 Nakhon Ratchasima Southeast Asian Games.
“First, he taught all of us how a Philippine team should be put up, by creating the Northern Consolidated-bannered Philippine national team in the 80s. The creation of this national team has been the gold standard and prototype for the many Gilas teams that followed suit. I myself copied this formula in 2007 by putting up the Harbour Centre Philippine team which won gold in the 2007 SEA Games,” he added.
Cojuangco made his way back in 2012 as benefactor of the La Salle basketball program, which underwent hardships after winning the UAAP crown five years earlier.
The Green Archers would win the UAAP title in 2013, overcoming a 3-4 record in the first round behind coach Juno Sauler and star forward Jeron Teng to beat the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers in three games.
La Salle made its way back to the top in 2016 by sweeping arch rival Ateneo in the Finals, with the starring roles shared by Teng and Cameroonian import Ben Mbala, who a few years earlier was a prized recruit out of Cebu’s Southwestern University.
The Green Archers lost just one game during the campaign after tapping the services of coach Aldin Ayo, who impressed Cojuangco with the way he steered the Letran Knights to a Cinderella NCAA title run the previous year.
“RIP Boss. Thank you for the opportunity. Forever grateful for your kindness and generosity,” Ayo, current coach of University of Santo Tomas, said.
Aside from basketball, Cojuangco was also a major supporter of horse racing, becoming the founding chairman of the Philippine Racing Commission which was formed in 1974.
The Ambassador Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr. Cup, one of the richest events of the local horse racing calendar, has been held every year in his honor.