1988 was a game-changing year.
The NBA was ruled by a flying men, Bad Boys and His Airness. The PBA was ushering in a new era with a bunch of hotshot rookies. The rivalry between Katipunan and Taft was starting anew in the UAAP.
Beyond basketball, 1988 gave us icons like Rain Man, Big and Die Hard. Another Michael was rising up the charts with his own Bad style. DJ Jazzy Jeff, NWA, Biz Markie, Run DMC were all rolling. Even in the world of sneakers something fresh was coming. Mike rocked a pair of J’s that shone brightest, even though surrounded by All-Stars.
Good, bad, hilarious and legendary, 1988 is a year to remember. It’s a classic year, an iconic time, a perfect 50.
The very first UAAP title showdown between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the La Salle Green Archers was, in many ways, the last of its kind.
What do I remember from a game that happened 30 years ago?
I remember standing on a table inside the Ateneo High School library watching the live broadcast of the 1988 UAAP Championship Game between Ateneo and La Salle, their first title showdown in the league, on a blurry widescreen with the the rest of the student body.
I remember Ateneo center Danny Francisco grabbing 24 rebounds.
I remember La Salle Center Richard Del Rosario immediately going for a running skyhook after just coming off the bench. Nice try Chard.
I remember watching Ateneo guard Olsen Racela and NOT thinking he would be a hall of fame player many years later. I don’t know anything, obviously.
I remember La Salle guard Johnedel Cardel attempting the most exciting shots of the game.
I also remember Jun Reyes and Dindo Pumaren.
Jun Reyes, 5’7”, Ateneo’s star point guard, had a burning fever that day. Since we never used the term flu in the Philippines back in 1988, we can’t call this game his Flu Game. Besides, only MJ should have a Flu Game, right? Therefore, let’s call this the Jun Reyes Fever Game.
He wore a dark shirt under his number 5 jersey with sleeves so long it looked like a sweater. He seemed ready to faint during every dead-ball situation. His skin color was a scary pale, like whiter than freshly copped Air Force Ones. And yet, the guy who looked too sick to play, the guy who struggled to score in the first half, would eventually lead the team in points in the end.
In one crucial play in the second half, he grabbed a long rebound against two taller La Salle players, made a crazy sprint for a coast to coast layup, and pumped his fist as he jogged to the other end of the court, a strange feat for someone who couldn’t even stand on his own the day before. Maybe it was enough that he was playing at all.
Dindo Pumaren, 5’10”, La Salle’s super scorer, didn’t have a fever. But he made Ateneo fans sick whenever he went on a scoring tear. He wore jersey number 10 the way Messi wore jersey number 10. It looked perfect on his uniform. He rocked the thick wristband on his shooting arm the way all the 80s hoop studs wore wristbands on their shooting arms. Although for some reason, he ditched the wristband before the end of the first half.
Anyway, when he scored, he shook his fists, wristband or no wristband, and grit his teeth as if to say, “I will do whatever backbreaking work is needed to lead my team to victory.” Like the way he shook both fists after he knocked down a triple in the face of Ateneo defender Jet Nieto late in the second half.
Pumaren was La Salle’s floor general. Pumaren was La Salle’s firepower. If he ended up scoring ALL of La Salle’s 70 points during the game, my silly high school self would not have been surprised. He fought valiantly that day and that’s what I’ll remember.
“The Reyes-Pumaren battle was the symbol of the rivalry,” basketball historian Jay P. Mercado recalls. “They were the faces of their respective schools.” Their faces, however, were melting throughout the afternoon.
It’s unthinkable now to stage a UAAP championship contest in a non-air-conditioned coliseum that seemed older than the actual Colosseum in Rome and under playing conditions hot enough to perfectly bake one whole S&R Pizza. Please don’t get me wrong, I love the mythology of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, all the legends that have played there, all the memories living within its walls, and I think it should be a historical landmark, but air-conditioning in the Philippines is a game-changer.
Still, the heat of a near-noon tip-off, the haze coming off the collective body heat of 8,000 fans, the ancient Seiko scoreboard that served only one half of the arena (the other half had to look at a manual scoreboard), and that deep-voiced crowd roar – the roar you hear in a Premier League football match, a roar only 8,000 dehydrated, deranged, delirious students tightly packed like 10 people are packed in a Picanto can produce, these all made the first Ateneo-La Salle UAAP title showdown so singular.
Although Reyes and Pumaren extended their personal and professional rivalry throughout their PBA careers, they didn’t have a one-on-one spectacle as dramatic as the one they had in October of 1988. “You know, these guards – Reyes, Pumaren, they are the men of the hour for their teams,” veteran commentator Freddie Abando stated during the live broadcast. But just like the Jun Reyes-Dindo Pumaren Duel of the Fates, the whole scene from the first ever UAAP title showdown between Ateneo and La Salle was unrepeatable.
You can no longer let teams compete for a UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship in a gym that ancient. You can no longer let them perspire like they’re playing near the sun. You can no longer hold the game in an arena that can only accommodate just a chunk of The Big Dome. You can no longer carry a pro-Ateneo poster that says, “If it’s green, flush it.” You can no longer cheer for La Salle with a poster that reads, “Blue Eggless!!!” You can no longer make them wear shorts that short. You can no longer shout politically incorrect taunts during Ateneo-La Salle games, so politically incorrect I can’t bring myself to write them in this piece. I can no longer cheer for Danny Francisco and cheer against Richard Del Rosario the way I did back in the day because they’re two of my best friends in the business now. You no longer say U-double-A-P the way we did in 1988. Not anymore.
30 years later, I remember the game and remember the result and realized long ago that who won or lost no longer matters as much as it once did. All of them, Reyes and co., Pumaren and co., collaborated for that moment in basketball history. It was a moment of firsts. It was a moment of lasts. What’s important, the thing that makes this game special to this very day, is that the game happened right when it did.
Screen shots from Youtube
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