For someone who watched and idolized Caloy Loyzaga growing up, Freddie Webb admitted he was thrilled to be approached by the legendary Filipino basketball player during his collegiate years with Letran.
Webb, then a budding star for the Knights, noticed a stocky figure somewhere near the court during one of his collegiate games.
"When I was playing for Letran, there's this gentleman sitting at the back section, I was looking at him and I told my teammates, 'Si Caloy Loyzaga ba yun?' I said, 'Wow suwerte tayo nanonood si King Caloy' di ba?" Webb said, recalling that time when Loyzaga, an all-time great, came to watch the Knights play.
Little did he know that Loyzaga was there to recruit him to play for the Yco Painters, whose own legendary record of 49 straight wins from 1954 to 1956 was led by no less than King Caloy himself.
"Right then and there, he talked to me. 'You want to play for Yco?'" Webb recalled. "I told him, 'Sir, of course, who wouldn't want to play for Yco?'"
Loyzaga led Yco to five MICAA crowns and seven consecutive National Open championships as a player. He was eventually appointed coach, and had every intention of continuing the winning tradition.
"I got inspired when he was playing because I wanted to follow his footsteps which I never did, not even close to it," Webb said candidly in a conversation with An Eternity of Basketball on Tuesday. "But even then, he inspired me."
Webb said he was privileged to play alongside Loyzaga during the legendary cager's final year in 1964. By then, Caloy was already the team's playing coach. Webb insists that Loyzaga was still a solid player just before he retired at the age of 34.
During their only time together as players at Yco, Webb said he was able to quickly create a connection with Loyzaga inside the court, which was why when Loyzaga announced to the team that he was retiring after the 1964 season, Webb considered that a sad moment for him.
"At the time he announced his retirement held in one of those restaurants in Roxas Boulevard, he said 'It was time for me to go'. I was very sad because nung kakampi ko siya, ang dami ko nagagawang puntos dahil sa kanya," the 77-year-old Webb recounted. "Siya taga bigay sa akin ng bola kasi meron kaming usapan eh."
Still, the brief time he had with Loyzaga left a lasting impression on Webb, who himself, would go on to play for Yco from 1965 to 1975 in the MICAA.
"I had this privilege to play for Caloy for one season, sobrang galing ni Caloy," he said.
Loyzaga is generally regarded as the finest basketball player the Philippines has produced, a statement Webb wholeheartedly agrees with. "He was named top five in the world," Webb reasoned out, referring to the 1954 FIBA World Championships when Loyzaga was named to the all-tournament team while leading the country to a bronze medal. To this day, it remains the highest finish by an Asian country in the quadrennial meet.
"He was the only one during those days, he was probably 6-4, na kapag nag-dribble yun court to court, wala naman nakakagawa nung araw nun na big man," added Webb.
Webb said what impressed him the most were Loyzaga's passing skills, which were at the time rare for a big man, along with his ability to use his heft to set a screen or to grab a rebound.
"Tapos ang galing pumasa niyan, baseball pass. Iyung dibdib niya, babanggain ka para tumalsik ka," shared Webb.
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Defending a Korean legend
Aside from the rare chance of playing with Loyzaga, Webb cherished his stint as a national player, especially the time when he helped "shut down" South Korea's dreaded shooter Shin Dong Pa.
Shin, a familiar Korean foe for Filipino basketball players during the 1960s and early 1970s, averaged close to 35 points per contest, as recalled by Webb.
But in the Philippines' meeting with South Korea in the 1971 ABC men's championship (FIBA Asia Cup today), Webb remembered how he prepared hard to defend Shin.
Serving as Ed Ocampo's key backup in trying to shackle Shin, Webb played all-out during the minutes given to him by then national coach Lauro Mumar.
Motivating him further was his goal of serving his constituents in 1971 as the country back then was having its local elections the day after the game. Webb recalled he was vying for a city councilor spot in Pasay.
"Super good," Webb said, referring to Shin, a member of South Korea's Olympic team in the 1964 and 1968 editions. "Iyung player na yun, kapag pinasahan ng kakampi niya at medyo natagilid siya, pinagagalitan niya kasi ayaw niya na pwuede masahod or masaktan siya," Webb shared. "I don't blame the guy, without him, Korea wouldn't be able to win a lot of games."
Webb admitted that his desire to fight for the country's pride and glory kicked in the moment the game started.
"So talagang naka-dikit ako sa kanya. Iyung biro na kahit nakapunta sa rest room kasama pa ako, kulang na lang gawin ko yun," said Webb, who helped the Philippines register an 88-80 decision over South Korea. "Yung mata ko, my head and my heart and my will were all directed on him because I was telling myself, 'Di kita papagawin.' But still, he made a lot of points. Not his usual because he averages 35 points per game, but he probably had 22."
Freddie Webb on the 1972 gold medal game
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Unforgettable Olympics experience
The Philippine squad's preparation for the 1968 Tokyo Olympics proved to be a defining moment for Webb.
"I was a member of the team up to the last minute kasi 15 kami eh. So tatlo ang kailangan alisin at kasama ako sa tatlo, si (Tembong) Melencio, Ed Roque and myself. I didn't make that team," he recounted.
Ironically, his Yco coach Caloy Loyzaga was handling the national men's team preparations at that time.
"Don Manolo (Elizalde, owner of Yco) was very mad at Caloy. I was his (Loyzaga's) player. 'Ba't di mo pa kinuha,'" said Webb, recalling Elizalde questioning Loyzaga's decision to leave him out in the cold.
"But Caloy had his reasons. I didn't take it personally but I took it as a challenge so that next time, I'm gonna make sure I'll make it," he said.
Webb eventually made it to the 1972 Munich Olympics, which incidentally was the last time the Philippines played in the basketball Summer Games.
Still, Webb's Olympic Games experience was dampened after a group of Palestinian terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich.
"We were just three buildings away from the building of the Israelis," said Webb, in recounting the unfortunate incident that rocked the Summer Games in West Germany. "About 4 in morning, narinig namin ang putukan so nagsilipan kami (from the window) kasi condo yun eh," he added.
Webb said they thought members of the Israeli shooting team were merely training that early morning. But by 6 a.m., they were all surprised when a number of helicopters started circling the Olympic Village. Eventually, they saw American swimmer Mark Spitz being escorted out by a tight security force. Spitz, who won seven gold medals in the Games, is Jewish.
"Nakita namin na ang dami niyang (Spitz) security. Tinatanggal na siya (from the Olympic Village) kasi he's a Jew. Natakot sila, baka may remnants pa ng Palestino na manloloko kaya tinaggal na siya," he added.
Before leaving Munich, the Philippines won by default against Egypt in the classification stage. But what stuck in Webb's memory was the national team's vengeful 82-73 win over bitter Asian rival Japan in the final day to finish 13th in the Olympics.
Webb said the victory over the Japanese was their way of silencing Japan's national coach back then, who said in a previous interview that they could beat the Philippines even blindfolded.
"We were ready then at tinalo namin ang Japan nun because a (Japanese) coach said before the game, tinalo nila tayo sa 1971 (ABC men's championship). So ang sabi ng coach, 'We will beat you blindfolded', takip mata daw tatalunin daw tayo nila," said Webb, who was part of that ill-fated squad that placed second in Tokyo.
"Masama loob namin, kaya sabi ni Ning Ramos, 'Ito na laro natin sa Japan, papanalunin ba natin ito (Japan team)?' Sabi namin, 'Hindi, tatalunin natin yan, di mangyayari yan."