Mendoza: The morning Cojuangco lost his cool

Al Mendoza

IT WAS one morning in Hong Kong when I first saw Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. lose his cool.

The year was 1985, barely a year before the Edsa People Power Revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

My colleagues and I were having breakfast at the hotel where we were billeted together with the Philippine basketball team.

We were there because our country was playing in the Asian Basketball Championship, the precursor of the Fiba Asia Cup.

As I put sugar in my coffee, in came Cojuangco, fondly called Boss Danding by those dear to him.

As delegation chief, he sat at the head table.

At that time, Boss Danding was the country’s basketball godfather and, despite his busy schedule as president-CEO of San Miguel Corp., he made sure he was hands-on in cage operations.

The night before, there was good news for Philippine sports: Our boys won again to score their third straight victory in the Asian cagefest.

But this morning, Boss Danding was bearer of bad news.

“I hate to say this,” he said, “but I need to say it even if it would mean spoiling your breakfast, guys.”

Our jaws dropped.

“Last night, all our games had been forfeited,” he said. “That’s because our three Americans were declared ineligible.”

He was referring to Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Chip Engelland.

They had been naturalized Filipinos, their papers supposedly authenticated by the Fiba (World Basketball Federation) when we left Manila.

Before the Hong Kong tournament, Cojuangco had sent his two aides to the Fiba headquarters in Switzerland for the proper documentation.

Alas, the emissaries goofed. They came home believing they had gotten Fiba’s nod allowing the three Americans to play for the Philippines.

The two aides were cemetery silent as Cojuangco fumed.

“I don’t see any reason why you are still here,” Cojuangco said, his eyes fixed on the two.

I guess the duo left without even sipping coffee.

With our depleted lineup, we finished among the cellar-dwellers in the tournament.

That morning, Cojuangco, who died on June 16 at 85 (bless his soul), was so downtrodden that he barely touched his breakfast of toasts, bacon and scrambled eggs.