Mendoza: Remembering Prieto

Al Mendoza

WITH the sad demise of former NBA Commissioner David Stern on Jan. 2, the memory of Leo Prieto comes to mind.

Prieto was the founding commissioner of the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association). When he took the driver’s seat, Prieto was to steer a league bereft of solid resources.

But he had one weapon to weather the storm of uncertainty and the uneven scheme of things: Courage firmly backed up by honesty, integrity and, yes, dignity.

His quiet dignity soared so high it virtually made his soldiers like subjects of a king.

They obeyed him without question.

They looked up to him like he couldn’t do anything wrong.

In short, they took his word as law.

The nine founding teams—with only San Miguel Beer now as the lone remnant—yielded everything to Prieto, including their last ounce of trust.

Imagine their surprise when they heard Prieto’s condition for accepting the PBA commissioner’s post: “I will accept if you will not give me a salary.”

And, even if he had unlimited access to PBA coffers as their counter offer, Prieto never abused that privilege as his honesty was beyond reproach.

If that isn’t trust to the max, what is?

Prieto, who died at 88 in 2009, was so extremely trustworthy that, like America’s CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), his expenditures had never been audited.

And did he ever dip his fingers into the PBA’s vaults?

Not at all.

A man endowed with old wealth, Prieto was never known to even scoop loose change for chewing gum while astride his PBA throne.

His business empire that included ownership of Shakey’s Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts and Racks, among others, had more than given him a life of comfort that the PBA was simply a passion he couldn’t resist.

If he had spent a hundred bucks in the eight years that he was PBA commissioner from 1975 to 1983, he’d be guilty of over-spending.

Yes, Stern made the NBA a global phenomenon, but Prieto transformed the PBA’s baby steps into giant strides, making Asia’s first play-for-pay loop the most popular basketball entertainment in Asia.

Ah, to ruminate.