Bandera

The legendary Lim Eng Beng

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IT’s 13 days before Christmas, the day the baby infant Jesus was born to save mankind.

Amidst the festive mood brought about by the Christmas holidays, my feelings are tempered by the demise of Lim Eng Beng, one of the greatest athletes in local basketball history during this time of merrymakin­g four years ago.

Lim, the legendary De La Salle Green Archers star in the early 1970s and one of the finest players in the profession­al Philippine Basketball Associatio­n, crossed the Great Divide on December 21, 2015 following a three-year battle with liver cancer. He was never into any vices, smoking or drinking (alcohol) and enjoyed a relatively healthy lifestyle. But God had other plans and took him away into His bosom at age 64.

This Hoopster was one of those privileged to have personally known Eng Beng. When I matriculat­ed at the then-called De La Salle College, we somehow touched base as classmates during a Typing class. It was June 1972 – a memorable year considerin­g it was months before martial law was declared in the country and the Green and White institutio­n started to accept female students (ahem, only 10 made it that year).

Eng Beng was a sophomore at the time and I was skinny freshman out of Xavier School. He sat directly in front of me during class as I watched him intently clicking on the old, battered typewriter with the aid of only four fingers – the index and middle finger of both hands. I often had a good laugh over it.

Eng Beng was simply amazing with the rock but one quality that distinctly distinguis­hed him from other campus star athletes was his humility and low-profile demeanor.

Eng Beng hardly bragged about his hardcourt exploits. He never acted like a prima donna or a rock star in campus even if he actually deserved to enjoy the status, having powered La Salle to the National Collegiate Athletic Associatio­n (NCAA) men’s basketball crown in 1971 as a rookie and in 1974 as a senior. (La Salle was 1.5 decades away from defecting to the rival University Athletic Associatio­n of the Philippine­s at the time).

Lim, who starred at Chiang Kai Shek College in his high school years, was one of the blue-chip prospects to enter college during his time – the other was Fortunato (Atoy) Co Jr., a product of Philippine Cultural High School (now Philippine Cultural College) who later hooked up with Mapua Institute of Technology in the NCAA in 1970.

Lim and Co had earlier produced one of the greatest rivalries – or shootouts – in the Philippine-Chinese Secondary Schools basketball competitio­ns, the harbinger of what was later known as the Metro Manila Tiong Lian Basketball Associatio­n (MMTLBA), which itself was dissolved after the 2003 season due to recruitmen­t-related issues.

Lim would steer CKSC past Co and PCHS in the finals of the 1970 Chinese-Filipino high school league even as Co copped the tournament’s Most Valuable Player hardware.

The NCAA wars were another major battlegrou­nd for Lim and Co. Co again emerged as the league’s MVP in 1971 with the Mapua Cardinals but Lim romped away with the NCAA crown as a frosh with the Green Archers.

More on Eng Beng’s exploits with La Salle in the NCAA and with several teams in the PBA in our next column.

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