FORMER ambassador and Philippine basketball godfather Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco was like a second father to cage great Jerry Codiñera.
He was after all, the ‘bunso’ of the Northern Consolidated Corporation (NCC) national team formed and bankrolled by ‘The Boss’ in early to mid-'80s with the mission of regaining Asian supremacy for the Philippines.
“I was like 17 years old at the time,” recalled Codiñera, one of the 25 Greatest PBA Players of all time and former coach of University of the East and Arellano University.
Cojuangco, 85, died of a lingering illness on Wednesday.
Codiñera was recruited to the team in 1984 by the late Ron Jacobs, joining a unit stacked with the country’s top amateur talents like Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, Alfie Almario, Franz Pumaren, Tonichi Yturri, Jong Uichico, Yves Dignadice, Elmer Reyes, along with naturalized players Chip Engelland, Jeff Moore, and Dennis Still.
Young and inexperienced, Codiñera was more of a back-up player groomed by Jacobs to become part of the next batch of stars in the national team.
But along with the team, Codiñera did get to talk regularly and exchange pleasantries with the former Tarlac governor and longtime chairman and chief executive officer of San Miguel Corporation, whom he swears – like everyone else – was a very generous person.
He recalled one incident shortly after the national team regained the FIBA Asia Men’s championship (then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation Championship) in 1986.
“Sabi niya sa dinner namin sa Century Park Sheraton, ‘You can ask for anything you want, basta huwag lang daw kami hihingi ng mas malaki pa sa bahay niya,’” said the 53-year-old Codinera.
The victory over China in the Asia Men’s Championship earned the Philippine team a ticket to the 1986 (FIBA) World Cup in Madrid, Spain. But the Filipinos never got to represent the country in the meet as political turn of events in the Philippines led to the disbandment of the NCC program shortly after the EDSA Revolution.
The core of the team turned pro that same year, comprising the roster of a returning San Miguel quintet to the PBA following a two-conference absence.
Codiñera almost joined his former national teammates in the pro league.
“May contract offer actually together with the NCC boys, pero hindi ako sumabay kina Samboy,” he said.
The PBA’s ‘Defense Minister’ still had two more playing years with the University of the East back then, and was likewise earning enough in his stint with Magnolia in the old PABL (Philippine Amateur Basketball League).
When he finally decided to play in the pro league, Codiñera was among the direct hires that the Purefoods franchise of the Ayala Corp. took to the PBA from the amateur ranks.
He went on and established a solid 17-year career as a pro, earning five championships, and three Mythical First Team selections. He was also a member of the All-Defensive Team nine times, an All-Star 11 times, aside from a whole bunch of other personal accolades.
Purefoods eventually became part of the SMC conglomerate after it was acquired from the Ayalas in 2001, two years after Codiñera was traded to Mobiline for Andy Seigle.
But he never got to play and be reunited with any of Cojuangco’s three PBA ballclubs.
In as much as he would have loved to be with his ‘second father’ again, Codinera said things just weren’t meant to be.
“Tadhana,” he said in parting.