Historic triumph of Puerto Rico against US basketball team at the Olympic Games 2004

Historic triumph of Puerto Rico against US basketball team at the Olympic Games 2004

The birth and development of Puerto Rican basketball is intertwined with the history of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), where many of the sports that came from the United States were played and where the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee is located today. In its early years, basketball suffered serious organizational and stability problems, which were caused by the weakness of the Sports Associations. Efforts to define rules and conduct of the players led to the formation in the 1930s of the Island Basketball Federation (FIB for its Spanish acronym) and the Puerto Rican Basketball League (LPB for its Spanish acronym). Both were dedicated to organizing various tournaments in different categories. In 1954, the owners of the teams created the Superior Basketball Circuit (CBS for its Spanish acronym), an organization that was in charge of organizing championships for the Basketball First Division on the island.

Among the Circuit’s achievements was to send the first delegation of Puerto Rican players to a World Championship in 1959. At the event, held in Chile, Juan (Pachín) Vicens was selected as the best player at the World Championship. Later, the Puerto Rican team finished in fourth place at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. In 1991, at the Pan-American Games in Havana, the Puerto Rican national team won the gold medal, defeating the United States and Mexican teams in the finals. During the 20th century, the national team was a consistent medal winner at the Central American and Caribbean Games. For Puerto Rico and the entire world, the news of the victory by the Puerto Rican national team against the United States team was an event of huge significance in the Athens Olympics. A mark that will forever remain in the annals of Puerto Rican sports!

Today, the Puerto Rico Basketball Federation is in charge of the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and various minor categories. The Basketball Federation and the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee select the players that represent Puerto Rico in international competition. The Puerto Rico Superior Basketball League is considered one of the best in the world.

The NBA and basketball in Puerto Rico

In basketball, the 21st century began with domination by two teams: the Santurce Cangrejeros and the Ponce Lions. Santurce’s five championships, four of them in a row, between 1998 and 2003, assured them a privileged spot in the sports history of the island. The Cangrejeros, supported by the veteran José (Piculín) Ortiz and led by the extraordinarily skilled guard Carlos Arroyo, maintained an iron control of the title during the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. In fact, some of the players on the Santurce team, coached by Julio Toro, became the base for the Puerto Rico National Team. With their performance at the World Championship in Indianapolis (2002) and the events of the Athens Olympics, and obtaining the pre-Olympic tournament in San Juan in 2003, the Puerto Rico Basketball League came to be considered one of the best in the world. Some of our players, such as Eddie Casiano, Larry Ayuso, Antonio “Puruco” Latimer, Shariff Fajardo, Bobby Joe Hatton, Richie and Cristian Dalmau, and Rick Apodaca, are contracted with professional teams in Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Italy and Greece, to mention a few geographical points in Europe and Latin America.

There is no doubt that the most admired player among this new generation of Puerto Rican basketball players is Fajardo native Carlos Arroyo. “Super” Arroyo, a nickname he won during Puerto Rico’s impressive victory against the United States Dream Team in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, began his international career with the Toronto Raptors in the NBA. From 2001 to 2005, Arroyo also played for the Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons. With the Jazz, he signed a four-year, $16 million contract, making him the best paid Puerto Rican in the NBA. Others whose NBA careers must be mentioned are Butch Lee, José (Piculín) Ortiz, Ramón Ramos and Ramón Rivas. Players currently signed are Daniel Santiago (Milwaukee Bucks), Peter John Ramos, who was selected by the Washington Wizards in the second round of the NBA draft from high school in 2004, and Ricardo “Ricky” Sánchez (Denver Nuggets, 2005), who is just 18 years old.

Author: Walter Bonilla
Published: August 29, 2014.

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