As 2023 draws to a close, The GAME looks back at the Filipino sports personalities who left us in the past 12 months.
There were several former basketball players who passed on in 2023, chief among which was The Skywalker, Samboy Lim, who passed away two days before Christmas. Lim suffered a heart attack on November 28, 2014, while playing an exhibition game and although he was revived, he was left permanently incapacitated. During his heyday, Lim was a PBA fan favorite who seemed to defy gravity every time he went up for a shot. He won nine PBA championships, all with the San Miguel Beermen, and was well-liked by fellow players and fans alike for his easygoing demeanor. The league renamed the Sportsmanship Award, which he won in 1993, after him in 2016.
Another popular PBA player who left us was 1994 PBA Rookie of the Year Boybits Victoria, who suffered a fatal heart attack on March 1 at the age of 50. Victoria was a star player for the San Beda Red Lions before joining the Swift Might Meaties as the third overall pick of the 1994 PBA draft. He went on to win seven PBA titles with the RFM franchise and the San Miguel Beermen in an eight-season career before turning to coaching.
We also said goodbye to legendary coach Loreto “Ato” Tolentino, who once led the UM Hawks to five NAASCU championships and a record 86 straight wins in the 2000s. He also coached the PCU Dolphins to their only NCAA title in 2004. Tolentino was also one of the highest-paid PBA players, earning P12,000 a month in the 1970s. He led all PBA locals in scoring in the 1976 season when he averaged 26.9 points per game. Tolentino passed away on November 5 at the age of 75.
The country also lost the last surviving member of the famed 1954 Philippine team that won the bronze medal at the FIBA World Championships in Rio. Tony Genato, 93, was the starting point guard of that team that included hoops legends Caloy Loyzaga and Lauro Mumar.
Terry Saldaña, the longtime PBA veteran who won six titles in a 19-season career, succumbed to a variety of lingering illnesses on February 1 at the age of 64. Saldaña was named the league’s Most Improved Player in 1983, but his career was derailed by a horrific knee injury he suffered on national TV in 1987. He wasn’t quite the same player afterward, but he managed to carve out an additional 12 playing seasons.
Other former PBA players who left us include Rudy Enterina, Mollet Pineda, and Ricky Mariano, as well as former player and referee Bernie De Dios. Former Letran Knight Dong Libed, who sank the title-winning shot of the 1987 NCAA finals, also passed on.
Ed Picson, a pillar of amateur boxing and local sportscasting, lost his battle to cancer on April 19. At the time of his death, Picson was the secretary-general of the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines (ABAP), boxing’s national sports association (NSA). Under his watch, the Philippines won two silver medals and one bronze medal in boxing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Before joining the ABAP, Picson was a popular sportscaster for the PBA games.
Former player agent, sportswriter and TV host Nap Gutierrez, 62, passed away in early July after a lingering illness. Gutierrez wrote for a variety of sports publications in the 1980s and 1990s and was also once the agent of four-time PBA MVP Alvin Patrimonio. He also dabbled in television as host of a number of sports-related shows.
The motorsports world lost Ray “Butch” Gamboa, the longtime host of the TV program Motoring Today, which debuted in 1987 and is still on the air today with his children as hosts. Gamboa, who passed away at 76 on November 15, was synonymous with Philippine motoring. He also penned a column also called Motoring Today for the Philippine Star.
Yoro Sangare, a Mali native who was a forward for the UP men’s football team, tragically passed away in early May after collapsing on campus on the morning of the team’s UAAP match against Far Eastern University. The Fighting Maroons decided to push through with the match, which they lost. Sangare, who had to sit out last season with an ACL injury, was 22.
Finally, gamer, streamer, and esports anchor Rob Luna, just 37, died in late February of a heart attack. Luna was one of the prominent and well-respected commentators of the Mobile Legends Bang Bang Professional League Philippines (MPL PH).