The Philippine basketball community was at a loss following the demise of Antero “Terry” Saldaña on Wednesday due to a lingering kidney ailment.
He was 64.
Known for his tough, rugged brand of basketball, former teammates and coaches cited their fond memories of him, especially his rise from a hardworking teen at Letran College and University of Santo Tomas into one of the best power forwards in the Philippine Basketball Association.
He barged into the league as a promising 18-year-old bruiser of the Toyota Super Corollas in 1982. He was so impressive that he got into contention for the Rookie of the Year but got involved in brawl with the South Korean team that disqualified him for the top newcomer award.
Interestingly, another Saldaña ran away with the honor – Marte Saldaña.
Still, Saldaña went on to win the Most Improved Player award while playing for Gilbey’s Gin.
But it was with Ginebra, during Robert Jaworski’s first season as playing coach in 1985, where Saldaña was given a bigger role as partner of Ricky Relosa.
“We were partners at Ginebra,” Relosa, now based in New Jersey, told Daily Tribune.
“We would always talk when we were playing at Ginebra. He is a joy to be with because you know that he will always have your back and gets along well with his teammates.”
Alvin Patrimonio, a four-time Most Valuable Player, admitted that he would marvel at Saldaña every time he operates at the post.
“He’s got a nice pivot moves, he can go left and right while facing the basket,” Patrimonio, who was a Toyota fan during Saldaña’s stint.
“I was a Toyota fan, so he was one of the players I was closely watching because we play the same position and I adopted some of the moves that he’s been doing as a player.”
Patrimonio stressed that he witnessed how Saldaña suffered one of the nastiest injuries at that time when he twisted his knee in 1987. He, however, was amazed at how the 6-foot-3 forward made a return and play competitively in the next 13 years.
He added that he played against Saldaña several times during the peak of his career. In fact, Saldaña was one of the key players of the young Diet Sarsi team that challenged Patrimonio and Purefoods in the best-of-five championship series of the 1991 All-Filipino Conference.
His coach in that Sarsi team – Yeng Guiao – expressed sadness over his passing.
“I am truly saddened of Terry’s demise. Terry made a name for himself as a gifted, talented young player in the PBA, one of the youngest in fact, to ever play in the league. I was a young coach when he first played for me with the Swift franchise,” Guiao said in a statement.
“He was instrumental in our early success with this franchise and made an indelible mark in the way I viewed the value of toughness in ‘big men.’”
He said it is hard not to love somebody like Saldaña.
“Terry was a shy, soft-spoken and humble soul who lets his game speaks for itself,” Guiao, who now coaches Rain or Shine, said.
“I have fond memories of Terry at his prime that’s why I was heartbroken when I learned of his failing heart these past few years.”
Still, Saldaña also has his own share of controversy.
“I think it happened in Game 3 of a title series,” Guiao narrated.
“We were already warming up and we have no idea where Terry was until we learned that he got arrested for driving a hot car. Mr. (Diet Sarsi team manager Elmer) Yanga tried to negotiate if he will be allowed to play before detaining him, but he failed.”
Despite Saldaña’s absence, Sarsi still went on to win Game 3, 109-15, with Al Solis firing 29 points.
The following year, Diet Pepsi carried the brand of Swift and made another championship run, this time with an explosive import in Tony Harris at the helm.
Harris may be talented, but he was so mercurial that the team was already seriously contemplating on sending him home.
It was Saldaña who fought hard for Harris.
“I asked Terry, why do you like Tony Harris when majority of the team don’t want him?” Solis said.
“He replied: ‘Sure ball, we’re going to win the championship and I already got our bonus championship in advance from the management.’”
Saldaña retired from the PBA in 2000 with five titles, the last was with Jaworski and Gordon’s Gin in the 1997 Commissioner’s Cup.
The final buzzer may have sounded, but his legacy as one of the league’s toughest – yet kindest, gentlest – warriors will live forever.