La Salle’s last game in the NCAA

It has been twenty two  years since De La Salle University became a resident of the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). And in a span of a decade and a half, the mighty Green Archers have been a perennial fixture in the finals and have snagged seven  UAAP men’s basketball titles to the dismay of rival universities.

Older people could remember that before De La Salle’s fruitful tenure in the UAAP, it has also dominated in the oldest collegiate league in the country, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). But not too many know the reason why La Salle decided to leave the NCAA and pack its bags for the UAAP.

On August 17, 1980, La Salle tangled with Letran in a basketball tiff at the Rizal Coliseum. Students from both universities were at their barbaric best, taunting each other even before the tip-off.

Physical play was apparent. The affair turned ugly when Letran, leading 22-18, called a time-out in the middle of the first half.

All that taunting led to an altercation in the bleacher section between the supporters of both schools.

The fracas started when a Letran student was ganged up and beaten by La Salle students, igniting a riot. Fans inside the arena began to throw objects into the hardcourt and sporadic clashes erupted in the stands.

As a result, the players from both teams rushed to the dugouts for safety. So catastrophic was the atmosphere inside the coliseum along Vito Cruz that a large number of spectators were hurt, prompting NCAA officials to call off the game. So serious was the riot that a great portion of the coliseum was damaged.

After deliberation, league honchos considered replaying the game behind closed doors but the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) took matter into its own hands, ordering the NCAA to cancel the remainder of the basketball season.

Thus, no men’s basketball champion will be crowned for 1980. La Salle tried to appeal to the basketball-governing body for the games to resume but to no avail.

That’s why by September of 1980, De La Salle officially withdrew its alliance with the NCAA, fed up with all the uncontrollable violence that was happening. It became the second university to pull out from the league, its archrival Ateneo De Manila being the first.

La Salle then attempted to apply for admission to the UAAP but was rejected by the member schools, most vocal of which were the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) and of course, Ateneo. The Jesuit-run school insisted that La Salle’s entry would only renew the heated rivalry and the games might be blown out of proportion once again.

La Salle then partook in various minor tournaments. But in 1986, De La Salle’s insistence bore fruit, as it was officially accepted as the 8th member of the UAAP.

And the Green Archers immediately buckled down to work, striking fear into the hearts of their opponents upon their entry while establishing themselves as contenders for the title.

And it just took three years for La Salle to regain basketball supremacy, capturing its first UAAP men’s basketball crown in 1989 thanks to main man Zandro “Jun” Limpot at the helm, who got his Most Valuable Player citation to boot.

And the rest, as they say, was history.