Philippine basketball has lost the great Avelino “Samboy” Lim Jr.
A legend at the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Lim died on Dec. 23 at 61, surrounded by loved ones. On Nov. 28, 2014, he fell into a coma following a cardiac arrest during an exhibition game with friends and former PBA colleagues at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City. He emerged from the coma after nearly two months in intensive care, and spent the rest of his life mostly confined to a bed and a wheelchair.
The 5’11” Lim made an indelible mark in the PBA for his “hang time” and aerial acrobatics that earned him the moniker “Skywalker.” Before he was chosen third overall pick in the 1986 PBA Draft, he was instrumental in helping Colegio de San Juan de Letran win three straight National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship titles from 1982 to 1984, in which he also won the Most Valuable Player plum.
He played shooting guard and occasional small forward, suiting up for the San Miguel Beermen from 1986 to 1997 and helping the team win nine championships, including the rare grand slam—Open Conference, All-Filipino Conference, and Reinforced Conference—in 1989.
He was selected to play for the PBA All-Star five times (in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1996) and won the All-Star MVP trophy in 1990 after scoring 42 points for Team Veteran.
Lim retired from the pro league in 1997, after a brief stint with Welcoat House Paint of the Philippine Basketball League. With his No. 9 jersey retired by the San Miguel Beermen, he was named among the PBA’s 25 Greatest Players when the league celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2000.
In 2009, he was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame. In 2015, he was included in the PBA’s 40 Greatest Players.
Lim would also make a mark in international competitions. Back in 1984, while playing for the Philippine flag, he and his Northern Cement team won the gold in the Asian Basketball Club Championship of the Asian Basketball Confederation (now the FIBA Asia Champions Cup) in Ipoh, Malaysia.
The following year, in 1985, he helped Team Philippines win the gold in the FIBA Asia Championship where he was voted among the All-Star Team together with fellow Filipino Allan Caidic, who won the MVP award.
Lim was also in the roster that won the bronze in the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, and the silver in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.
He would likewise help Team Philippines win the gold in the 1983 and 1985 Southeast Asian Games held in Singapore and Bangkok, respectively.
Elusive MVP award
With all these achievements and awards under Lim’s belt, there was one that eluded him: the PBA MVP trophy.
There’s one reason for this and it all boiled down to his style of play. His offense was predicated on creativity, usually when he was high in the air. It didn’t matter how many defenders he had to deal with or how he would land on the hardcourt, as long as the ball in his hand sailed unobstructed into the ring.
Thus, he never completed a season with the San Miguel Beermen without an injury, mainly in the shoulders and legs. The most horrific would be during the 1989 televised game against Purefoods at the Ultra (now PhilSports Arena) in Pasig. Lim was going for a layup when he was clotheslined by Jojo Lastimosa who was trying to swipe the ball but instead hit Lim on the head. The strike to Lim’s head was so hard that he spun midair and crashed face first on the wooden floor. Concussed and bloodied, he had to be rushed to hospital to close a deep cut near his left forehead.
Lim’s do-or-die game style earned him many fans, who refer to him as the “real MVP.” Even the Italians would never forget him: He almost single-handedly defeated the famed Banco di Roma in the 1985 World Basketball Club Championship in Gerona, Spain.
In what would be his greatest international performance, he scored 37 points for the San Miguel Beer/Philippines and stunned the top Italian club, 98-79. During breaks he was seen breathing through an oxygen mask to fight off an asthma attack and extreme exhaustion.
That was Samboy Lim to his fans and countrymen. Will the Philippines’ pro basketball league ever see another like him?