Veteran sportscaster Dick Ildefonso passed away last November 9 from a lingering illness. He was 86 years old.
Filipinos remember Ildefonso as the original voice of the PBA, who, alongside Emy Arcilla, worked together for six seasons from 1976 to 1981 as broadcast partners covering the games. He was always present in the games, and there was no recollection of him being absent in the coverage. His professional demeanor, staying unruffled and cool at all times regardless of the action on the court, was a trademark that Ildefonso was well known for.
Interestingly, Ildefonso and Arcilla actually became part of the panel in 1976 when the PBA moved from KBS-9 to BBC-2. The first batch of PBA broadcasters were from the KBS network, featuring Frank Sanchez, Raffy Mejia and Caloy Prieto. The two were later retained in 1977 when the games were once more aired on KBS-9 where he shared play-by-play honors with Sanchez and Mejia while Arcilla and Prieto did the color commentating.
Even if Ildefonso wasn’t part of the pioneer season, he was known to be the voice of the PBA in the 70’s because he was practically the only play-by-play announcer from 1978 to 1981 when Production Specialists, Inc (PSI), a media company owned by former Congressman Romeo Jalosjos, was able to acquire the broadcast rights and aired this over the government network, GTV-4. Jalosjos used to be a sales executive for ABS-CBN before venturing into production.
Ildefonso continued to work with Arcilla, but PSI took a gamble by bringing in an analyst. Past and present coaches like Tito Eduque, Caloy Loyzaga and Bay Mumar would often pitch in and serve as the guest analyst. Eventually, they hired Zal Marte to serve as the permanent analyst and third wheel of the coverage.
In the course of his PBA stint, Ildefonso was able to cover memorable PBA games like the Crispa grand slam run of 1976, Toyota’s winning the 1977 Invitational Conference against the heavily-favored Emtex Sacronels, Toyota demolishing the 1978 world champions Yugoslavia and fifth placer, Canada, in pre-tournament tune-up games, the first championships of U/Tex (1978) and San Miguel (as Royal Tru Orange in 1979), the Jaworski benching in Game 3 of the 1980 All Filipino Conference Finals against Crispa, and the last Crispa-Toyota finals series won by the latter in the 1981 Open Conference.
Ildefonso, in an exclusive interview on Episode 92 of “An Eternity of Basketball,” shared that he had his first broadcast as an announcer in 1959 when he was 22 years old. “That was when the San Francisco Dons came over to Manila for a series of games,” Ildefonso said.
He said it was normal for him to gravitate into sports broadcasting because he was playing soccer at the Ateneo while in college. “It was a natural thing for me to go to sports than other fields, I was, by nature, sports-minded.”
But Ildefonso admitted it wasn’t an easy trek. “The evolution of getting into sports was pretty varied, you just don’t get into it right there and there. That’s why I had to work my way into it. And it just fell into its place. I started as a radio disc jockey, then newscaster, a program host, a commercial announcer.”
Ildefonso added that “when you’re in media, these things can go away without you expecting it so you have to make the best of it. I guess it was fate that led me to basketball, and all other sports that I covered. It was there, I took it, I love it, and I hope I did good.”
Asked for his secret as to his ability to connect with his audience, Ildefonso was forthright when he said, “It’s important to talk naturally and try to recount what is best and what should interest the tele-viewer. I keep asking the question: what would the guy sitting down in front of the TV set want to know what I’m covering?”
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Former PBL Commissioner Chino Trinidad, in an online interview with The Rivalry, said “Tito Dick had a calming presence, I loved his on-air demeanor. Hindi niya kailangan sumigaw to evoke excitement.” Trinidad, himself a broadcaster and a former anchor of the PBA when it was handled by Vintage Enterprises, added, “It was from Tito Dick and Pinggoy Pengson that I learned what our boss, Carlos ‘Bobong’ Velez, was referring to as avoiding strict play-by-play mode when anchoring a game.” Trinidad and Ildefonso also worked together as part of the TV coverage team that went to the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. “Pareho kami anchor kaya hindi kami nagkaroon ng chance to work together. Pero malimit kaming magkasabay mag-breakfast sa hotel where we stayed.”
Atty. Charlie Cuna, one of the primary PBA anchors today, was one of the first to learn about Ildefonso’s passing. He learned the news after receiving a phone call from Ildefonso’s son, Patrick.
Cuna expressed sadness over his passing. “Dick Ildefonso and Emy Arcilla were the first local basketball commentators I ever heard. Mr. Ildefonso had a cool style of delivery, never rattled, never over-excited, just focused and steady. I thought his name was ‘Dickle Defonso’ till I read the name captions one time on screen. Surely, he was one of my influences. He had a wide vocabulary and used colorful phrases. His tone of voice was perfect.”
He then added, “When we had him on AEOB, I was so excited. His voice hadn’t changed! His stories were mesmerizing. He did so much for PH sports coverage. I am honored to have met him and spoken to him. Rest in peace.”
Ildefonso also wrote for popular weekly magazine, Sports World in the 70’s and 80’s. His column was entitled, “And Now, Here’s Dick!”
In 2003, Commissioner Noli Eala tapped Ildefonso and Arcilla to cover an officially-sanctioned PBA game one last time, this time, the reunion game between archrivals Crispa and Toyota. It was a major homecoming for Ildefonso especially given that the game was held at the Araneta Coliseum. Fans were ecstatic to hear the collective voices of Ildefonso and Arcilla, bringing the nostalgia fever to a higher notch.
Ildefonso was also able to coin out several monikers among PBA players. Some notable ones include Prince (later to become King after he won the 1979 one-on-one competition) Philip for Philip Cezar and The Magician for Rudy Soriano. He also used terms that eventually became part of basketball lingo like “that’s a ‘triple’ from Atoy Co,” referring to a three-point shot made, “long tom” or “from way out,” referring to a shot taken from long range, and “equalizer,” pertaining to a basket made that tied the score.
Ildefonso’s sports broadcasting wasn’t limited to basketball as he also dabbled into different sports like tennis, sepak takraw, boxing, table tennis, weightlifting, cycling, football, judo, gymnastics and taekwondo, among many others. He was part of the coverage in several Olympic events, including the 1992 Barcelona and 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Asian Basketball Confederation, Asian Games, SEA Games and the Pesta Sukan.
Asked on “An Eternity of Basketball” for one of many memorable games that he vividly recalls, Ildefonso cited an incident during the MICAA when Sonny Jaworski of Toyota went on a full steam drive towards the basket with Olympio Santos of Manilabank blocking his way. “Santos didn’t move, when we thought he would move sideways or step back to give him room, but he stood there. Jaworski committed himself, went up in the air, almost cleared the shoulder of Santos, but his foot got caught, somersaulted in mid-air, must have taken a very bad fall, hit the back of his neck, and passed out. It was one of those things that happen, you know, during exciting, devil-may-care, basketball coverages.”
Ildefonso eventually retired and lived a private life until “An Eternity of Basketball” was able to hook him up for an exclusive online interview last August 7, 2021 where he made his last public appearance.
The Rivalry condoles with the family of the venerable Dick Ildefonso. He will be missed. Watch the full episode of his guesting on “An Eternity of Basketball”: