“During the game, you fight not only to win, but for the pride in you that you are wearing a green and white jersey. Ateneo [was] also like that. They would not [want to] lose a game to La Salle,” said Lim Eng Beng, who lost his battle with liver cancer last December 21, in an interview with The LaSallian in 2014.
The renowned prolific scorer, who starred for the Green Archers from 1971 to 1974, added, “That’s why when it comes to La Salle-Ateneo, it’s a different ball game. Parang nasa ibang planeta na kayo, it’s a different kind of basketball. You will do everything to win. You will die for your school.”
Beng won a championship for La Salle in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as a rookie in 1971, ending a 15-year title drought, but he and the Green Archers fell short in the following two years. Come his fourth and final season in 1974, Beng pulled out all the stops necessary to ensure that he would leave college basketball in the same manner that he entered: winning a championship.
“How can I let La Salle down? So every time there was a game, I had to practice how to beat the opponent, how to make La Salle win, how to make La Salle a champion team again before I left La Salle as a varsity player,” recounted Beng.
One for the books
For this die-hard Lasallian, the story of his last La Salle game, played in 1974, seemed like something straight out of a movie. It was the biggest game of the year — the NCAA championship game between the Green Archers and their archrival Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles. This was the third time in history that both teams met in the NCAA finals, with La Salle winning in 1939 and Ateneo taking home the title in 1958.
Back then, one knockout game between the teams with the best record in the first round and second round was all it took to crown the NCAA champion, bypassing the semifinal round that has become commonplace today. In this case, it was the Green Archers, who were the top seed of the first round, going up against the Blue Eagles, who emerged with the best record in the second round.
In the final game, Ateneo’s players entered the hardwood floor of the Araneta Coliseum first to the deafening roar of their crowd, who had hopes of this team winning its first NCAA title since 1969. A few minutes later, the Green Archers finally emerged from the dugout and slowly jogged onto the court. However, to the dismay of the Lasallians in the audience and to the delight of the Ateneo side, La Salle’s star guard Beng, who scored an outrageous 54 and 55 points in back-to-back games earlier in the season, was nowhere in sight.
Beng sharply recounted, “The La Salle team went in without me going in [the court]. The Ateneo crowd [cheered] ‘Wow! Lim Eng Beng is not playing, Lim Eng Beng is not playing.’ The crowd of La Salle was shouting, ‘Where is Lim Eng Beng? Why is he not playing?’”
Lasallians were left confused, shattered, and were on the verge of tears, while their counterparts clad in blue and white were celebrating prematurely, almost sure of their victory without La Salle’s star in tow.
When all hope seemed to be lost for the green side, a man clad in a number 14 La Salle jersey slowly entered the court, cutting short Ateneo’s cheers and causing the green side to erupt in a surreal turn of events.
“During that time [when I entered the court], when they were chanting my name, I [felt] na parang Superman ako,” shared Beng.
“Because they were chanting my name, how could I let them down? So everything that I do, I make sure that it’s perfect.”
As mystifying as this story is, this wasn’t the first time that the crowd cheered his name in this manner. Beng was such a dominant force during his collegiate days that he received cheers like this during every game. He recalled, “Every game, when I entered the court, the cheering for me of La Salle’s community wasn’t the De La Salle name; they were cheering my name: ‘Lim Eng Beng, Lim Eng Beng.’”
Then La Salle’s team captain, Beng was about to play his last game as a Green Archer, and he made sure to go out with a bang. The 5’11 guard played perfect basketball to lead his team to a 90-80 win over Ateneo for his second NCAA championship (The first came in 1971), at that time becoming just the second player in the post-war era to win multiple titles for La Salle.
Beng finished with 37 points in the finale and was awarded the Carlos Loyzaga Most Valuable Player trophy for his efforts, capping off a legendary four-year stint. When asked about his time with La Salle, Beng could only say, “I’m proud, I’m really really proud to have played for La Salle. I’m very proud and I’m so blessed to be in the La Salle basketball team.”
That 1974 season was one for the books and it had Beng’s fingerprints all over it. He recounted, “During [the] 1974 [season], I gave La Salle a championship [and] I broke all the records in NCAA history… averaging 31 points per game in the season [and having an] individual score of 55 points [with] no 3-point area.” Beng added that his team just lost one game that season, against Jose Rizal College, after a rival scored the game-winning basket from half-court as time expired. After the loss, he had one resolution, “I promised myself, this thing will not happen again.” With his efforts, La Salle made history and the cherry on top was winning the championship against Ateneo.
Blood, sweat, tears… and two house and lots
Unknown to many though, this magical season almost did not happen. “During 1973, before the ’74 [NCAA] season, I was asked by Crispa, which is a commercial league [team]… they were offering me a house and lot to leave La Salle,” shared Beng. Crispa was then a perennial contender in the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association, the predecessor of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), and the team’s offer gave Beng a chance to go up against the best players in the country with a salary to boot.
The offer was a big deal for Beng who came from humble beginnings. He shared that he and his family were staying in a squatter’s area in Tondo, Manila, but despite that, he said, “I never took advantage of La Salle. All I asked for was a scholarship. I never asked anything. I only asked for the scholarship because I could not afford to pay [the tuition]. I came from a very, very poor family.”
Because of the financial difficulties that they faced, he had his mind set on one thing. “All my career, there is only one dream that I really wanted to do…to give a house and lot to my family, especially to my parents.”
Despite his lofty goal off the court, he never asked for anything and shared that he was after something else, “I’m not that kind of a player [who] keeps asking for money, asking for something else. I never did that. All I wanted was to win championships.”
The offer from Crispa was tempting and Beng admitted that he seriously considered it. With his dream of giving his parents a house and lot within reach, La Salle’s top scorer decided to talk to the school’s alumni president regarding his dilemma. There was only one thing that could trump Beng’s desire to provide his parents with their well-deserved gift and the alumni president knew exactly what it was. Beng recalled the conversation and said, “But the alumni told me, ‘Beng, you should stay in La Salle another year and give us a championship. The house and lot you can earn in the future.’”
After that conversation, he made his decision to return for one last year with the Green Archers. “I turned down the house and lot,” he proudly exclaimed. “I loved La Salle so much, I turned down the house and lot. Not only that. As the 1974 season [went by], the championship went down to La Salle and Ateneo.”
However, that was not the last time the temptation of a house and lot came up as he revealed, “I did not only sacrifice myself physically and emotionally during that time in 1974. I sacrificed two house and lots for La Salle.”
The Green Archers entered the 1974 NCAA finals as the favorite to take home the championship and oddsmakers zeroed in on Beng, the dynamic scorer who carried the most influence on the outcome of the game. “I was offered by the syndicate [to drop the game for a house and lot],” he admitted.
The chance to reward his parents for all their hardship came up once again and it is unfortunate that perhaps many other players over the decades have fallen victim to these kinds of advances. However, Beng was not one of them. While most young men are blinded by riches and lavish gifts, it seemed as if the only thing that Beng truly fancied was hardware from the NCAA.
Beng proudly recalled, “I still turned down the house and lot and gave La Salle a championship.”
No bribe, whether it be money or a house and lot, could overcome Beng’s burning desire to win. La Salle gave him a chance to further his education and play basketball at a high level then in return, he gave the school his heart and soul in his quest for the NCAA championship.
“During my time, I sacrificed a lot just for the school. I wanted them to be a champion team. Kung pwede lang four years in a row, gagawin ko. But I gave La Salle only two [championships],” quipped Beng, who also suited up for the Philippine National Basketball team for tourneys in Australia and New Zealand back in 1974.
The great legend
After his stint with La Salle, Beng moved on to the PBA for its maiden season in 1975, suiting up first for Concepcion Industries. As a rookie, he made an impact from the get go, securing a slot in the league’s All-Star Mythical Team. In the next season, Concepcion Industries dealt away many of its players and Beng found himself with the U/Tex Wranglers, whom he would play for until 1983. He eventually won two championships with U/Tex in 1978 and 1980, together with two runner-up finishes in 1977 and 1979.
When he played in the PBA, Beng had to take on more ball-handling duties, but that didn’t seem to bother him. “In my PBA career as a point guard, there was one game where I made 45 points,” he said. “It’s not easy for a point guard to score more than 40 points, but I made it.”
If there were any doubts left about his abilities as a basketball player, Lim made sure to clear them up with his play on the court. He asked, “If I am not a good player, how can I, in just the first year [of my PBA career] be part of the Mythical Five of the All-Star team?
“I think I have nothing to prove. Many people call me a legend, but for the people who really know me, they call me the great legend,” he continued.
In 1986, Beng decided to hang up his sneakers and retire from professional basketball. He tells the story of his scenario back then saying, “I had nothing to prove anymore. I achieved a lot of awards [which were] in my house, hindi na kasya sa bahay ko.”
Despite his successful tenure in the country’s top basketball league, Beng is quick to point out, “I consider playing for La Salle much better than [my] 11 years in the pros.”’
The legacy of a thinking player
When asked about his favorite memory as a Green Archer exactly 40 years since he won his last NCAA title, Beng proudly shared, “My favorite one is that I gave La Salle a championship. The only dream of mine as a varsity player for La Salle is the championship, which is the most important thing for me, more important than the individual awards.
“I’d rather take the championship than the awards. I don’t care about the awards. I care [more] about the championship, which I’m glad I did get,” he added.
Later on, he mentioned that his success on the court was not just a product of his skill, but because he was a ‘thinking player.’ “During the time that I played in high school, college, and [the] professional [league],” he explains, “not only did I play with my skill, I played with my brain.
“When I say a thinking player, you have to know what the opponent’s going to do. Not only can you pass, shoot, or whatever, [a thinking player knows] that it’s about time to attack, it’s about time to relax, it’s about to give energy, it’s about time to kick out or whatever.”
Beng’s 55-point game against the Letran Knights still stands as the most points scored in a game in the history of NCAA Men’s Basketball. Though he was a prolific scorer and statistical marvel, he shared that he was never one to go after records, “I couldn’t believe it when I did that in 1974. All I wished for was to give La Salle a championship and I tried everything to do everything I can for La Salle to win. That’s why I was able to score 55 points because I want to win.”
“The spirit of La Salle, it’s in me that I want to win. I don’t care [about] anything [else]. At the end of the game, they told me I scored 55 points. What can I do? The score is there. You know when I scored 55 points against Letran, we only won by two points. Unlike other players who score 40 plus [points] but they lose the game. Me, I make a lot of points, but I make sure La Salle wins the game…[I’m] the only NCAA player up to now who scored two 50 [point games] in a row, 55 and 54, and [I’m] the only player in the history of NCAA who scored more than 400 points in a season.”
Then and now
The game of basketball has evolved since Beng last played for La Salle with the addition of the three-point line, among other changes. Players have also grown bigger, faster, and more athletic over the past 40 years. Despite all of that, Beng believed that he still would have thrived in today’s game had he been part of the current generation and shared, “I will play the same. I will still play as a thinking player.”
Beng understands that things have changed in the game, yet he has one qualm about the current Green Archers: free throws. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a shot worth one point each given to players on the receiving end of shooting fouls. Free throws are taken from a line situated 15 feet away from the basket with the clock stopped and opponents are not allowed to play defense.
“That’s why I don’t miss a free throw…we never missed our free throws,” he mentioned back in 2014. “That’s why I don’t understand present time players, how can they miss those free throws? Nobody’s guarding you. How can you miss a free throw? I don’t understand what’s happening to the La Salle team.”
“Whenever there’s a free throw, my son would tell me, ‘Daddy, [a] player will go to the free throw [line], what will happen?’ I say maybe he’ll hit one out of two. Parang misfortune na ng La Salle to miss a free throw,” narrated Beng. “Now present time – I hope no present player will get mad at me, what I’m saying is true – now if players can make one out of two free throws, swerte na. I don’t know what’s happening to the present players. The easiest two points in basketball are free throws.”
He proudly said, “I have never, never, never, missed a single free throw during the time that I played for La Salle.”
Despite this, Beng remained humble about his place among La Salle’s greatest players. He shared, “I consider a lot of very, very good players in La Salle [history], most of them are very, very good players. I am only one of the players. I never considered myself the best player. I was a simple and humble player.”
When asked about who his favorite player in La Salle’s history is, he answers with a line that perfectly represents his undying love for the school and, “For me, I don’t have any particular favorite player. For me, everyone, I consider them my children and I want them [to be] the best especially in winning the game.
“Basta I just want La Salle to win,” said Beng, who added that his days with La Salle were some of his best. “When you’re playing for your school, it’s something else. I hope I’m still playing for La Salle up to now. How I wish I was still there, helping the team to win. Whenever La Salle loses a game, I feel bad…I’m so proud that I am a Lasallian. Up to now, I’m so proud.”
Unfortunately, his diagnosis in 2013 forced him to distance himself from the game that he loved. “If I had never been diagnosed of cancer, I would still be very, very active with basketball. Because it’s in my blood,” Beng said.
Despite all the challenges that came with the disease, Beng still felt blessed because of all the support that he received, “I was so proud that I have my disease now kasi nalaman ko that a lot of people love me so much. Even the people abroad, they are writing letters to me, they were so caring for me. They keep telling me to fight, and that they’ll be praying for me,” he narrated.
He then joked, “I’m so happy na gusto ko pa magkaroon ng isa pang cancer kasi I know that before I pass away people love me, especially the La Salle community. They love me so much, and I’m so proud that I gave La Salle a championship.”
Never shall he fail
Basketball had been a major part of his life and that was not limited to his breathtaking feats on the court or the multiple awards that he won. More importantly, his success in the sport has helped improve his family’s wellbeing. Beng remained humble about his origins and how the sport helped his family saying, “Basketball made my family much better living. We came from a very poor family…I love my family so much that I could give my life to them.”
During his last years, one of the greatest players to ever don a La Salle jersey grew nostalgic about his time as a Green Archer. “My time is limited already. My time is limited. My doctor gave me three years to go. I want to share these things – especially to the La Salle community – that I sacrificed a lot for La Salle…I know Br. Gabriel Connon, who was the president [of La Salle] when I was playing, is up there smiling at me.”
Even until the end, he carried the same fighting spirit that propelled him to greatness, almost as if he was again that young man playing for La Salle. “They say ‘Never shall we fail’ and I’m trying to do that. That I’m not going to fail, especially with my condition now,” he proudly said.
“I will never fail and I hope that in the generation now, there is an attitude that we will never fail.”