Marginalized by the military dictatorships of the '50s, '60s, and '70s, Oscar Furlong is historically one of Argentina's best basketball players. He stood a few inches above six feet, but was one of the most dominant players of his era, especially in Argentina.
Furlong was born in 1927 and became a basketball star in the '40s, many years before basketball became a viable professional sport. Furlong grew up playing tennis and basketball at the Gymnastics and Tennis Club of Villa del Parque (outside of Buenos Aires). He played in their youth tournaments and earned the nickname "Pillín," or "Little Devil."
By the time he was 17, Furlong was on the Gymnastics and Tennis Club's senior men's basketball team. Like all sports clubs at the time, it was an amateur club; however, it was the most dominant club of the time in Argentina.
In 1948, a teammate of Furlong's was named head coach of Argentina's national basketball team. The team went to London that year, losing most of their games, but keeping the US honest in a 59-57 loss. The US coach, Omar Browning, famous for his later success as an AAU coach, said "Furlong of Argentina is one of the best players in the world."
The Minneapolis Lakers and Baltimore Bullets, two of the first professional basketball teams in the world, tried to recruit Furlong, as did Adolph Rupp of the University of Kentucky, the best US coach of that era. Furlong was devoted to the idea of amateur, club-level sports, and never seriously looked at the Lakers or Bullets, perhaps considering the fact that the salaries made by players would barely keep him above the poverty line.
Argentina offered to host the first ever World Basketball Championships in 1950. In the championship game against the US, Furlong scored 20 points and won the Gold Medal. Juan Perón, a military officer turned president/dictator, gave each member of the team a Ford Mercury as a present. This gift later forced Furlong into a life of obscurity.
In 1951, Argentina won the Silver at the Pan-American Games, and in 1952, they won fourth place in the Helsinki Olympics.
After winning the Gold in the World University Games in 1953, Furlong accepted a scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Texas. He played with future NBA player and All American Jim Krebs, arriving at the Final Fours one year.
During his final year at SMU, he also won the Silver Medal again at the Pan-American Games. Furlong returned after only three years to star once again for the Gymnastics and Tennis Club, winning the Buenos Aires Basketball Championship in 1954 (his sixth time: 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1951).
When Perón was deposed and the military dictatorship took over, the new government sought to de-emphasize all successes of the Peron regime. Thus, in 1957, the dictatorship ruled that all the winners of the 1959 World Basketball Championship were not amateurs, since they received a Ford Mercury from Perón, and were declared ineligible to play basketball as amateurs. Because their best players were not allowed to practice the sport, Argentina fell into a decades-long defeat in basketball terms.
Furlong played his last game with the Gymnastics and Tennis Club that year. He retired from basketball permanently at the age of 30. Soon, he ranked in the top ten of Argentine tennis players. Later in life, he lead the Argentine tennis federation's program, putting many players in top tournaments around the world. He was enshrined in the inaugaural class of the FIBA Hall of Fame, along with Bill Russell, Nikos Galis, Uljana Semjanova, and others.
Before Manu split double teams, Wolkowyski bowled over defenders, and Milanesio jacked up countless shots, the "Little Devil" stood as the greatest of Argentine players. Despite his name being unspoken for decades during Argentina's military dictatorship, his name is synonymous with Argentina's early success as a basketball power.
Last edited by mvblair; 04-26-2011 at 06:37 PM.
"I really like the attitudes of eagles. They never give up. When they grab a fish or something else, they never let it go. It doesn't matter. In a book, they write they find a skeleton of [an] eagle and there is no fish. It means that the fish beat him and killed him, but he didn't let go." -- Donatas Motiejunas