(This story was published in the Puerto Rico Daily Sun on Sunday, July 17th.)
By Rafael R. Díaz Torres
Special to Daily Sun
What basketball followers are witnessing today is a renewal of a rivalry that started in the 1970s. In that decade, Bayamón and Quebradillas faced each other four times (1970, 1972, 1973 and 1975) in the finals and at least one of them, made it to the championship series in the 10 years period from 1970 to 1979.
As part of that legacy, Bayamón won five consecutive titles (1971-75) and Quebradillas was victorious in three consecutive championship series (1976-79).
The Pirates were led by a group of talented players who came to the island from the Puerto Rican barrios in New York and with their presence left an indelible track that still resonates in the SBL games and international basketball competitions where Puerto Rico participates. The contributions made by Puerto Rican players from New York and other parts in the United States are another legacy from this Pirates-Cowboys rivalry that remains as a key component of current national basketball programs on the island.
“The Pirates were a great team as they had a group of “Nuyorican” athletes like Raymond Dalmau, Chicky Burgos and Neftalí Rivera,” expressed Mariano “Tito” Ortiz, former Cowboys and Team Puerto Rico player, who was part of the 1970s series against Quebradillas. “I started in 1975 and our team also had some “Nuyoricans” like Martín Anza and Alberto Zamot.”
At times, sports historians, columnists and fans debate about the level of support to basketball in Puerto Rico and the possible differences between the Pirates and Cowboys fans from the 1970s and those who follow the franchises today.
“If you ask me, I would say that fans (today) are the same as in the 70s. Both teams have a big basketball tradition,” added Ortiz, who is now a big Cowboys fan and attends most of their home games in Bayamón.
Unlike the 1970s decade, today’s rivalry also receives the input of online communications. Fan support has found an “echo” in online communications as both teams have their own official pages or accounts in Facebook and Twitter.
“This Saturday, every Pirates fan should go to Bayamón wearing black shirts. Go Pirates,” said a status posted by the administrator of the Pirates Facebook page as the team was getting ready to travel to Bayamón Saturday night and attempt to put the series 3-0 in favor of Quebradillas.
“While others beg to reach 40,000 (Facebook) fans before the end of this season, we are approaching 50,000 followers. The Cowboys nation is powerful and tonight we will demonstrate it. Everyone should wear white (shirts). Go Cowboys,” commented the Cowboys Facebook administrator in regards to the Saturday game and the amount of online fans his team has in comparison to the Pirates.
Players of the 2011 editions for both teams are aware of the historical rivalry and understand the big responsibility that comes with wearing the colors from their respective franchises. They know that names such as Raymond Dalmau and Neftalí Rivera from Quebradillas, as well as Tito Ortiz and Rubén Rodríguez from Bayamón live in the memories of those franchise players who proudly represent their fans.
“Basketball is everything for people in Quebradillas; you play for them,” expressed Joel Jones Camacho, small forward player who has been with the Pirates since 2009. “Our fans show more passion in visiting games. Quebradillas fans are more loyal and for me that is kind of a small town phenomenon.”
“I started with Bayamón when I first came to the (SBL) league. They traded me and it is kind of personal. I definitely understand the rivalry between the two teams,” added the Jones Camacho, who has also represented Puerto Rico in international competitions.
For the Cowboys veteran member, Franklyn Western, participating in playoffs series against the Pirates is always positive for the league.
“When I first came to Bayamón, we played against the Pirates in a series in 1997 and it was fun to play in that atmosphere,” said Western who has been in Bayamón since 1996 and is the oldest member of the franchise. “It’s good for the league.”
Despite the historical sports rivalry between the teams, there has also been camaraderie among the members of the two franchises.
“The rivalry was often strange because we were sports rivals, but outside of the court, we were all great friends,” expressed Héctor Reyes, former Cowboys General Manager from 1971 to 1982.