Volume 6, Number 1

March 2008

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El Primer Crack’ of Argentine Basketball: Oscar Furlong

By John Kennedy


Oscar Alberto Furlong (b.1927)
(Archivo El Gráfico)

Since the turn of the millennium Argentine basketball has gained international prominence largely through the exploits of the San Antonio Spurs player Manu Ginóbili from Bahía Blanca, the only basketball player ever to win a Euroleague title, a National Basketball Association (NBA) championship and an Olympic gold medal. Nevertheless, other players such as Rubén Wolkowyski of the Boston Celtics have also contributed to the ascendancy of Argentine basketball in recent years. Over fifty years earlier another Argentine gained similar legendary status in the sport: Oscar Alberto Furlong, El Primer Crack’. [1] The sports periodical El Gráfico in its fortieth anniversary edition published in 1959 said of Furlong: ‘Here is the man who is the symbol of Argentine basketball. It could have been many other players, but if you ask anyone the name of an Argentine basketball player, the response surely will be Furlong and not only in our country, but abroad as well. Argentine basketball is Furlong and Furlong is the most skilled exponent and best in the class of this golden age’ (O.R.O., 2007: 99). Ricardo González, captain of the 1950 World Championship team, said of Furlong: ‘He was the Maradona of the age, the best [...], he understood the game like nobody else’ (CABB).  

Oscar Alberto Furlong was born on 22 October in 1927 in Buenos Aires to Carlos Martín Furlong and Elena Chretienneau (Coughlan, 1987: 365-366). In 1887 Carlos’ father Pedro, who was descended from immigrants from County Wexford, established his own logistics company in the Port of Buenos Aires to transfer cargo between the port and its hinterland (Furlong Transportes). These were boom years for Argentine trade, with shipping using Argentine ports climbing from 2.1 million tons in 1880 to 7.7 million tons in 1889 (Rock, 1987: 153). The company established close trading links with the British-run railways and Express Furlong soon became one of the largest transportation companies in the country. As with other family members, Carlos was involved in running the business. When the railways were nationalised by Juan Domingo Perón [2] in 1948, ancillary companies linked to the railway were expropriated by the Government, and Express Furlong was among them. The directors and senior management of the company were subsequently prohibited from taking up positions in the transport sector for a period of ten years. 

Furlong grew up in the middle-to-upper class neighbourhood of Villa del Parque in the Northwest of the City of Buenos Aires. The neighbourhood itself emerged due to an initiative during the presidency of Julio Argentino Roca [3] in 1901 to improve the teaching of agronomy, which had until then only been taught in the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Science in the University of La Plata. In 1903 a field station was established along with a model farm. Over time Villa Devoto, an adjacent neighbourhood, began to expand toward the park. This part of the neighbourhood became known as Villa del Parque because of its proximity to the agronomy faculty. A railway station on the Pacific line was officially opened in August 1907 and on 8 November 1908 the neighbourhood was officially incorporated as a separate district of the city of Buenos Aires (Villa del Parque). 

The first sports clubs in Argentina were established by the British, were closely associated with the railways and British commercial concerns, and generally catered for ingleses. Almost in parallel, new clubs emerged, founded by criollos and the general immigrant population. One of the first was Club Gimnasia y Esgrima (Gymnastics and Fencing Club), which was founded at a meeting in a café on Florida street in the centre of Buenos Aires in 1880 by Don Léon Marchand. The intention was to create a club exclusively for the practice of gymnastics and fencing (Piccirilli et al 1954: 436). Both sports reflected more continental origins - modern gymnastics evolved in Germany in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and fencing developed from Italian, Hungarian and French influences. Fencing was actively promoted in late nineteenth-century Argentina by French and Italian teachers (Piccirilli et al, 1954: 505). In time other similar clubs were founded, and they evolved, with broader sports offerings. This reflected the impact of the diffusion of organised team sports of British and North American origin, while clubs also served as a social centre for the community. 

One such club was the Club Gimnasia y Esgrima Villa Devoto, founded in 1912. As the neighbourhood of Villa del Parque grew and matured, the residents decided that it was time to establish a sports and social club of their own, which would act as a focal point for the community. The Club Gimnasia y Esgrima de Villa del Parque (GEVP) was formally founded by a group of residents in the waiting room of Villa Parque Pacific rail station in June 1922. Among the founding committee were Carlos and Luis Furlong, Oscar Furlong’s father and uncle respectively. Carlos was later to become president of the club. In July 1922, the club acquired the stables of a Mr Caputo and erected a hut of timber with a zinc roof, serving as its first clubhouse (GEV Parque). From its humble beginnings, it grew into one of the most renowned sports clubs in the capital and dominated Argentine basketball for much of 1940s and 1950s. 

The sport of basketball was developed in 1891 by a Canadian physical education teacher James Naismith, at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. Naismith had himself been an accomplished gymnast, lacrosse player and American football player in his youth. The impetus came from Dr Luther H. Gulick, an instructor at the college and a major promoter of muscular Christianity, who viewed the gymnasium as an intrinsic part in the salvation of man (Putney, 2001: 71). Naismith was tasked with devising a game that would fit with the association’s new ideals of ‘teamwork, ease of access and applicability to all ages’ (Putney, 2001: 71). On a practical level it was not to take up much space, not to be too physically dangerous and to be played indoors. 

The first rules for basketball were published in 1892 and did not include some of the most common features of today’s game including the dribble. The sport spread rapidly throughout the United States and Canada, mainly though the work of YMCA missionaries. It later became a demonstration sport at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, USA. Finally it became an official Olympic sport at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was introduced to Argentina by PP Philips, who worked at the Department of Physical Education at the YMCA in Buenos Aires and quickly gained in popularity (Lupo, 2004: 253). 

GEVP was from its earliest days an exponent of basketball and affiliated to the now defunct Federación Argentina de Básquetbol (FAB) in 1926. In a major expansion of the facilities at the club in 1937, a dedicated basketball court was built. Soon after, the club achieved an ascendancy in the sport that lasted for many years.

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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2008

Online published: 12 March 2008
Edited: 07 May 2009

Kennedy, John, '
El Primer Crack of Argentine Basketball: Oscar Furlong' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 6:1 (March 2008), pp. 49-57. Available online (www.irlandeses.org/imsla0803.htm), accessed .


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