Volume 6, Number 1

March 2008

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El Primer Crack’ of Argentine Basketball: Oscar Furlong

By John Kennedy


Following in the footsteps of his parents Carlos and Elena, Furlong at first devoted his energies to tennis. Due to the popularity of tennis at GEVP the courts could only be booked for a non-continuous half-hour at a time. At that time, the club had a celebrated basketball team, which included Jorge Canavesi, who would later become a pivotal and indeed pioneering figure in Argentine basketball. Furlong then turned his hand to basketball too and started playing in the youth divisions, although he did not abandon tennis entirely. Following his half-hour practice in the tennis court, Furlong spent the second half-hour training in the basketball court, and then continued the rotation by returning to the tennis court. An innate capacity for playful mischievousness led his team-mates to christen him ‘Pillín’, [4] a moniker he became universally known by.   

Argentina national team at the 1948 Olympics
(Ronnie Quinn Collection)

In 1944 at the age of seventeen, he became a member of the GEVP senior squad and the following year they became champions of the premier division. They came to dominate Argentine basketball over the following decade in a large measure due to Furlong’s brilliance, winning six Buenos Aires championships in total: 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951 and 1954. [5]  

The 1948 Olympics were held in London against a backdrop of a city still recovering from the ravages of war. Argentina was one of fifty-nine countries to participate and only one of twenty-three nations to send a basketball team. Furlong was named as one of the fourteen members of the basketball team. Due to post-war austerity, there was to be no special treatment for the Olympic athletes and they too would be subject to the same food rationing conditions as the local populace. For the purposes of the games the competitors were classed as heavy industrial workers and their rations allocated accordingly. As with other nations the Argentine delegation brought significant quantities of food with them. Also among the Argentine delegation were members of the Irish-Argentine institution Hurling Club, who were participating in the field hockey competition.  

Only a short-time before, Mr Hawkes, president of the Argentine Confederation of Basketball (CAAB), had appointed Jorge Canavesi, former GEVP player and physical education teacher, as team coach. Whilst Canavesi did not prove particularly successful in the short-run, in the long-run this turned out to have been an inspired choice. 

The Argentine basketball team was pitched against the USA and Czechoslovakia, among others in Pool C. The basketball team came only fifteenth out of twenty-three nations in an Olympics that was defined for Argentina by Delfo Cabrera [6] winning the marathon. Yet they did show some of their emerging talent in their pool game against the USA, losing by a respectable 57-59. However, during that game one Argentine player did stand out from the crowd and made a lasting impression on the coaches and scouts present. That was Furlong, who scored eighteen points in the game. In an interview, Jorge Canavesi recalled that Omar Browning, the American coach had said that ‘apart from ourselves, Furlong of Argentina is one of the best players in the world’ (Guterman & Gutiérrez, 2006a). He also made a big impression on Adolph Rupp, the legendary coach from the University of Kentucky. 

The telegrams started flooding in with offers from the US-American National Basketball Association (NBA) and Furlong could have been the first player Argentine to play in that league. The Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers), even sent a contract ready for his signature. The Baltimore Bullets were also on his trail. However, Furlong had decided not to go to the USA and nothing would persuade him otherwise. In an interview with the Argentine daily La Nación, he gave the following rationale for rejecting the offers he had received from the NBA: ‘It was another age, where amateurism was important. I had it in my head to go and play at university, not as a professional. I had an offer from Racing of Paris, to study in the Sorbonne. I left it a while as I could not decide’ (La Nación, 2000). Given what was to transpire a few years later, his steadfast commitment to the values of amateurism was one of the many great ironies associated with his career. 

Noting the large number of countries that had decided to participate in the basketball competition in the 1948 Olympics, William Jones, Secretary General of Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) decided to push for the a World Championship competition at a congress held in the margins of the Olympics itself. A motion was carried at the congress to organise a world championship every four years in between the Olympic tournaments. The inaugural championship, to take place in 1950, was awarded to Argentina. There were a number of factors at play in awarding Argentina the inaugural championships: firstly, given that Europe was shattered by the war, there was no country that had the desire to hold it. Secondly, Argentina had a positive international image and had been a founding member of FIBA in 1932 (CABB). Finally, Perón, who had been a keen basketball player in his youth (Lupo 1999: 104), pledged his support. The venue for the event was the iconic indoor arena, Luna Park, at the corner of Corrientes Avenue and Leandro N. Alem Avenue in the centre of Buenos Aires; a venue inextricably linked with the modern history of Argentina.

Oscar Furlong jumping
(Pedro Ferrandiz Foundation)

As far as CABB and the coach Jorge Canavesi were concerned, nothing was to be left to chance; the team of twelve players [7] would undergo a long period of preparation to avoid the pitfalls of the 1948 Olympics, where they suffered a severe disadvantage in terms of team height. Canavesi engaged in intense preparation, studying the latest sports techniques emanating from Europe and the USA and having them translated into Spanish. The team trained in the River Plate football club complex in Nuñez. For three months there was a gruelling schedule of six hours of training per day, including a run everyday from Nuñez down along Libertador Avenue to the Hipódromo in Palermo. Canavesi believed that the key was being faster and more athletic than the other teams, as they could not compete in terms of height. By contemporary standards, the training regime was very advanced and included four physiotherapists and an orthopaedist. 

In their opening game the Argentine team won 56-40 against silver Olympic medal-holders France, which was a very promising start and pointed to even greater things to come. Furlong scored twelve of those points, Pichón fourteen points and the captain González thirteen points. Although the game against fellow South American rivals Brazil was more difficult, Argentina also won 40-35.

The defining game of the Championship took place on 3 November as Argentina faced the USA for the gold medal spot. The Luna Park arena was packed to capacity, with over 20,000 spectators crammed into the venue. La Nación reported that ‘already from early on, large numbers of fans were in the vicinity, some to take a good vantage point and others with a faint hope of finding tickets which had been sold-out’ (Trenado, 2000). Basketball fever had struck Buenos Aires. Both Argentina and the USA had unblemished records, both having won all five previous games. The USA were represented by the AAU Denver Chevrolets. The USA team had the distinct advantage of having the tallest contingent in the tournament with no less than nine players over 183cm. 


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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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