Volume 6, Number 1

March 2008

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El Primer Crack’ of Argentine Basketball: Oscar Furlong

By John Kennedy


Programme of the First World Cup, 1950, including the Coat of Arms of the Justicialist Party
(Pedro Ferrandiz Foundation)


At the end of the first half Argentina was winning by 34-24. Although the USA managed to close the gap to 40-37 in the second half, Argentina came back to dominate, earning a 64-50 victory. The hero of the night was Furlong, who scored twenty points and was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Top Scorer of the inaugural 1950 World Championship. Furlong later recalled, ‘we were a very compact team and had much force. We played well with the ball; we had a good defence and a good counterattack. We attacked in blocks - we had seen this done by the All Stars from California, a North American university that came to Argentina and who played very well in that period. We copied them’ (La Nación, 2000). The key advantage that the Argentines had was speed, as they lacked the height of the Americans - the hard physical training they had undertaken under Canavesi had paid off.    

As soon as the game finished, the spectators invaded the pitch to congratulate the players. A torchlight procession accompanied the bus containing the winners as it made its way along Corrientes Avenue towards the legendary El Tropezón restaurant in Callao Avenue, where the team and management celebrated their achievement (López Vázquez 2002). The night is commonly referred to in Argentine sporting parlance as la noche de las antorchas’. [8]

‘Authorities promote sports as a means to improve the physical and mental health of the society at large. Leaders also back sports, as a means of enhancing a country’s image and helping legitimise an incumbent regime’ (Arbena & LaFrance, 2002: xii). Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (1882 -1954,) who served as president of Brazil during the 1930s, was the first Latin American leader to give politicians a formal role in sports promotion. Perón expanded the boundaries further by funding travel and training for athletes, giving grants to football clubs and organising sports (Arbena & LaFrance, 2002: xii). 

No doubt cognisant of the political benefit of associating himself with sporting success, after the victory at Luna Park, Perón called the team to congratulate them. According to Ricardo Gonzaléz, team captain, Perón said: ‘I am not worried about what political ideals you have. What you have done for Argentina is better than the work of a hundred ambassadors’ (Guterman & Gutiérrez, 2006b). Perón’s intentions may have been entirely noble, as he had been an enthusiastic sportsman in his youth and even played basketball (Lupo 203: 190). Whilst other sporting stars of the age, such as Delfo Cabrera and Juan Manuel Fangio [9] had dedicated their wins to him, the World Champions distanced themselves from politics. The captain, Gonzaléz, simply thanked the general public for their support (Guterman & Gutiérrez 2006b). 

Despite the basketball team’s desire not to entwine their sporting success with politics, Perón gave them a reward in the form of a permit for each of them to import a car up to a certain weight. As Ricardo González said in an interview, ‘most chose a Ford Mercury, as it complied with the requirements’ (Guterman & Gutiérrez 2006b). 

Following World War Two, a new model of economic growth began to be promoted in Argentina. Import substitution industrialisation, or ISI, along with exchange rate controls, were adopted into the economic policy framework. In an effort to limit the country’s dependence on the international markets, government-induced economic measures such as the nationalisation of domestic industry were aimed at encouraging a more internal, self-sustaining development. As a result strict controls were placed on the importation of many consumer products including cars, so a permit was a prized reward. Rather than keeping the cars, some of the team members sold them on to third parties, making a modest profit in the process. They knew little at this time of the repercussions this would have on their careers a few years down the line. 

In 1951 the now defunct Helms Foundation of Los Angeles awarded Furlong the prize of best South American athlete. The same year Furlong was a member of the team that won a silver medal in the 1951 Pan-American Games in Buenos Aires. The following year Furlong and the other members of the team came fourth in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, narrowly losing out on a bronze medal to Uruguay. Furlong played all eight games in that Olympics. At the World University Games of 1953 in Dortmund, Germany, Furlong was part of the Argentine team that won the Gold Medal. 

Oscar Furlong
(Pedro Ferrandiz Foundation)

Although Furlong rejected the possibility of playing in the NBA after the 1948 Olympics, he did eventually have a playing career in the USA, though it was strictly amateur. In 1953 he won a scholarship (covering the fees) to go and study at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas (SMU). He studied for a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and from 1953 to 1956 played on the University’s team, which was in the premier division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). As well as being an outstanding player, Furlong was also a pioneer in the Argentine game - he introduced the jump-shot [10] to Argentina after learning it during his three seasons with SMU. Though it is the most common shot today, it was a new innovation in the 1950s. 

In September 1955 Perón was deposed in a military coup known as the Revolución Libertadora, and General Lonardi [11] assumed the presidency. Lonardi adopted a conciliatory policy towards Peronism, saying that there would ‘neither be victors nor vanquished’ (Romero, 2002: 131). This policy earned him the opposition of hard-liners, and in November of the same year, disillusioned and fatally ill, Lonardi was replaced by the hard-line General Aramburu. [12] With his vice-president, Admiral Isaac Rojas, he ruled by decree and began a process of de-peronisation, vigorously purging Peronists from business, government and military posts. Even mention of Perón’s name was forbidden (Rock, 1987: p335). As part of this process, Admiral Isaac Rojas appointed General Fernando Huergo to the presidency of the Argentine Olympic Committee (COI) and the Argentine Confederation of Sport (CAD-COA). 

A commission was created to investigate irregularities in the field of sport, ‘The Commission of Investigation in to Irregularities in Sports Nº 49’ (Lupo 2003: 341). Amador Barros Hurtado, President of the CABB, testified that all the world champions should be considered professional as they had breached the ‘Amateurism Code’ of the COI which prohibited sports-men and -women from receiving gifts. On 8 January 1957, all the World Champions were banned for life from participation in basketball. This has been described as ‘sporting genocide’ by the historian Víctor Lupo (Lupo, 2003: 339). Although none of the team members gave any support to Perón, merely having attained the World Championship during his period in power was enough to warrant sanctions from the new regime.


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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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