Monday, February 08, 2016

Soller And Barcelona: Where Basketball Started

Six years ago, I interviewed the then new mayor of Alcudia. Of various questions I put to him, I didn't ask about his nickname - "Coriós" (curious). I guessed it had come about because of an innate curiosity, as in wanting to know, but it could have been for another reason. Miquel Llompart was and is very tall. As far as I know, he is the only basketball player (one of a high standard) to ever be a mayor in Mallorca.

There shouldn't be anything curious, though, with being both tall and a basketball player. One of Spain's best known is the Palma-born Rudy Fernández. There shouldn't also be anything curious about basketball in Mallorca. It is, as with the rest of Spain, immensely popular. And yet, I'm guessing that it is a sport which does fly somewhat below the radar of many, especially the foreign communities with greater interests in other sports.

Mallorca's leading basketball team is Palma Air Europa. It competes in the Liga Española de Baloncesto (LEB) Oro, the second division behind La Liga ACB, Spain's premier basketball league. This is the name that the team has for purposes of sponsorship, i.e. that of Air Europa. Its real name is CB Bahía San Agustín, which has its own curious past. In 1972, Father Manuel Carreño founded the Club de Básquet San Agustín, which was a school team. Some ten years later, another team was founded by the Bahía printing company. Both grew and eventually, in 2007, they merged to become CB Bahía San Agustín.  

The history of basketball on the island goes back to much earlier times than Father Manuel's school team. The generally accepted version of events is that it all had to do with two brothers - Pere and Joan Reynés - sons of a couple from Soller who had moved to France. When they all returned, in 1931, basketball came with them. A year later - on 8 May, 1932 - the first ever basketball game in Mallorca took place: it was on the Camp d'en Maiol in Soller, which by then had been a football ground for almost ten years.

In 1942, again in Soller, the Congregation of Marian Fathers at the school of the Sacred Hearts (Sagrats Cors) introduced basketball to the school's sports curriculum, and ultimately Joventut Mariana was to become the leading basketball team in the Balearics, even including American military personnel stationed on the island who were employed at the Puig Maria base.

It had taken some years, though, for the basketball bug, courtesy of the Reynés brothers, to catch on in Mallorca. More than twenty years before, Barcelona had been introduced to the sport. The founder of basketball in Spain (though this is disputed) was one Eladi Homs i Oller (pictured here). A teacher and thinker about education, in 1907 he was given a grant by the town hall in Barcelona to go to the United States in order to research new systems of teaching.

While he was in the US, and in Chicago in particular, he came across basketball, a sport which at the time was unknown in Spain. Homs returned to Barcelona in 1910 and at the Escuela Vallparadís in Terrassa in the Barcelona province, some twenty kilometres from the centre of the city, baskets were put up in the school courtyard. It is reckoned that it was 1912 when the first actual game was played, albeit that it was confined to the school itself: there weren't any other schools to play against.

The school was to close in 1915, there being no evidence to suggest that basketball had caught on. And so one comes to Father Eusebio Millán. He had been a missionary in Cuba, where he would have encountered not only American soldiers but also basketball. It is now debated whether there was any link between Homs and Father Eusebio, with the weight of argument tending towards there not having been and Father Eusebio giving his first lessons on basketball in the courtyard of the Pías de San Anton school in Barcelona in 1921.

There is a further version of events that "basket-ball" was originally played by women. Indeed, there is a newspaper report from 1912 which spoke of a "new sport" played by "good-looking sportswomen" at the Instituto Kinesiterápico in Barcelona. This was in fact the first real gym in Spain. Whether Homs had been instrumental in this game is also not known.

Anyway, whoever it actually was who should be honoured with having introduced basketball to Spain, it was to take its time coming over to Mallorca. And by the time that the brothers Reynés returned to Soller - in fact in the very year that they returned - a basketball team was founded on the mainland. Not in Barcelona but in Madrid. Real Madrid's basketball team remains the dominant force in Spanish basketball, and one of its star players is Mallorca's own Rudy Fernández.

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