Ron Jacobs strolled into a Long Beach restaurant--tan, fit and looking a decade younger than his 47 years.
When last seen in the South Bay 10 years ago, Jacobs had been dismissed as Loyola Marymount's basketball coach after leading the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 19 years. He was suing the school.
The two sides settled out of court in September, 1980. The basketball program continued under Ed Goorjian, Jacobs' top assistant, while a haggard-looking and admittedly bitter Jacobs retreated into the background to become--in his words--"a basketball recluse."
Jacobs bounced halfway around the world, and a few years later discovered he was sitting on top of it again.
Now Jacobs says the string of events that started with his firing at Loyola "was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Jacobs coached the Philippine National Team to unprecedented success and became a favorite of the man who hired him, Eduardo Cojuangco. When the Ferdinand Marcos regime fell in 1986--effectively ending Jacobs' coaching career there--he remained a confidant to Cojuangco, a Marcos protege who is considered by some political observers as the favorite to become the country's next president when elections are held in 1992.
"The job I ended up with in the Philippines was the greatest job in the world," Jacobs said. "We had the enthusiasm of college with the financial backing of an NBA team. (Cojuangco) took me from nothing to where my self-esteem was back." Six months after leaving Loyola in the summer of 1980, Jacobs got a call from the Basketball Assn. of the Philippines.
The organization had been scouting Pepperdine standout Ricardo Brown, whose mother and grandmother had Philippine roots. While looking at game films of Brown playing against Loyola, the Filipinos became interested in the Loyola style of play.
"They asked Ricardo and (then Pepperdine Coach Jim) Harrick about me," Jacobs said. "Harrick says, 'This is your guy to coach the team. He doesn't have a job right now.' Ricardo also said some good things about me and that's how they got my number.
"(The Philippine representative) asked if I would be interested in coaching the national team of the Philippines. I said I didn't think so but I would be happy to meet with them and listen to them."
The representative explained that basketball is the national sport in the Philippines, and the organization hoped to improve the national team's world standing by signing American players with Philippine heritage--inspired by the 1976 Puerto Rican Olympic team's performance featuring Marquette standout Butch Lee.
Jacobs at first indicated that he was not interested. "I thought, 'Why do I want to go halfway around the world? They've got some problems there.' I said I wasn't interested in coaching, but I would help them. It gave me
something to do with basketball." Jacobs helped the organization scout players and made coaching suggestions, including former Harbor College Coach Jim White and University of San Francisco Coach Dan Belluomini, who turned down the Filipinos. Jacobs continued to resist the organization's coaching offer.
"Now it's about Christmas," Jacobs said. "(The salary offer) is getting up there. I said, 'It's getting interesting.' I tell them I'll go to the Philippines to meet, figuring it's just for a visit."
Upon his arrival in Manila, Jacobs said he remembered thinking, "I'm going to enjoy this trip like a vacation, but there's no way I'm coming back to this place."
The next day he met with Cojuangco, one of the wealthiest men in the Philippines, who was in charge of developing a world-class basketball team.
Cojuangco told Jacobs: "This is what I want done. I want to go to the Olympics. I want the best possible team. I want American players who are eligible. . . . Can it be done? How much money is it going to cost?"
Jacobs said: "So I'm thinking about Loyola, our budget was about $20,000 or $30,000. He asked me, 'Would a million dollars do it?' and I said, 'Uh, I believe so.' "
Jacobs, who had always coached within a 20-mile radius of his Seal Beach home, was suddenly back in basketball, half a world away.
He built the team initially with six Americans--including two Loyola players, Jeff Moore and Robert Worthy--and 12 Filipinos, while Cojuangco built the training facilities that Jacobs requested.
Jacobs' new team defeated the country's two top professional teams, but outraged the public because his team's top players were Americans. "We demolished them," Jacobs said. "It's like a national scandal."
The public and media might have been incensed, but Cojuangco was pleased. He had Jacobs sign six more American players. Jacobs took the team to the Jones Cup in Taiwan and won the title, beating the U.S. in the finals.
"We're good," Jacobs said. "We're too good."