From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
October: Hall-Worthy for Sure
FOR THE past decade or so, the annual announcement of that year’s Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame inductee(s) has tended to make me nostalgic. For the first 10-15 years I worked for Billiards Digest, the accomplishments of the honorees mostly preceded my tenure at the magazine. But over the last 10 years, most of the players and industry greats have been people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing from the early stages of their careers.
You hate to make yourself sound old, but there is a gratifying feeling in thinking, “I remember him when he was just starting out.” You tend to be prouder for the honoree. I certainly felt that way watching the likes of Loree Jon Hasson and Ewa Laurance being inducted, and Johnny Archer and Allison Fisher as well. Ditto the day longtime friend and Billiards Digest contributor Bob Byrne was feted.
And I’ll enjoy a similar experience in October when Francisco Bustamante is honored alongside Terry Bell and Larry Hubbart.
Hubbart and Bell were still on the short side of 40 when I first met them, and both were threats on the pro tour, particularly Hubbart. The tall Rochester, N.Y., native with the slicked back hair was a noted road warrior and mentor for then-up-and-coming Mike Sigel, also from Rochester. Hubbart, who Sigel always referred to simply as “Ice,” wasn’t as flamboyant as the Sigels and Rempes of the pool world, but at the table he was plenty imposing.
I recall Bell and Hubbart talking about their new affiliation with Anheuser-Busch, and the progress of their American Poolplayers Association league system. As a newly minted college grad among a hoard of road-hardened mercenaries, I remember being struck by the thought that pool players could actually have the entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to work long hours to launch a legitimate business. I was impressed.
Their efforts over the last 30 years are truly astonishing, and their success is well earned. So is their recognition. People tend to get hung up over for-profit entities being rewarded for meritorious service. Bunk. This award isn’t reserved for philanthropists. It’s for people who have enriched the game or helped it grow. The APA has been good for the game and good for the industry. That the millions of players who’ve passed through the APA system have all spent money on cues, cases, accessories and more is indisputable. That the APA has reached out largely to non-players who want to enjoy a night out and don’t aspire to greatness should be commended, not questioned.
As for Bustamante, few will argue his deservedness either. I first saw Bustamante in 1992 at the Munich Masters in Germany. Bustamante had taken a trip to Europe a year before and ended up staying for several years. He had spiky jet-black hair and wore flashy outfits. He looked like a Filipino Rod Stewart. And his game was brilliant … that spidery bridge, roller-coaster stroke and sledgehammer break. He was a star almost immediately.
What few people remember is that Bustamante did in Europe what Efren Reyes was doing in the U.S. European stalwarts like Oliver Ortmann, Thomas Engert, Tom Storm and the rest had never seen the game played like Bustamante. His safety play, kicks and break forced the Euros to learn the game all over again, as their American counterparts had to do after Reyes, Bustamante’s idol, hit the American pool scene.
Bustamante also had the big personality that pool fans wished Reyes had. He is fun to watch. His smile still lights up an arena. He’s always been affable and approachable, even during that heartbreaking 2002 World Pool Championship in Cardiff, Wales, when his 7-month-old daughter died suddenly back in Manila. Bustamante played on, losing in the final to Earl Strickland in what remains one of the greatest performances in pool’s rich history.
Yes, nostalgia will be thick when Busta, Bell and “Ice” take the podium. And I’ll be proud for all three.