Hélio Rubens

Howard Kanovitz, Basketball Billboard, 1969


Comment about the book “Hélio Rubens: the trajectory of a winner in the game of life”, by Hélio Rubens and Igor Ramos


I was born in 1953 and, in 1966, I was exactly 13 years old. In 1966, the XV de Novembro de Piracicaba men's basketball team became runner-up in São Paulo – it had been champion in 1951 and 1960 and obtained other runner-up finishes in 1955, 1958 and 1959.

1966 was the last of the great campaigns of XV de Piracicaba. After the five piracicabano slowly became eclipsed and, in all honesty, I don't know what's become of this team these days. But I closely watched all the games that took place in that 1966, and the XV, whose coach was Ángel Crespo, with Mindaugas, Alemão, Filetti, Emil Rached, Julinho, Zé Preto, Zé Boquinha, Braido, Aléssio and Pecente just couldn't overcome Corinthians, who took the title.

My future brother-in-law, Julinho, made some of the baskets that guaranteed this brilliant campaign. It was a time when basketball was not yet fully professionalized, everyone who dedicated themselves to the sport received some somewhat camouflaged remuneration, but they also had other activities, necessary to complete their respective budgets: there were many bank employees, highway or military police officers, public servants allocated in sports offices, at the post office, physical education teachers, real estate agents, hairdressers, sales representatives, small business owners and traders, university students…

The times were somewhat heroic, as most teams did not have physical trainers, with the coach himself providing some form of exercise or warm-up before starting training with the ball. The duration of the matches, lasting 40 minutes, was divided into two halves of 20; The wooden tables, painted white, slowly began to be replaced by glass ones and there were no three-point baskets: free throws were worth one and moving shots, from any part of the court, were worth two. Furthermore, the 30 seconds of ball possession were controlled by the table, using a timer that was not electronic and was not visible to the public. The players had a physical build quite different from that of NBA athletes, true lockers weighing 115, 120 kilos and more than two meters tall: they were thin, long, and most were barely over 1,90-1,95.

Well, in the historical series referring to the São Paulo men's basketball championship, covering the period 1932-2023, the club from the city of Franca, with its various denominations (Clube dos Bagres, Francana, AA Francana, Emmanuel Franca EC, Franca Cougar, ALL Star Sabesp Franca, Ravelli-Franca Basketball, Satierf Franca, Sesi/Franca…), became the club that won the most titles, that is, 15 championships and 14 runners-up, surpassing the usual giants, such as Corinthians, Palmeiras, Sírio, São José, Rio Claro, Espéria.

The person largely responsible for a significant part of the success of the Francans is called Hélio Rubens Garcia, known as a player and coach by Hélio Rubens, born in Franca, State of São Paulo, on September 2, 1940.


When I got the book in my hands Hélio Rubens: the trajectory of a winner in the game of life, I confess which I wasn't excited about, as there is a two-page presentation by businesswoman Luiza Helena Trajano, who runs the Magazine Luiza retail store chain and other companies integrated into her holding. Born in Franca, spending her childhood and adolescence there – she was the one who financed the work –, her presentation adds little to the text. But I was immediately alarmed when I came across Galvão Bueno's preface. I thought to myself: that's too much! But I was wrong, because the narrator and journalist wrote two witty pages, highlighting his admiration for Amaury Passos (1935), who began his career as a center and became a renowned point guard. Galvão Bueno admired him, “especially that magical move, hiding the ball behind his back and making it reach the best-placed teammate” (p. IX). What's more: the preface highlighted that Hélio Rubens considered Amaury “the greatest of all” (p. X), having played for Tietê, Sírio and Corinthians.

Hélio Rubens and his family had basketball in their respective DNA: a player at Clube dos Bagres de Franca, founded in 1953, Hélio is the son of basketball player Chico Cachoeira, brother of fellow players Totó and Fransérgio and father of Helinho, former player and current coach victorious.

I followed many of Hélio Rubens' games: an excellent player, with an unusual fighting spirit, technique and precision in everything. It made me angry watching him play against XV de Piracicaba, as he almost always got the upper hand. Despite playing as a point guard, he was a great scorer throughout his career, with long-distance shots and infiltrations. He throws with both hands, the famous jump. “I was throwing with both hands and jumping. I didn't have much strength, so I started throwing like that, but without leaving the ground. That was when the jump: a jump with a throw, but with both hands it went further than the others. To do that, with that shooting style, I was inspired by another player, Pecente” (p. 58).

Pecente is Pedro Vicente da Fonseca (1935), player of Piracicaba's XV and world champion in 1959. He played with the two-time world champion, Wlamir Marques (1937), the “blonde devil”. Pecente says he was inspired by Mineiro, Duda, with whom he played at Santos in 1954, “but Hélio perfected this overhead throw and turned it into a brand of his with merit. After all, throwing with two hands is much more difficult. There's movement on the court, you receive the ball and you have to put it over your head and shoot without getting cut. It's difficult not to remember Hélio as a player without associating him with shooting with both hands, precise and always efficient. That pitch belongs to him” (p. 59).

There is a delightful passage when he says that he taught his son to throw. Helinho was a “victim” and beneficiary of his father’s obsession with throwing. Hélio built a basketball court in the backyard of his house, placing a hoop with a slightly smaller diameter, but saying nothing to the boy: “It was only after some time [about seven years later] that I revealed the secret to him, which it became a joke between us” (p. 60).

Hélio Rubens competed in world championships in which the Brazilian team won a bronze medal (Uruguay, 1967), silver (Yugoslavia, 1970) and bronze (Philippines, 1978), as well as a gold medal at the Pan-American Games in Cali (1971). He participated in two Olympics and played 14 years for the Brazilian national team, 10 as captain. He defended the Franca team for more than two decades as a player, another twenty or so as a coach, in addition to coaching the Brazilian team in two periods (1989-1990 and 1997-2002). In addition to the Franca team, he also coached Vasco da Gama and Uberlândia. He was the biggest winner in the history of Brazilian basketball championships, with 14 national titles (five as a player and nine as a coach) and 10 São Paulo titles (four as a player and six as a coach), among other achievements.

Franca's club won several disputes against Vasco da Gama, leading Rio director Eurico Miranda to make an offer he couldn't refuse: in addition to being a coach, he would also be Vasco's Olympic Sports coordinator. “I woke up at 4:30 in the morning for meetings at the Nautical Headquarters with the rowers. There was no rest. I also got involved in football because Eurico had the freedom to do so” (p. 76).

Journalist Igor Ramos and Hélio reveal the behind-the-scenes of the calls for the Brazilian team in 1967, by coach Togo Renan Soares (Kanela), to begin preparations for the world competition, to take place in Yugoslavia. For the first time Kanela summoned three Francans, the brothers Hélio Rubens, Fransérgio and Totó (p. 95). They also reveal several passages involving Amaury, Wlamir, Sucar, Victor, Rosa Branca, Ubiratan (1944-2002) – perhaps the greatest pivot in Brazilian basketball, the one who wore the shirt of our national team the most –, Edvar Simões, Mosquito, etc.

Former player Paula highlighted that she admired the Franca team, coached by Pedro Morilla Fuentes, known as Pedroca (1929-1993), with a standard of play that always impressed her, later cultivated by Hélio Rubens as coach: marking, quick transition and precision in throws (p. 154).

Helinho, in turn, highlighted that his father, when it came to tactics, always looked for alternatives: “For example, if the team needed speed, he would play with two playmakers. If the two full-backs were injured, he played with three pivots. He always looked for alternatives within the limitations that emerged. And he always made these adaptations very calmly, very precisely, knowing exactly what he wanted. And he always worked” (p. 155).

Hélio Rubens managed Vasco da Gama from 2000 to 2003 and, from Rio de Janeiro, he went to Uberlândia, in Minas Gerais, where he won four titles: the Campeonato Mineiro in 2003 and 2004, the Nacional in 2004 and the Liga Sul-Americana 2005. That same year he returned to Franca and remained as coach until 2012, “the year in which I made my final farewell to the club where I played for more than two decades and led for another two” (p. 187). In fact, he was a player for 24 years and was a coach for another 24 years. He returned to Uberlândia in 2012, having left the club at the beginning of 2014, definitively ending his career (p. 193).

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..


Hélio Rubens and Igor Ramos. Hélio Rubens: the trajectory of a winner in the game of life: the successful career of one of the biggest names in basketball in Brazil and the concepts to make the Brazilian a champion. São Paulo, LeYa, 2020, 244 pages. [https://amzn.to/3SsORbj]

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