DOB: 23 October 1963
Place of birth: Aibonito, Puerto Rico
José Ortiz has really and truly traveled the world over the course of his 24-year basketball career and was an integral part of Puerto Rico’s national team for 21 of them (1983-2004).
The native of Aibonito started out in the Puerto Rican domestic league with Atleticos de San German but before too long he decided to take on the challenge of playing in the American collegiate ranks.
He attended Oregon State University for two years and was named the 1987 Pac-10 Conference MVP ahead of the likes of USA Olympic and 1994 FIBA World Championship gold medalist Reggie Miller. He also earned All-American honours for the 1986-1987 season.
The Utah Jazz selected Ortiz with the 15th pick of the 1987 NBA draft, but he did not join them right away, instead spending a season across the pond with CAI-Zaragoza of the ACB League in Spain.
Ortiz helped Puerto Rico take a bronze medal at the 1987 Pan American Games and the occasion was all the more special for him because he served as flag bearer for his country’s delegation.
He joined the Jazz for the 1988-1989 NBA season and the early part of the next campaign before heading back to Spain where he would go join Real Madrid and FC Barcelona – whom he led to Korac Cup success.
In 1991, Ortiz helped Puerto Rico to a gold medal performance at the Pan American games in Havana, Cuba.
He continued his club career and tour of Spain playing for Festina Andorra, CB Málaga and Ourense. By that time, he was 35, an age when most players consider retiring.
That thought though didn’t enter his mind though and instead he embarked on a tour of Greece. He began his time there by playing for First Division side Larisa, then went to Crete to play for Iraklion before returning to the mainland and finishing off with Aris Thessaloniki and PAOK.
Slowly but surely, Ortiz brought his playing career to an end and, fittingly, did so where it had started: in the Puerto Rican domestic league.
He joined Santurce Crabbers in 1997, helping them to win five national champions in six years and finally brought the curtain down on an astonishing career with Arecibo Captains, retiring in 2006 at age 43.
Throughout his career, the player nicknamed Pículin – after a character from the Wizard of Oz – was always a great scorer, who made the most of unusual agility for a player his height. Not happy just with being someone who could put points up on the board, he worked hard at becoming a better rebounder and passer.
Over the course of his 21 years of reprensting Puerto Rico, Ortiz helped his team to great success in regional and continental tournaments.
However Puerto Rico could not quite make the breakthrough in global competitions and finish in the top three in those.
Ortiz helped his country to a fourth place at the 1990 FIBA World Championship in Argentina, a result which is still their best result to date.
He also played in three Olympic Games (Seoul, 1988; Atlanta, 1996; Athens). In 2004, at age 40, he ensured his place within the annals of basketball after leading Puerto Rico to an unexpected win over the United States.
A year before, at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament in San Juan, Ortiz recorded a triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and also blocked seven shots to end Canada’s dreams of going to Greece as Puerto Rico secured the final berth.
Ortiz played a grand total of 24 seasons in Puerto Rico’s BSN league. He holds career averages of 17.7 points and 10.5 rebounds in 505 games played there. He won 10 championships (1985, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003) with San German and Santurce.