Monday, August 9th, 2010 at 2:03 pm  |  17 responses

Original Old School: Missing The Point

SLAM 141: Not long after Angel “Monchito” Cruz’s playing career ended, he disappeared.

In 1987, Cruz, pushing 30 years old, was faced with an opportunity to try out for the New York Knicks, who would go on to Draft one of the all-time great point guards in NBA history—Mark Jackson. Monch was invited to a workout with the Knicks and was matched up against a young Jackson, fresh out of St. John’s University. While other players invited to the workout brought agents along with them, Monch brought Carmen, his wife at the time. “He did really well,” she says. “I remember he was giving Mark Jackson hell to the point where Mark Jackson’s agent said, ‘Wait, let’s change this around. Let’s put [Jackson] with Monch instead of against him.’”

After retiring from basketball, Cruz took a job at Yankee Stadium. Farrell recounts: “He was in Yankee Stadium and [Puerto Rican great] José Valentín was playing there. Valentín’s family sees [Monch] and they start freakin’ out, ‘Oh my God it’s Angelo Cruz!’ They tell José Valentín, who is a professional baseball player, and he sees [Monch]. He’s like, ‘Yo, give me your autograph.’ Monch started laughing and says, No, you give me your autograph! [Valentín] goes all right, let’s switch. I’ll sign a baseball, you sign a basketball and we’ll switch.”

And then, in 1997, Monch tragically and mysteriously went missing. His family and friends put ads in the major papers and on television in Puerto Rico. His former teammates have posted pictures of him on Facebook. But no one has heard from him since.

Monch’s son, Alvin, the all-time assist leader at Niagara University who currently plays for the Ponce Leones in PR, remembers the last time he saw his father. “I [last] saw him when I was about 16,” Alvin says. “He came down and got me a tryout with a team. Over here [in Puerto Rico] he’s like a legend, you know, so he told people, ‘My son can play.’ He got me a tryout and I signed when I was 16. Right after I signed, maybe like six weeks later, he disappeared.”

“We support him,” Alvin offers sincerely. “We don’t care what happened; the things he did or he’s doing. We support him. If we find him, we want to be there for him. Maybe that’s what happened, he was so famous and when basketball was over he wasn’t that ‘god’ anymore. Another guy comes along and he’s not the man anymore. But we will be here for him. For him we’re going to be here.”

Monch had five children, and he always cared deeply about his family. Whenever he was on the road, he would talk about his kids and would wonder how they were doing back in Puerto Rico. “I know that if he wanted to get away from anyone that there’s no way in the world that he would not be in touch with his kids,” Carmen explains.

Nappy Nap says, “I still have hope that he’s alive and will show up one day. He’ll figure out a way.”

The legend of Angel “Monch” Cruz is etched in the memories of those who were fortunate to have known him and to have witnessed his greatness. His footprint is that of a trailblazer, one who never backed down from a challenge. “He would battle anybody. He came here [to Puerto Rico] and took down all the big names,” Alvin says.

Monch delivered his street savvy game to the hardwoods of Puerto Rico and to the world. In the process, many fell victim to his offensive arsenal. Whether he breezed past defenders for acrobatic layups or no-look passes to teammates, or if he drove the lane and rocked the rim á la Spud Webb or Nate Robinson, Monch left his imprint on the game.

If he was able to see or hear about the 92-73 upset that Puerto Rico pulled against the US on the shoulders of Carlos Arroyo in the 2004 Olympics, Monch might have found gratification in the prospect that he influenced the young fella in some way. That he played even a small role setting the groundwork that led to the victory that immortalized the image of Arroyo proudly popping his jersey, representing Puerto Rico. And Monch would definitely shine that big smile at the fact that his son runs the point for Ponce alongside another member of that Olympic team, Rick Apodaca.

The legacy of Monch Cruz is one of pride and humility. As Carmen notes, “He never really looked at himself as a big celebrity.” Yet he took on the greatest challenges of outplaying Hall of Famers and anyone who crossed his path. A perfectionist at his craft. An artist whose canvas was any basketball court. Someone who amazed onlookers by achieving great feats in such a small frame.

Angel “Monch” Cruz was just a self-proclaimed bum from the Bronx who was able to work his way to immortality for an entire culture.

And then he was gone.

If you have any information about what happened to Angel Cruz, please contact Mike “Nappy Nap” Napolitano at nappynap@excite.com.


NYC native, Jonathan Lopez attended Norman Thomas High School and graduated from Millbrook School before earning his bachelor’s degree from Colgate University. An avid basketball fan, Lopez still laces up his kicks for some competition and especially appreciates hoops at its most grassroots level – on the playgrounds of his hometown, where he and so many others learned the game. These days Lopez spends much of his time on the hallowed grounds of NYC with his pen and camera in-hand, covering all the action. You can see more of his work here.

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  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Some old New York heads put me onto Munchito many years ago and I always wanted to get his story in SLAM. It took time to get space in the mag and to find the right writer to chase the story, but Jonathan delivered.

  • WangChung

    Two favorite quotes in the article:
    1.“Tiny Archibald couldn’t ever stop [Cruz]”
    2.“Don’t they know I’m just a bum from the Bronx?”
    Thanks for the piece, sir.

  • Eric Delgado

    Amazing article Jon, I can read it over and over again. Thanks for the education.

  • Scottie Pimpin

    Lower East Side in house.

  • Scottie Pimpin

    also, slam you gotta keep coming with these old skool ball stories…..love em !

  • hammer

    Proud 2 b a latino and know about another latino bball legend! Much props slam 4 continuing 2 dig n bball history.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    Wow. There aren’t many things basketball wise I’m not up to date but this fellow, I hadn’t heard of his legacy or himself even prior to this?! Excellent.

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  • Osvaldo Santos

    Monchito was one of the greatest point guards that I ever played against. We don’t know where he is or how he is doing, but all of his friends and former basketball players are always asking for him. Angelo, we love you very much my friend…..

  • http://nlymon@comcast.net Noemi Cruz-Lymon

    Thank you so much for the article on my brother Monchito. My family and I are most greatful to you and your staff for writing such a moving and honest article. We pray that we will get information soon on my brother who has been missing now for thirteen (13)yrs. Monchito truly loved his family and considered his friends family too. It is most unlike him to disconnect from those who mean so much to him. Anyone with information on his disappearance can contact his family @ 774-454-8957 or email nlymon@comcast.net

  • http://www.merdist.com Larry Rivera

    “There are rumors that Monch once slapped the opposing team’s center in the middle of a game, unbeknownst to the officials”

    This is not a rumor – it happened against Brazil at the Pan-Am Games in Caracas in 1983 and he did it against Brazil’s point guard who had been harassing him the entire game. The Brazilian player was getting ready to shoot two free throws late in the game and his sleight-of-hand was so amazing that as he crossed the paint in front of him he swung his left hand from his side and smacked him in the face, all in one motion and kept walking to the total amazement of the brazilian who looked at the refs in utter disbelief! As I later became a friend of Munch in the summer of 87 and through the early 90′s, he told me that the entire country of Brazil NEVER forgot the incident and he required police escorts there every time he went there with the P.R. National Team. Moncho, te queremos y extrañamos mucho en Puerto Rico.

  • http://www.merdist.com Larry Rivera

    For more information on Monch see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_%22Munch%22_Cruz

  • Evelyn Harris

    I knew monch from junior high school, we use to date for a little while. I often thought about what happened to him. Im glad to hear he is still doing his thing. We called him “Monchito”.

  • Evelyn Harris

    i knew angel for years we grown up together as a mather of fact we dated for a little while. i hope he turns up ok.

  • Michael Rafiq Mcleod

    I am from East Orange,New Jersey.I had the pleasure of playing with Munch, for one of the greatest players and coaches, Coach Cleo Hill (Essex County College).We went to the Junior College finals together.I played with Munchito with players like Drew Doward,Tommy Singleton and others from N.Y..That was my main man, I,m sure he would tell you that we were close.I miss him and would sure love to see him again.I pray that he his alright.

  • Kenido Cleveland

    I used to go to high school…and played on the same team as his son Alvin….who by the way is a beast…plays pro in puerto rico right now

  • Edgar

    He was a senior when I went to Clinton. He was a very nice guy with some serious hops!