At 61, he is still recognized as a giant in basketball circles, both figuratively and literally.
At full height, Moi Muri, towers at 198 centimeters. He was an influential basket baller of the 1970s. But the impact he and others had on the basketball scene has carried on for over 40 years.
“I don’t have a good education. As a teenager, I never went to school properly.”
The son of a former World War two carrier, Moi Muri was born in Kapai village in the Gulf province, in May 1959. His father moved to Port Moresby when he was very young and settled in the Kaugere Settlement in the late 1950s.
As Papua New Guinea was transitioning, Kaugere was a difficult place. High unemployment coupled with the marginalization of the community’s various groups contributed to the high crime rate.
“Back then, Kaugere was a ‘no-go’ zone for many in Port Moresby. There was a lot of crime.
“After Independence, the Somare-Chan Government gave us two outboard motors, fishing nets and a six ton truck. The idea was for us to go fishing and get out of the life of crime.”
Moi Muri, who was by then in his late teens, was already playing rugby league, a sport already popular in some circles. In 1977, he was introduced to basketball by a Filipino expat who lived in the Port Moresby. When the government assistance came, they found that he was the only person who played basketball.
“So they gave me basketballs, uniforms and other equipment and we started a small team.
“All the hardcore boys came a joined. They would think about doing all the bad things but they were also committed to training.
“I had no idea about the sport. We had no TV. We would just play.”
The team then took the game to other suburbs. Many of the games centered around small bets that they placed before the games.
“If we had wantoks in other suburbs, we would go and place bets of one or two dollars and play. We went to Waigani, Hohola… Mt. Diamond.”
The Muri’s were one of many other families, mainly from the Gulf Province, who dominated and influenced the basketball scene. The lanky lads, whose average heights were anything between 195cm and 200cm took on each other on the basketball courts.
They played in teams that stamped their mark – Jokers, Exodus, Stars and Coleman Bucks.
“I was encouraged a lot by my brother, the late Maurice Elavo . He said ‘you can do it..’ that was the kind of encouragement I had.”
For the giant of a granddad from the Gulf province, it is difficult for him to think about the impact that he has had on several generations of Papua New Guinean basket ballers.
“I never imagined that basketball would be this big. It has changed a lot of people. Some of the boys who played have become pastors in their communities and have moved on.”
His most recent engagement was in the Melanesian Cup held in Port Moresby last weekend. The Womens team he coached beat Fiji in the tough finish. His daughter, Marcia Muri, captained the team in the gold winning performance.
Moi Muri creates huge ripples on the basketball scene and within his own family as well. After his first ever representative duties to Sa’amoa, he named his son Apia after the capital of the Island country. His people renamed his their village ‘Kapai Sa’amoa’ as a tribute to his work.
Sons, Apia & Purari, Nephew Dia and grandson, Cornelius have all followed in his footsteps to play representative basketball.
“I have been tremendously blessed. Basketball was given to me to help solve Kaugere’s crime problem. I have great things with the sport. My family has been greatly blessed.”