Juan "Johnny" Báez a.k.a. "El Indio de la Vía" (born April 14, 1935), is a former Puerto Rican basketball player. He played from 1953 to 1969 in Puerto Rico's Superior Basketball League and from 1957 to 1961 with the Real Madrid basketball Spanish basketball team in Europe. In 1957, Báez was named the league's MVP (Most Valuable Player) and points leader. In 2007, Báez was awarded Puerto Rico's top sports award, the Puerto Rico Olympic Medal of Honor. Báez was also inducted into Puerto Rico's Sports Hall of Fame.
Báez was the sixth child of nine children born to Andrés Báez and Sisa Mariño in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He received his primary education at the University of Puerto Rico Model Elementary School. It was in Modelo School where he would learn to play basketball under the guidance of his physical education teacher Lilliam Colberg. During his high school years, he would frequently attend the local Superior Leagues basketball games and participated as a basketball player in minor leagues where he continued to learn the discipline of the game.
Río Piedras Cardinals basketball team
In 1953, the "Cardenales de Río Piedras" (Río Piedras Cardinals) basketball team of Puerto Rico's Superior Basketball League selected him. Even though his active participation was minimal, Báez was promoted to the team's starting lineup in his third game. From 1955 to 1957, the Cardinals won three consecutive championships. In 1957, Báez was named the league's MVP (Most Valuable Player) and points leader. He scored a total of 394 points in 16 games.
His participation in the islands local basketball league was very limited in 1958 and 1959 because he continued to pursue his academic education in Madrid, Spain. During his stay in Spain, he played from 1957 to 1961 for the Real Madrid basketball team that won the "Generalísimo" Cup, now known as the King's Cup. While playing in Spain, he caught the eye of a young royal whose grandfather was the owner of the Real Madrid team and who became one of his best-known fans. That young royal is now known as King Juan Carlos, who corresponded with Báez in 2006 to wish him a speedy recovery from his illness. Báez represented Puerto Rico in the 1959 Pan American Games, celebrated in Chicago, Illinois. In the tournament which included American basketball stars, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, Báez was the champion scorer. Báez and fellow Puerto Rican Juan "Pachín" Vicéns were named to the All-Star team.
In 1962, he withdrew from Spanish basketball and one year later, in 1963, Báez led the Cardinals to another championship and was once again named MVP. On June 13, 1969, the same year that he retired, he scored his point number 5 thousand during a game against the Piratas de Quebradillas (The Pirates of Quebradillas) with a “jump shot" in the beginning of the games first quarter. After retiring Báez dedicated most of his time as coach of several local teams.
Báez is married to Irma Hernáiz, his wife of 44 years with whom he had three children. On March 8, 2006, had an accident and is suffering from a delicate neurological condition which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
On January 20, 2007, several top International Basketball Federation (FIBA) officials traveled to the island and in a ceremony which included the presence of the Mayor of San Juan Jorge Santini, Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock, Puerto Rico Olympic Committee President Hector Cardona, PR Sports and Recreation Secretary David "Kike" Bernier, his wife Irma and his son and daughter, Carlos and Irma, bestowed upon Báez Puerto Rico's top sports award, the Puerto Rico Olympic Medal of Honor. Báez was also inducted into Puerto Rico's Sports Hall of Fame.