PBA: Philippine Basketball Antihero?




The Manila Times



THE PBA Commissioner’s Cup starts just when the league is beleaguered with hard accusations. The oldest professional basketball league in Asia will not have a shortage of fans, but the cultural impact has diminished heavily since the 1990s. In that era, every Filipino basketball fan was a PBA fan. Nowadays, there are basketball aficionados who make “I don’t really follow the PBA anymore” comments when asked about the league. For one thing, the internet has simply raised awareness of global basketball trends. Global, not just American. The latest EuroBasket has probably drawn the most diverse audience ever, and more Filipino fans became interested. It featured the last two NBA MVPs, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic (actually the last four since they both won back to back) and the MVP favorite for next season, Luka Doncic. The world has caught up with America’s best, and basketball is now a truly global sport. So it would be a shame for a league to be branded as xenophobic. The All-Filipino Cup The Philippine Cup, or All-Filipino Conference, is a rare breed. There are very few top tier tournaments that confine themselves to just local citizens. It is also laughable that the PBA has a limit on Fil-foreigners. Yet, this tournament is considered as the most prestigious among the three conferences. Side note: Even the multiconference format is a rarity. These are the same teams playing, they just added imports. Clearly a marketing scheme since ratings are up during the playoffs and the Finals. There’s hardly a world-level league that confines participants to local nationalities. Even more embarrassing is the height limit, but then again, how do you distinguish the Commissioner’s Cup and the Governors’ Cup? The changing times The PBA played a huge role in making basketball the top sport in the Philippines. Up until Manny Pacquiao became a billionaire, hoops was seen as the most stable way to make a living playing sports. It probably still is. But the Filipino player has outgrown the league, simply because the PBA has refused to change with the times. There will be more world class Filipino basketball players. We can be sure of that. Decades ago, a Filipino actually aspiring to play in the NBA was unheard of. Now, we’re not that far. And this is the natural course of growth. Unless the PBA becomes a world class league, they can’t keep world class players. It’s really that simple. The PBA should embrace this “exodus” of players because it places us on the basketball map. In the long term, global success will lift the league up, as the country’s basketball level eventually rises. Look at the UAAP, their level of play is almost at par with the pro league. La Salle almost beat Blackwater in a friendly, even when they missed key players. Take note that Blackwater already had their import. The UAAP allows foreign-student athletes, and its best teams spend their training camp in Korea or Israel playing against professional teams. They’re not afraid to face tougher opposition since that will make them learn. But they are also playing to win, since that will give them a winners’ mentality. Shameless Could you imagine if the Slovenian basketball organization appealed to FIBA to stop Luka Doncic’s entry to the NBA? The Slovenian team was just an afterthought in the EuroBasket, but they vastly improved, because their best player improved so much more because he is playing in the biggest league in the world. The PBA keeps saying they would support a player’s NBA bid. But they just stopped Will Navarro from playing for a Korean team. It’s a shameless and despicable act, and while it has legal basis, the question basketball fans are asking is: Should basketball games be won in tribunals and board rooms? The young guy just wants to play, and his Korean stint does not even close the door on his Gilas availability. It does close the door on playing for NorthPort, however. So now, I wonder who is the SBP serving and whose interest is being protected in this scenario?