In view of the presence of 21 heads of state in the country, I will refrain from commenting on any sensitive issue pertaining to the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. I will discuss instead an issue that is generating enormous discussion among Filipinos. Foremost in their mind now is the question of whether the final game of Season 42 of the Philippine Basketball Association, which drew an attendance of 54,086, the biggest crowd ever to attend an event in the history of Philippine sports, is also the very last game of the 42-year-old league.
At the end of Season 41, I wrote that the basketball court has become the new battleground of two business empires: San Miguel Corp. (SMC) and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC). SMC owns the basketball teams San Miguel Beermen, Ginebra Gin Kings, and Purefoods Star Hot Shots while MPIC has TNT Katropa, Meralco Bolts, and NLEX Road Warriors.
In the last six seasons or 18 conferences, San Miguel basketball squads have won a total of 13 championships, six by San Miguel Beer, five by Purefoods, and two by Ginebra. Metro Pacific quintets have bagged five trophies, all by Talk ‘N Text. Meralco joined the PBA only in 2010 and NLEX is only on its second year in the league.
The semifinalists or Final Four of the last four conferences — the Philippine Cup, Commissioner’s Cup, and Governors’ Cup of Season 42 and the Governors’ Cup of Season 41 were teams of the two business empires. Only in the Commissioner’s Cup of Season 41 did other teams — Rain or Shine and Alaska — break into the elite group of semifinalists. The two “free standing” teams disputed that conference’s crown, with Rain or Shine emerging as champion as winner.
The reason for the impressive records of those teams is the abundance of superior talent in their rosters. And those powerhouse lineups are made possible because of the huge budgets of the two teams. Fred Uytengsu of Alaska has wondered how both San Miguel and Ginebra manage to stack up former first-round draft picks without going over the league salary cap (the maximum amount a team can pay for all its players). He mentioned four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and Alex Cabagnot for the Beermen and Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Joe Devance, LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, and Kevin Ferrer for the Kings.
Recently, San Miguel traded seldom used players Ronald Tubid, JayR Reyes, Rashawn McCarthy, and the first-round draft pick in 2019 for Kia Picanto’s No. 1 pick in the 2017 Rookie Draft. San Miguel used that right to pick Fil-German Christian Standhardinger, considered the prize catch among all the young players eligible to play in the professional league.
PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III said that is the fourth time in the last six years that the top draft pick did not go to the team that originally earned the pick. Two of the four overall top picks went to San Miguel — Jun Mar Fajardo from Air 21 and Standhardinger. One went to TNT — TauTuaa from Blackwater.
This is where the intense rivalry of the two business empires in basketball showed up again.
The trade involving Standhardinger is generally considered by PBA sportswriters and fans as a lopsided deal that favored San Miguel. PBA Commissioner Chito Narvasa’s approval of the deal had apparently displeased the management of the MPIC teams. The governors of TNT Katropa, Meralco, and NLEX , and those of four other teams issued a statement that they are not in favor of renewing the contract of Narvasa for Season 43 for loss of confidence in him. However, the governors of San Miguel, Ginebra, Purefoods, and of two other teams gave Narvasa their vote of confidence.
According to PBA rules, eight votes are necessary to name a new commissioner. As only seven governors want Narvasa to be replaced, he remains as PBA commissioner. But with a majority of governors not having confidence in him, he will be ineffective in regulating the league. Narvasa will be a lame duck commissioner, if the PBA survives to have another season.
Today is supposed to be the start of the annual planning meeting of the PBA board of governors in Los Angeles but from all indications, there will be no meeting at all. Pato Gregorio of TNT KaTropa, Mamerto Mondragon of Rain or Shine, and Raymund Zorilla of Phoenix Petroleum, who were all supposed to have flown to LA last Friday to attend the meeting, decided to stay home. Ramoncito Fernandez of NLEX, the incoming chair of the PBA, is scheduled to leave today for LA but is reportedly not leaving anymore.
With the new chairman and three other governors skipping the meeting, the planning meeting has been canceled. The planning meeting usually determines the formats of the three conferences and the schedule of the games for the entire season. As there is no indication that there will be a meeting soon, or that there will be one at all, PBA’s Season 43 is now an uncertainty.
I find it odd that the MPIC group had made a big issue out of the Standhardinger trade when two seasons ago TNT had obtained the No.1 and No. 2 picks through trades with cellar dweller teams Blackwater and Mahindra/Kia, respectively.
TNT used its right to Pick No. 1 in the 2015 Rookie Draft to get TauTuaa and traded with Mahindra’s Troy Rosario, the No. 2 pick in the same draft. Many PBA fans thought that giant TNT took advantage of the teams still trying to get settled in the league.
I wrote back in 2009 that Burger King would be a PBA powerhouse if team owner Bert Lina were not engaging in the trading of players like they were commodities. His original PBA team, Fedex, had the No. 1 and No. 8 draft picks in its first year and chose Yancy de Ocampo and Ren Ren Ritualo who both ended up playing for TNT.
In subsequent years, Fedex/Air 21 drafted Jay Washington, MacMac Cardona, and Ranidel de Ocampo. It sent by express delivery Washington and Cardona to TNT before the prize draftees could play one game for Air 21. Ranidel eventually also joined TNT. It gave the impression that the Lina team was a farm team of business client TNT.
The PBA has to bring back sports to the league. Big Business can bring it down, if it has not done so yet.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.