• The sad saga of PH basketball

    Peter Cariño

    Conrad M. Cariño

    (Second of four parts)
    The low finish of Gilas Pilipinas in the ongoing Asian Games is not pleasant at all, because the country prides itself with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), which is Asia’s first pay-for-play league.

    The PBA has been in existence for 39 years and it was during 1970s that the Philippines started to lose its luster in international basketball competitions. This cannot be disputed because the win of Gilas Pilipinas over the Senegalese team is the country’s first in the FIBA world stage in 36 years.

    In the late 1970s or early 1980s, I read in one sports magazine the call of the then head of the Basketball Association of the Philippines calling for the abolition of the PBA because the best players in the land were going to the pro league, which meant the national team had to do with less capable players.

    And let’s face it—the best Filipino cagers are now with the PBA, and not all of them are available or willing to represent the country in world or regional cage meets.

    Also, not all teams are willing to “release” their key players for the national pool. I even heard that only one or a few players, like LA Tenorio, has a clause in his contract that stipulates that his team release him if he is called for the national pool.

    So there lies the irony—the Philippines has one of the oldest commercial or professional basketball leagues in the world, but the country still couldn’t get a medal haul in international meets.

    I am not saying that the best Filipino cagers are not at par with the best in the world. But the reality is the companies fielding teams in the PBA will be hesitant to risk their multi-million peso investments on their key players, who in turn will be hesitant to risk their lucrative playing careers.

    So why not try the “NCC model” for developing the national team? I am referring to the Northern Cement Corporation national team funded by Danding Cojuangco during the early 1980s, and coached by Ron Jacobs.

    The NCC team won regional honors for the country during the early 1980s, and while the team was bannered by “imports,” they were not “giants.” I am referring here to the 6’8” Dennis Still, and Jeffrey Moore and Arthur Engelland who both stand no more than 6’3”.

    Also, most of the Filipinos who made up the NCC team were not the type who would put up impressive stats when they joined the PBA. Get the point?

    The NCC team played well in regional meets because they gelled well, or was a well-oiled unit with all the players having a clear role.

    The members of the NCC national team obviously were paid salaries and there was nothing wrong with that, because that assured they continued to play for the flag.

    The pro league also accommodated the NCC team in a few conferences, and the national team won the 1985 PBA the Reinforced Conference in resounding fashion, or with 4-0 sweep.

    Today, the practice of plucking willing players from the PBA for the national pool, and recruiting good ones from the amateur ranks just won’t make the Philippines competitive in the international basketball arena.

    Unless all teams in the PBA are willing to lend their players to the national pool, and all pro cagers are willing to take the risk to play for the flag, expect nothing big from the national team.

    Also, many countries have national basketball teams whose core has been playing for two to four years together.

    Anyway, the PBA is also meant for commercial purposes, or a venue for brand building and marketing by large companies. Does that make the PBA less irrelevant to the country’s mad drive for international basketball recognition?


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    1. Or we can simply accept the fact that other nations now play competitive basketball.
      Filipinos can excel in other sports like boxing, soccer, billiards and chess, where
      height is a not an advantage. Ang mga players natin mukhang pam-PBA lang talaga.
      Let’s just enjoy Filipino basketball where most Filipinos can play well and have fun.

      Huwag na natin ipagpilitan na someday we’ll have a medal in a FIBA or olympic championship. That’s highly improbable. It’s not that Filipinos don’t have the skills.
      It’s a pound for pound thing, just look at Lebron handling the ball going to the basket,
      and compare that with Tony Parker. Both of them are superior ball handlers, but
      most if not all of the time, Lebron will dominate the game. Isn’t that the reason why
      we’re naturalizing big tall players from other countries.

      There is no shame in fielding an all-filipino team in international competition, we’ve been doing it for years. My point is let’s enjoy Filipino basketball and let’s
      put energy and money on something that’s achievable.

    2. What? The NCC had Jeff Moore, Dennis Still, Chip Engelund, all US players fielded at the same time, and Hector Calma and Franz Pumaren as token pinoys. Thats why they were successful. You can’t do that today. Get real.

    3. Like. I totally agree. The San Miguel group and Alaska refuses to release their players to the national pool likely becoz of business rivalry. There was also that bunch of idiots Filipino coaches association who prohibits Ron Jacobs from coaching in the PBA league and the national team. I think Ron is more Filipino than this bunch of idiots. What a shame. Open up. Liberalized the competitiveness of the league by getting away with height limits of imports. Hiring of coach/es and players from any part of the world like the NBA. Tap the Visayas and Mindanao markets and open up new teams to join to whoever can afford to join from anywhere..

    4. Voice from the Wilderness on

      Plucking really good basketball players to play for the country and flag is a very difficult proposition considering the present circumstances. Good players in the amateur ranks coming from collegiate leagues have their moist eyes glued towards playing in the PBA as their careers. So if you recruit them to play for the national team even if the NCC concept will be adopted, you can’t expect them to give their all best as in local lingo, (magpapakamatay sa loob ng court) because they are afraid to suffer a career ending injury. As the late national cage hero Tembong Melencio sadly laments in frustration during a regional tournament in ASEAN, alam mo yung abilidad ng isang player, pero pag ipinasok mo ayaw namang pumukpok……Perhaps a solution here is to offer a recruited player a 20 million pesos insurance in case they suffer a career ending injury….