The Covid-19 crisis has had a profound effect on the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). It had earlier reduced the 2020 season into a single conference as opposed to the usual 3. It negated gate receipts, forcing fans to watch only via close-circuit TV. The economic recession brought by the crisis has further caused interest for the basketball league to wane, having to compete with the more pressing issues of survival and safety.
This year, the PBA Philippine Cup had earlier opened on 16 July at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig under a strict IATF-approved close circuit set-up. However, the rising COVID-19 cases – which placed Metro Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) – forced the league to once again abruptly stop hostilities temporarily last 1 August. The PBA finally resumed hostilities last 1 September at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
To get the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to approve of the resumption of play, strict protocols, including testing of all teams in the morning of each playdate, were set. These were then strictly implemented by the PBA officials. Player and team movements were also limited to: hotel to game venue and back to hotel.
At present, the TNT Tropang Giga (4-0), the Meralco Bolts (5-1) and the Magnolia Hotshots (4-1) are leading the 12-team pack. It is too early to tell how the leaderboard shapes up for the playoffs. With new realigned rosters, plus a solid draft which brought in great talents, major changes in the team standings were expected. Until the changing conditions forced on us by the COVID – 19 crisis placed the PBA tourney in disarray. Indeed, the pandemic has brought big problems for the league.
What happens now to the PBA?
But apart from the COVID-19 crisis, there is a new challenge that it must now face: the emergence of a Japanese B League that has been aggressive in importing Asian talents. The Japan B League provides a fresh new alternative for promising young players, and has lured some popular standouts who could well form part of the future of Philippine basketball. These include standouts Bobby Parks, Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena, and the brothers Javi and Juan Gomez de Liano. Many more professional as well as amateur stars have been invited to join the promising Japan B League.
Aside from the significant financial rewards, the benefits of playing in Japan include: international exposure and training, access to new coaching styles and programs, the opportunity to travel and learn new ideas. There are news reports that the Korean League will likewise be opening their doors for Filipino players, further putting the PBA on edge.
Under these present circumstances, the PBA must restudy itself. With the economy challenged, plus the tempting alternative offered by the Japanese league, the PBA could end up losing its top players. It needs to be aggressive and dynamic, so that it becomes a popular draw once again. It needs to be able to reach out to different social classes, lest it withers and die. It needs to explore new markets in areas still undeveloped.
And how can that be achieved? One recommendation here is for the PBA to readjust its image a bit. It needs to not just be adherent to the COVID-19 protocols, it must be seen as an active leader in the fight against the pandemic. It needs to be out there in the forefront; teaching, guiding, giving morale support. It must shed off its image simply as players in the court, but as concerned citizens willing to do their roles in this global campaign. They do not have to be up close and personal in the effort; they can do so via TV, via zoom, via the magic of technology. The league must go beyond its comfort zone within the 4 corners of the basketball court. Bottomline is: they need to make themselves relevant with the times.
Remember the decade of 2000 for the PBA? In the throes of dismemberment due to a huge shameful scam in recruiting bogus players with supposed Filipino lineage, the PBA bounced back. What allowed the PBA to return in good graces with the public was the good karma it produced after the devastation caused by Typhoon Ondoy. From being unreachable stars, the players joined hands to be at the forefront of the relief operations, humanizing themselves and creating for the league an image sympathetic and worthy of the people’s support. (Please read: Philippine Basketball in Review – Part 7: Good Karma Propels the PBA to Greater Heights.)
With the economic crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic plus the foreign lure, the PBA is once again challenged. How the PBA survives will depend on the quick and creative action from its top management.
Cover Photo courtesy of: FIBA.basketball. Other pics courtesy of WHO International, CNN Philippines, SHLC, Vatican News, suedu.ph, pressreader.com, rappler.com, tiebreakertimes.com.ph, ginebrasanmiguel.com, dailyguardian.com.ph, pna.gov,ph, sunstar.com, mnltoday.ph.