The Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings captured the 2022-23 PBA Commissioner’s Cup via a grueling 4-3 down-the-wire series win against the visiting Bay Area Dragons last week. The Gin Kings delivered a crushing 114-99 Game 7 rout before a record-setting 54,589 screaming fans at the huge Philippine Arena in Bulacan. This would be the largest crowd ever in the league’s 47-year history.
The Gins banked on a fiery start to stun the Dragons, eventually building a huge 61-39 halftime lead. The Dragons were clearly in awe of the wildly cheering and jeering hometown crowd in the cavernous Philippine Arena, as they played tentatively at the start. This was not the fire-breathing, net-scorching, cool and confident Dragons team that performed magnificently in the regular season games. This was now a vulnerable team, unsure of its movements, its steps half a beat late.
The 50-thousand strong fans in attendance – the Gins’ loud, irreverent 6th man – wielded its powerful magic touch abundantly, as it willed the Gins into outperforming themselves. For the record, the Gins displayed an uncanny shooting prowess, scoring an incredible 46% field goal clip, and a record 43% from the 3-pt region! For a team that had only one player – Stanley Pringle – hitting the 3-pt range above 40%, this team stat was simply incredible! They also outrebounded the heftier Dragons 60-53; and out-assisted them 32-21, an indication of the selfless style of play that focused on the team as opposed to fancy individual action. And the defense was no slouch either, as they shackled the Dragons to averaging below 100 points for the entire 7-game series.
The victory ensured that the PBA crown remained in Philippine shores. It also highlighted the crowd-drawing capability of the PBA. The average crowd draw for the entire 7-game series was 23,615. Not to mention the live-streaming that was not just a hit in the country, but wildly followed in China, as well as in other parts of the globe. This clearly shows that the PBA, contrary to what many thought was a dying league, is very much alive and kicking. And if the PBA has learned its lessons from this successful conference, the PBA can surely get back on track as the grand event everyone used to feast around.
The entry of the Bay Area Dragons was the biggest boon to the PBA in recent years. The Dragons were a new team, a strong contender for the crown, and a foreign entity at that. This would whet the interest of the fans no end, as the team had the height and heft, the strength and the speed, the stamina and the smarts, to do battle with the best of the PBA. The talent-laden team was no push-over, and this shown right at the get-go, as they crushed the local opposition like a mean juggernaut gone wild.
Leaving behind a trail of battered and badly-beaten local teams, the conquering Dragons marched to battle facing one last obstacle before it could go home to Hongkong triumphant with the crown. That last local hope was Ginebra, that battle-scarred native toughie whose storied never-say-die attitude had developed a rabid fan base across the land.
Picture the past Ginebra crowd drawers: Robert Jaworski, Rudy Distrito, Dondon Ampalayo, Dante Gonzalgo in the 80s and 90s, bangers all. Marc Caguioa, Jayjay Helterbrand, Eric Menk in the 2000s to 2010s; scrappy, tough as nails, full of heart. Together, they would develop a proud culture, one that said – despite their imperfections, their lack of extraordinary talent – that they would fight to the last second, that they would fight for every point, that they would NEVER SAY DIE!!!
Thus, the task to defend the country’s pride and dignity lay solely on the shoulders of these grizzled veterans of Barangay Ginebra. And so, our cage fanatics rallied around the Gin Kings. And the fans multiplied by leaps and bounds during the course of the series, as the fight would take on a new narrative. This was no longer simply about Ginebra alone trying to win the championship; it was about the country and its pride as the region’s basketball power. It was about protecting that PBA crown, and making sure it remained in the country.
Apart from this, the PBA gained a lot more from the entry of the Bay Dragons. Aside from the gate receipts, it provided all the teams the experience of playing against bigger, faster, stronger foreign teams. If only for this one priceless learning experience, we have all benefitted from the event.
The most important lesson I would like highlighted in this tournament is the need for parity in the league. Bay Area’s entry was a breath of fresh air in the PBA. Somehow, it not only provided a foreign color, it upped the level of play and provided a new challenge for the teams. We cannot have the same teams go through the motions of playing the games, when everyone knows which heavyweights will eventually dominate the playoffs. We cannot have superteams dancing around without equally-deserving partners. But yes, the PBA has definitely been doing something about it now.
Perhaps the next concerns would be the need to improve the format of the league, the need to inject more activities with fan involvement, the need to make the teams more visible to the public, items aimed at generating more interest among local sports fans. Also, the need to align the PBA brand and schedule to fully support the country’s bigger international cage commitments. Particularly with the hosting of the FIBA World Championship coming fast.
If the PBA shows total support for the country’s international cage festivities in the latter part of the year, then they will be rewarded handsomely. Because a successful hosting will naturally redound to more interest in the local cage scene and in effect, the PBA as well. It is a karmic cycle, and it will definitely be to the PBA’s advantage to provide its 100% support to the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP). (More on the upcoming hosting in the future.)
We all look forward to build on the gains we witnesed with the successful staging of the recent PBA Commissioner’s Cup. My congratulations to the PBA for a job well done! Here’s to more and better hostings to come. Let’s do it!
(Cover photo courtesy of Good News Pilipinas. Other pics courtesy of: Burnsports.ph, Tiebreaker Times, the Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star, The Summit Express, and the PBA. For a closer look, just click on the pics. For more stories and pics, pls proceed to PBA.ph.)