BALL is life, as they say.
That was the motto for most basketball afficionados in the country, with some even going from court to court just to scratch that itch for hoops.
For some, though, ball also means their livelihood.
Take Roy Cayanan for example.
The 5-foot-11 guard is a fixture in most recreational leagues and has earned enough credibility that the Makati Super Crunch soon took notice and enlisted him in their roster in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
But when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, the world truly stopped for Cayanan as his means of earning was suddenly nipped.
"Sobrang laki ng nawala sa akin," said the Makati native. "Sa basketball ako mismo kumukuha ng pang-gatas ng anak ko at pangkain namin ng pamilya ko."
It was a drastic change for Cayanan, whose normal pre-pandemic schedule was peppered with numerous games in different courts all over Metro Manila, and now finds himself grounded at home.
To make ends meet, the Makati resident has since tapped to his entrepreneurial side, a norm for most athletes during the quarantine period. "Nagbenta na ako ng kung ano-ano. Noong una, sisig at tofu, tapos naging mga gulay na, sibuyas at bawang," he shared.
Basketball, of course, never left his side as he also capitalized with the returns of the NBA and PBA last year and took bets for ending.
It was a measure to help him earn a living, but Cayanan wouldn't deny that he felt envious seeing the professionals get a chance to play the game he loves.
The same is the case for Alwin Alday, who grew up in the mean streets of Tondo and honed his game there, showcasing his skills enough to be signed by Bicol Volcanoes in the MPBL.
"Yung mga ligang labas, doon ako kumukuha ng kumpyansa. Sa mga panahong ganito simula ng summer, sobrang dami nang ligang labas. Kahit may season ang MPBL, nagli-ligang labas pa rin ako kasi yung mga di ko nagagawa sa ensayo, doon ko nagagawa. Pampataas na rin ng confidence," he said.
"And syempre, finances na din. Maiisip mo rin yung pera na kikitain. Pwede na pang-gatas o pang-labas sa pamilya mo yung kikitain, so malaki talaga yung nawala."
Alday actually considers himself lucky, with his family having a hardware business to keep them afloat during the pandemic.
But he understands that the hardship brought by the absence of ligang labas games for his other peers, especially those who are taking these games as their primary means of living.
"Maswerte pa nga ako kasi kahit papaano may business kami na makukuhaan. Pero sa iba talaga, yun lang ang pagkukuhaan nila para mabuhay, so mabigat din talaga," said the 5-foot-10 slasher.
Jeff Viernes also feels for those individuals.
"Ang laki ng naging impact sa karamihan ng mga players talaga dahil karamihan naman, ligang labas yung talagang bumubuhay sa pamilya nila," he said.
Viernes certainly knows what he's talking about. The 5-foot-8 playmaker could probably be the poster boy for ligang labas (or panalay) as his on-court travails has almost seen him play in every hoop in the archipelago.
"Nag-start ako mag-ligang labas around 2010, ang bayad sa akin noon P150 hanggang P300 lang. Pero nung nakikilala na ako ng konti, unti-unting tumataas. Naging P5,000 na per game, tapos mas tumaas pa nung nakalaro ako sa ibang bansa at sa PBA. Bago mag-pandemic, minimum na nasa P15,000, minsan P30,000 pa nga kung galante yung team owner," he shared.
Viernes can definitely hang with the big boys in the PBA, with NorthPort and Phoenix even giving him contracts before. It's just that his earnings in his numerous games in the ligang labas circuit definitely outmatched his salary in the PBA.
"Kahit nung naglalaro ako sa PBA D-League, lumalaro pa rin ako kasi sayang din eh. Isipin mo, kayang umabot na sa P150,000 hanggang P250,000 yung kaya kitain sa isang buwan. Pero syempre depende pa rin yun sa nagbibigay. Pero mas malaki yung kikitain mo pag summer kasi marami talagang laro," he said.
That's for those elite talents.
For the likes of Cayanan and Alday, it's all a matter of having more games in their schedules.
"Sa Tondo, super dami ng mga liga. Minsan nga sabay-sabay pa na yung iba, hindi ko na nalalaruan. Pag weekdays, may two to three games ako, pero pag weekends o bakasyon, minsan apat pataas na yung laro," said Alday. "Minsan umaabot pa sa katabing lugar, sa Malabon, Navotas, umaabot pa sa Makati, Quezon City, Mandaluyong, at Paranaque."
Those games, at least in those where they play as reinforcements, range from P1,000 to P2,000 a game, to as high as P10,000 to P20,000 per appearance.
Those rates significantly rise if you're a PBA player or a tall foreigner.
Teams enlisting the services of those kinds of players never feel shortchanged, especially with the caliber one brings to their team.
And it's no surprise that clubs truly go out their way just to enlist the likes of Viernes, the 2018 PBA D-League Foundation Cup MVP, as one of their imports.
Obviously, it also comes with a fat paycheck.
"Marami talagang malaki magbigay per game. Yung naaalala ko, sa Nueva Ecija, sa Calabarzon, tsaka sa Mindanao, galante yung mga owner dyan," he said, partly explaining why a number of current PBA players also can't resist the lure of suiting up in panalay games.
But it's not just the money.
The Tondo-bred baller has always brought his best whenever he has the rock, making him such a hot commodity. Once the clock starts, the competitive juices kick in that Viernes never wants to draw the short end of the stick.
"Naalala ko yung one game ko sa Davao, finals na yun tapos naglaro ako para sa Royal Mandaya Hotel. Down by 14 points yung team namin sa last five minutes, tapos nagsalita na yung owner namin na bawi na lang next year. Pero dahil ayokong matalo, ako na yung nag-coach sa team at sumisigaw na ako. Hinabol namin tapos nanalo pa kami," he reminisced.
Moments like those, however, are only distant memories for the time being.
Only professional leagues are currently allowed by the national government to resume, keeping amateurs, from the collegiate leagues to barangay blacktops, inactive.
That's why Viernes commisserates with his fellow ligang labas players, especially those struggling to earn for a living.
"Hindi naman lahat ng players, malaki ang nate-take home. Pero sa ibang liga, kahit sa MPBL, hindi rin naman ganoon kalaki ang sahod nila kaya wala rin silang gaanong naipon," he said. "Almost one and a half year na rin walang liga, so talagang napakalaki na ng epekto sa kanila ng nangyari sa atin."
Viernes is one of those fortunate ones, with his globetrotting ways opening the doors for him in Malaysia, where he now serves as one of the coaches for NS Matrix.
But for the less lucky ones, these players could only give a word of advice.
"Tiis tiis na lang muna," Alday said. "Sa time na ito mo madi-discover kung ano pa pala ang mga kaya mong gawin bukod sa paglalaro lang dahil dito mo rin masasabi na hindi pang-habang buhay ang basketball. May awa naman ang Diyos pagbalik ng basketball, pero iba pa rin yung may iba tayong pagkukuhanan ng pagkakakitaan."
Cayanan agreed: "Magpaka-totoo ka lang sa kapwa at wala kang tinatapakang tao, hindi tayo mapupunta sa mali. Suportahan lang natin ang kapwa nating mga basketbolista at higit sa lahat, laging magpasalamat kay Lord."
Viernes also reminded his peers, "Stay strong lang especially sa mental and physical health nila."
He continued: "Ang buhay naman, kung di natin maalagaan sarili natin, mas lalo tayong hindi makakabangon. Itong pandemic na ito ang magsisilbing aral din sa lahat na kailangan din talaga na kung player ka, dapat marunong ka mag-ipon kasi anytime, may mga darating na mga sakuna na hindi natin inaasahan. Tsaka syempre, dapat marunong dumiskarte sa buhay and I'm so happy to see na yung ibang players hindi nahihiya para kumita which is the right thing to do. Kahit ano pa man yung raket nila, as long as legal, walang dapat ikahiya sa ganyan."
Until then, ball is only part of one's life.
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