ONE of the most iconic voices of the late-1990s is back on the air as Noli Eala made his return to the broadcast booth in the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 President's Cup.
And for the former PBA commissioner, he couldn't be any happier going back to his first love.
"It's surreal. Talagang I never thought I'll be back in the broadcast but I had fun today," he said as he partnered with Carlo Pamintuan on the call on Saturday.
Seventeen years have passed since Eala last put on those familiar headsets, spending most of his time as an executive.
He was appointed as the PBA's sixth commissioner from 2002 to 2007, was one of the founders of Liga Pilipinas back in 2008, served as an executive director of Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), before eventually being hired as the sports director for San Miguel Corporation until 2013.
Controversies may have followed him in every step he took, but he said that his love for broadcasting never waned.
Eala admitted that he had his doubts returning to the broadcast booth when the assignment was floated. After all, he was fine doing his radio show with Radyo Singko since last year.
"They've been talking to me. Sabi ko, 'Bakit ako?' Tingin ko medyo pambata na (ang 3x3), but they wanted me to do it. Sabi ko, 'I can't promise anything. I'll try my best.'," he said.
But once a commentator, always a commentator, and Eala aced covering the first leg of the 3x3 league.
"Mabuti na lang it turned out well," he said. "It didn't take long. Alam mo once you've been behind the mic, you're always behind the mic. It felt good and with Carlo and the rest of the production team. Napakaganda ng mga tulong nila sa akin."
For his part, Pamintuan felt starstruck working with such an iconic sportscaster in Eala.
"When I heard him talking beside me for the first time, I had goosebumps. Unbelievable experience. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'll be working beside him because I grew up watching him. He was the guy, the play-by-play when I was watching basketball, with sir Sev (Sarmenta), Ed Picson. To be able to work with him is something beyond my wildest dreams," he said.
"He sounded like he was doing it yesterday. Sabi niya it 17 years since his last run and to me, he did not miss a beat at all."
This won't be a one-off for Eala as he is set to lend a voice to the 3x3 league in all six legs up to April.
And for him, he sees big things ahead for this new endeavor which he thinks could be a big help in unearthing the next wave of basketball superstars.
"This is a great boost for Philippine basketball. Bagay na bagay sa mga Pinoy and I hope many more players can join this because I can see that this has really big potential for young players," he said.
With Eala now lending his voice in the halfcourt game, does it signal his eventual return to the booth, perhaps in the PBA?
He refuses to close any door for any opportunity.
"We don't know. I'd like to do something again, especially for the Philippines, pero it all depends on what happens next. Tingan natin," said Eala. "I'm just happy to be back."