PUERTO PRINCESA - A rock star treatment greeted PBA stars upon their arrival on the first day of an exciting week that culminates with the staging of the annual All-Star game on Sunday.
Led by two-time MVP James Yap and Purefoods teammate Marc Pingris, the 60-man contingent was mobbed by screaming fans everywhere they went, including in the tree planting and meet-and-greet activities held in Rio Tuba, a town 279 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa.
Yap and Pingris were joined by San Miguel forward Arwind Santos, veteran big man Asi Taulava of NLEX, JC Intal of Barako Bull, and Talk 'N Text rookie Kevin Alas, who were all warmly received by fans.
“Sobra pagtanggap ng tao sa amin rito. Napakainit,” uttered Pingris after mingling with fans. “Ganito pala feeling ng mga artista.”
The players planted almost 100 trees inside the re-vegetated Rio Tuba mined out area together with school children.
The delegation, headed by event organizer and NickelAsia vice-president for corporate affairs JB Baylon, were likewise mobbed by fans during the meet and greet in Rio Tuba, Brooke's Point, and Narra towns.
“The people here are wild and awesome. They welcomed us like we are their long-lost relatives,” said Taulava, who was hugged and kissed by cheering fans.
So excited were the fans that Pingris was even caught in a photo with his sunglass barely hanging on after getting mobbed by the crowd.
PBA staff Tinii Cayetano acted as sweeper and ‘hawi boy’ to protect and safely bring the players back to their waiting vans.
“Tumulong na po ako sa paghawi kasi hindi po talaga makakaalis ang players sa dami ng fans. Ngayon lang po ako nakakita ng ganun katinding cheers, talagang nakakatindig balahibo,” said the league staffer.
League media bureau chief Willie Marcial was naturally happy with the turnout of fans’ support.
The amiable league official also kept reminding security personnel from the Philippine National Police and Philippine Marines to observe maximum tolerance.
“Huwag niyo pong ibugaw ang mga fans. Let them approach our players, this is for them. Para sa kanila ito kaya tayo andito. Pero syempre, we don't want to compromise their safety,” Marcial told security staff of the event.
Baylon, also former PBA Board vice chairman, said he believes the league has truly regained its immense popularity upon seeing the warm reception from the people of Palawan.
“With how fans mob our players and how they jockey for position just to get near them, it shows how the league has fully recovered as one of the top entertainment and sports organizations in the country,” said Baylon, who is also one of the top corporate heads of the sponsoring Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation and CoralBay Nickel Corporation.
More fans are expected to get more involved in the coming days after organizers made the event free of charge starting with Friday’s side events and the Rookies versus Sophomores game, before culminating with the centerpiece North versus South All-Star Game on Sunday.
A busier schedule awaits the entire delegation on Thursday when it visits the Palawan Provincial Hospital and holds another set of tree-planting activity at Brgy. Mangingisda in Puerto Princesa.
A courtesy call to Palawan governor and Kia Carnival team owner Pepito Alvarez will later be held followed by a press conference at the Governor's Pavillion.