LOOKS like Philippine basketball has never been in a place as bad as now.
True, there’s the feel-good story of Ateneo’s thrilling win in the UAAP basketball finals last Sunday, and La Salle’s ultimate class act of acknowledging that win by shading the façade of its Taft Avenue building in a glorious hue of blue.
But elsewhere, there appear only to be chaos, none of them more pronounced than in the PBA, considered the country’s premier basketball league, the undisputed leader in sports entertainment, and the daily conversation fare of the Filipino everyman.
What we are now seeing looks like the slow death of this sports institution. What started as a controversial trade, involving the first-round pick of Kia being sent to San Miguel, is now evolving into the most acute crisis confronting the PBA since the economic crisis of the mid-80s sent teams crashing financially and leaving only six teams standing, which set the league on the brink of folding up.
Six teams can sustain the PBA, says a former PBA commissioner who asks not to be named because of the “delicate situation” that the PBA finds itself in today.
But had one more team disbanded then, making that just five teams left, the league would have folded, and there would be no professional basketball league as we know it today.
Somehow the league recovered, and membership grew again, if slowly, from six to eight, then eight to 10, and now 12 teams are in the fold, the highest number in PBA history.
The current prospect of disbanding the whole league, or even suspending its operation, may seem absurd, even heretical, following years of unprecedented success — but it is looking more and more like a real possibility.
Insider reports indicate that the 12 teams, polarized between one group supporting the continued tenure of PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa and the other seeking his ouster, have grown more decisively apart over the past several days.
The planning session last November, an annual get-together designed to strengthen the bonds of friendship and to cement the corporate vision of the members, ended in tatters.
A source present during the planning session held in Los Angeles, California, intimated that members from each group socialized only among themselves. There were no meaningful conversations between the two groups, and when they could not avoid crossing paths, they exchanged cursory nods or looked straight ahead.
“They behaved as though the other one did not exist,” said the source who has had inside information on the league the past few years.
Back in Manila, the factions — seven from a group led by Talk ‘N Text (Alaska, Rain or Shine, Phoenix, NLEX, Blackwater and Meralco), and five headed by San Miguel (Ginebra, Star, Globalport and Kia) —continued to ignore each other, with calls for unity unanswered and proposals for an owners-only meeting shelved.
But the most glaring example of how polarized the PBA board is today may be seen in its preseason games, or the standard exhibition matches which serve as preview to the real thing.
Normally, preseason games involve the participation of all 12 teams. But now these games, which are still being held, show the sorry sight of the five teams siding with Narvasa playing only among themselves, while the seven teams opposing Narvasa do the same.
There is even talk of two opening ceremonies on December 17, one by each group. If this happens, the league is all but dead. (Of course, the basketball nation is hoping that this one is only a rumor.)
As the impasse lengthens and positions harden, we see Narvasa, the central figure in this affair and the chief reason this is all happening, continuing to exercise functions related to the league, seemingly unperturbed by the pandemonium around him.
Reminds us of Nero fiddling as Rome burns.