CHRISTIAN Standhardinger has yet to play his first game in the PBA, and yet the sought-after Fil-German big man already found himself at the center of a storm strong enough to nearly topple a 43-year-old institution.
The controversial trade of the signing rights to the 6-foot-7 slotman by KIA to San Miguel for bench players split the board. Seven ballclubs led by teams under the MVP block sought the ouster of Commissioner Chito Narvasa, stressing loss of confidence on the former coach and banker, while the remaining five led by ballclubs from the SMC group, backed the embattled chieftain.
The dissension within the board led to a leadership impasse that dragged for so long a lockout loomed for the very first time in the long and rich history of Asia’s first ever play-for-pay league.
Still, the PBA managed to weather the storm as concessions were made, leading to Narvasa's resignation and the league's 43rd season opening as scheduled. While the deep wound inflicted by the controversy has yet to fully heal, the board, under new chairman Ricky Vargas, urged for the healing process to begin.
“Now we’re stronger than ever, we’re stronger together, and we will stay like that,” he said.
For stirring the biggest controversy ever that shook the very foundation of the PBA, the leadership impasse was hands down the top pick of the SPIN.ph staff as the top sports story of 2017, edging out some of the year’s other significant events such as the country winning the hosting rights to the 2023 FIBA World Cup and the legendary Manny Pacquiao losing his world title to underdog Jeff Horn in one of boxing’s Upsets of the Year.
Here are the top 10 stories of 2017:
1.LEADERSHIP IMPASSE PLUNGES PBA INTO CRISIS - It was by far the biggest crisis the league had to endure, although the owners' love for the game led members of the board to act reasonably and save the country’s No. 1 sports entertainment from falling apart. Narvasa resigned as commissioner, with long-time external affairs and communications head Willie Marcial appointed officer in charge while the board scouts for a new commissioner. Vargas also came in as the new chairman in lieu of NLEX’s Ramoncito Fernandez, who was supposed to assume the role but stepped aside in favor of the respected TnT executive.
2.PH FINALLY WINS HOSTING RIGHTS TO 2023 FIBA WORLD CUP – Denied the last time, the Philippines, through the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), made sure basketball finally comes home after landing the hosting rights to the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Manny V. Pangilinan, the long-time basketball patron and SBP chairman emeritus, convinced Japan and Indonesia to form a consortium co-hosting the so-called Olympic of basketball six years from now. The ploy worked as the powerful FIBA Central Board favored the Philippines and Co. over the dual bid of Argentina and Uruguay. The World Cup hosting comes 45 years after the country last staged the event in 1978 and just two years after the Philippines lost to China in a similar hosting bid for the 2019 edition of the meet.
3. MANNY PACQUIAO SENT CRASHING BY UNDERDOG JEFF HORN – In one of boxing’s biggest upsets, Pacquiao, 39, yielded his International Boxing Federation (IBF) welterweight crown to unknown Jeff Horn following a 12-round unanimous decision loss before a crowd of 55,000 at the rocking Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. Days after, the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) wrote the IBF for a review of the judging during the July 2 title bout. An independent five-man committee was formed to score the fight, with three of the judges later affirming the 29-year-old Aussie was the clear winner over the fading Filipino boxing great.
4. ATENEO OUTPLAYS LA SALLE IN MARQUEE FINALS – This was one classic case of team play prevailing over individual talent as the Blue Eagles dethroned two-time MVP Ben Mbala and the Green Archers in the deciding game of the Season 80 finals, 88-86. Whipped into one cohesive unit by former national coach Tab Baldwin, Ateneo came a win short of completing a 14-game sweep of the eliminations, survived a gritty stand by Far Eastern University in the Final Four, before overcoming adversity after losing a 21-point lead in Game 2 of the title series by conquering powerhouse La Salle in their do-or-die battle. It was the first championship for the Blue Eagles since beating University of Santo Tomas for the title in 2012.
5. JUNE MAR FAJARDO BAGS A RECORD 4TH STRAIGHT PBA MVP AWARD – The San Miguel Beer star rewrote his own PBA record after he won the league’s highest individual award for the fourth straight time. No other player in history has ever done the historic feat as the 6-foot-11 pride of Cebu easily bested teammates Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot for the MVP trophy. The big man out of University of Cebu became only the third player to win the award four times after the great Ramon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio as he led the Beermen to a third consecutive Philippine Cup crown and the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup title.
6.PH ENDURES ANOTHER SEA GAMES DEBACLE – The country limped home in sixth place in the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur after winning just 24 gold medals out of the 50 initially projected by Filipino sports officials. Worse, the figures could even be reduced as Colin Syquia stands to lose his gold in the showjumping event of equestrian after his mount, Adventure, tested positive for a banned substance. Trackster Anthony Beram distinguished himself as the lone Filipino to win two golds during the meet after his triumphs in the 200m and 400m sprints. The Philippines also finished in sixth place during the Singapore SEA Games in 2015.
7. ANCAJAS, TABORA, MELINDO, BIADO ON TOP OF THE WORLD – Their respective feats may not have created as much noise as those of more celebrated Filipino athlete, but take a bow Jerwin Ancajas, Krizziah Tabora, Milan Melindo and Carlo Biado after conquering the world with their inspiring victories in the field of boxing, bowling, and billiards, respectively. Ancajas retained his International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior bantamweight title three times outside of the country, Melindo finally realized his dream of becoming a world champion by destroying Japanese Akira Yaegashi in a single round to claim the IBF junior flyweight crown. The unheralded Tabora meanwhile, ended PH’s 14-year title drought after beating Malaysia’s Siti Safiyah Amirah Abdul Rahman to bag the 53rd Qubica AMF Bowling World Cup in Hermosillo, Mexico, while Biado defeated fellow Filipino Ronald Garcia in the final of the World 9-Ball Championship in Doha, Qatar to emerge as the country’s new pool hero.
8. SAN BEDA SPOILS LYCEUM’S BID FOR ‘PERFECT SEASON’ The San Beda Red Lions survived the most furious challenge to their title retention bid after trouncing the Lyceum Pirates in the NCAA Season 93 finals. The Pirates appeared ready to dethrone the Red Lions after a sensational 18-game sweep of the eliminations to make the title series for the first time in school history. But armed with poise and experience, Robert Bolick and the Red Lions didn’t blink and swept the Pirates in the best-of-three finals to claim their 10th championship in the last 12 seasons.
9. GILAS PILIPINAS TOPS SEABA TILT ANEW, WINS FIRST TWO GAMES IN WORLD CUP QUALIFIER – As expected, Gilas Pilipinas won the title undefeated in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship held in Manila. The team went on to finish seventh in the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon despite opening its campaign with an upset of defending champion China, 96-87. But Chot Reyes and his team finished the year on a high note by winning their first two games in the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers under the new home-and-away format. The Filipinos beat Japan, 77-71, in Tokyo, before giving the home crowd something to cheer about with a 90-83 victory over Chinese Taipei at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The team is unbeaten heading to its February showdown with powerhouse Australia.
10. COURT NULLIFIES 2016 POC POLLS, ORDERS NEW ELECTIONS – In the latest twist to hit the leadership of Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose ‘Peping’ Cojuangco, the Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 55 nullified last year’s election for president and chairman and set new polls on Feb. 23. Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP) and current PBA chairman Ricky Vargas, along with cycling’s Bambol Tolentino, were disqualified by the POC Comelec from running as president and chairman, respectively, for 'not actively participating in the General Assembly the past two years.' The move paved the way for Cojuangco to run unopposed to win a fourth straight term. Vargas later questioned the decision of the POC Comelec before the court.