IT’S now Commissioner Chito Salud who is personally leading the call for the entire PBA family to throw its full support behind the Smart Gilas 2.0 national team.
In his short speech during the thanksgiving dinner held in honor of the Jones Cup champions, Salud urged the PBA family not to turn its back on the Gilas amid talk that some pro ballclubs are hesitant to release their players for the national team's stint in the Fiba Asia Cup in Tokyo, Japan from September 14-22.
“Do not withhold your support. This is for our country,” added the commissioner in a call that drew a huge round of applause those present at the Meralco Lighthouse.
As Chot Reyes and his coaching staff deliberate on the final 12-man lineup for the Japan tournament, there are widespread talks that several teams are barring their players from suiting up for Gilas, given the close proximity of the Tokyo meet to the opening of the new season on September 30.
Prior to the start of the 37th season, Salud and then PBA chairman Mamerto Mondragon – with the approval of the entire board – allowed the release of at least 16 pro players to the national training pool.
Players named to the pool signed commitment letters, except for four in two-time MVP James Yap, Mark Pingris, Alex Cabagnot, and Arwind Santos – all of whom interestingly belong to teams under the SMC umbrella.
Salud said seeing a team coached by a PBA coach and made up mostly of pro players triumph on the international stage is one of the proudest moments in his three-year stint as commissioner in Asia’s pioneering professional league.
“It was my first time na makapunta sa isang tournament na nag-champion ang team natin, na ang coach ay galing sa PBA, at ang mga players ay sa PBA din,” Salud said.
“Naghahanap ang ating bayan ng mga bayani, at ibinigay ng Smart Gilas ang hinahanap ng ating bayan,” he added.
Salud later recalled how his late father, former commissioner Rudy Salud, grudgingly agreed to loan PBA players to the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) under Lito Puyat in a landmark move in 1990 that started the practice of sending pro players to major tournaments abroad.
“That was 20 years ago when there was a strong clamor for PBA players to join the national team amidst the belief that the PBA is only for sports entertainment here in the country,” the younger Salud recalled.
The commissioner continued, “but the game has started to become global and Sunday night, we proved we can do it. Umpisa pa lang ito, kaya good luck sa ating lahat.”