WE now give way to a letter sent to us by one reader, Enrico Paolo C. Banzuela, one of the thousands of fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum who waited and waited for a game that never happened. He gives us a first-person perspective as the "nightmare" unfolded before his eyes.
Last night was a nightmare. I was at Araneta Coliseum as early as 4pm so that I won't be late for the 7pm start. Hindi ko na sinama si misis dahil sa sobrang mahal ng ticket. I wanted to watch the game because it's our national team playing and this is the only chance to watch them live before their tune-up matches and tournament games abroad.
I've always wanted to be a professional basketball player, to play for the national team, to play for the crowd. Since destiny stepped in and placed me in a different course, I live my out my fantasies vicariously through our national basketball team. That's why I've watched all their games either on TV or live if time permits. I was really looking forward to this Gilas-NBA game, at kahit masakit sa bulsa, pikit mata na lang dahil last game na nga nila ito sa Pilipinas.
It was a nightmare that unfolded slowly, step-by-step.
The game was supposed to start at 7pm. While the players were already shooting around as early as 6pm, the program actually started at 8:30pm. I counted nine players for the NBA side and thought that the reason for the delay were the final three players who arriving late from the airport or something. Then I noticed Blake Griffin was one of the players missing. And he was the best player in that entire NBA team. Mapapamura ka na talaga at that point - pero quietly lang, hindi pa loudly.
Then the program started. And the first thing that they did was to make an apology. This PLDT executive (vice president Ariel Fermin) told everyone that if they're not happy with the event, they can ask for a refund. But he hopes that they will not do so, since the proceeds of this event will go to charity. I thought that they were apologizing for the fact that Griffin and two other NBA players were absent. Especially since Griffin himself made a video apologizing for his absence and telling everyone to keep their tickets, and that he'll make it up and come to the Philippines on his own.
Akala ko pa – “Ang bait naman ng PLDT. May isang kulang lang na player, full refund na kung hindi ka happy.”
And then the drills started at 9pm. The drills were ran by a foreign skills coach, and organized into 7-minute chunks. After the first drill, we were still excited. After the second drill, we tried to maintain our patience. During the third drill, the crowd was already booing.
And the stupid host had the gall to ask everyone: "Are you having fun?"
The entire Araneta Coliseum started booing in unison.
And 28 minutes later, after the fourth drill, slowly, it dawned upon everyone that the reason why the PLDT executive was apologizing earlier was because there won't be any game, no slam dunk contest, no 3 point shootout. There would only be drills, giveaways, and more drills.
Everyone was getting confused on whether to leave or to stay. Some were hoping that there will still be a game after all the drills.
I was shouting for them to stop the drills and to start the game, to compete and play for the crowd. I can see that the Gilas players themselves were getting embarrassed by the sudden turn of events and the NBA players were dunking all over the place to somehow pacify the crowd. The national team coach, Chot Reyes, tried to put on a brave front, standing in the middle of the court, visibly fuming. His coaching staff was watching helplessly from the bench.
The booing got louder and more often. I felt most sorry for the kids beside and behind me. They were basketball fans just like me and to see both PBA and NBA players on the court at the same time must be a thrilling experience for them. During the drills, their dad was giving them descriptions of the players - who they play for, their moves, etc. After some time, they asked their dad when the game would start since it was almost 10pm. And their dad couldn't answer.
I activated my phone's internet connection and checked for news. And I learned that the NBA have NOT allowed its players to participate in this event and threatened them with fines and suspensions if they proceed to do so. That there really won't be any game for that night. I was so angry at that point. We paid so much money to watch drills? DRILLS? Think of all the tenderest curses in Tagalog. I was muttering them all at that point.
My blood pressure shot up even more when I read that this PLDT executive Fermin explained the situation, saying that PLDT did NOT advertise that there would be a full 5-on-5 game, only that this would be a charity event. That it was their original plan to sell expensive tickets for people to watch a basketball clinic. Classic bait-and-switch technique? They were obviously covering their asses from the possible legal pitfalls of this event. Now, think of all the tenderest curses in English. I was muttering them all at that point. Loudly na talaga.
I was thinking – “Where could I complain? This is so unfair, and just so wrong. They shouldn't have proceeded with the event in the first place if the NBA did not allow them to do so. Quick refund na lang, plus additional concessions.”
And nakakaawa sobra yung mga batang mga katabi ko. The disappointment in their faces - it's something you'll never forget. And yung dad nila - mas nakakaawa. He did his part in buying those tickets to make his kids happy - and then... wala.
Practice Lang Daw Talaga (PLDT).
At exactly 10pm, they announced that the "show" has ended. And then the booing started again, along with chants of "REFUND! REFUND! REFUND!"
Everyone in that coliseum was so angry, and felt cheated. Buti na lang at hindi nagkaroon ng riot. The atmosphere then was incendiary. If may isang sira ulo lang na nagtapon ng chair sa gitna ng court, the crowd would have destroyed that place.
Walking out of that coliseum, I passed by (PLDT chairman) Manny Pangilinan and I looked at him straight in the eye. There was a look of embarrassment in him, especially when I shook my head in disapproval for what has happened.
I later learned that he called up a media conference immediately and apologized for what has happened. Unlike his underlings, he was upfront and didn't try to cover his ass: there was supposed to be a game, but it was cancelled at the last minute because the NBA did not give its consent. I cannot really fault him. It's his executives at PLDT and the team which organized this event that made this mess. He was the captain of the ship that now has to apologize for his people's incompetence. It's obvious that heads will roll because of this PR nightmare, and I hope it will include that of Fermin (the PLDT executive who made an excuse that the clinic and not the game was what they planned all along).
I also hope that aside from a refund, that they will give additional concessions for those who attended the game. Sabi nga nung nasa likod ko, “Paano naman yung binayad namin sa gas, sa food at yung oras na nawala sa amin watching these stupid drills? Delicadeza na lang that those things must be compensated too.”
The consequences of last night's event will be felt in the years to come.
I don't think the NBA will look favorably sa ginawa ng SBP (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) and MVP. There won't be any NBA exhibition or official games here soon. They'll probably treat as like an unwanted "ligang labas." And condemn us all to oblivion.
Regarding PLDT, I made a vow last night never to get any of their services. I don't like top executives making bullshit excuses to cover their asses. If this guy Fermin could lie in an event like this - it's a reflection of how they are as an organization.
Regarding Gilas Pilipinas, I hope this won't put them off-track in their preparations for the World Cup and Asian Games. They were like performing animals like night - "Japeth, dunk!” or “ Beau, takbo!"
Regarding MVP, I hope that you'll choose better people, and organize things better. And aside from the refund, to give concessions.
Regarding Philippine Basketball, this would affect our chances of hosting the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship and the 2019 World Cup of Basketball. Sobra.
Right now, MVP and his people are probably meeting na on how they can do damage control, and how to move forward from this event. It's going to be very hard.
The nightmare for us ended last night. For them, it's just starting.
More news about the cancelled Gilas-NBA game: