Turbulence in the pro basketball league

“We can’t win these games with bad referee calls,” Manuel V. Pangilinan, owner of Talk N Text Tropang Texters basketball team, posted on Twitter. Head Coach Jong Uichico said in the post-game interview, “It’s given when you’re playing against the San Miguel group. I have been there.” Note what he said, “the San Miguel group.” Had he said “San Miguel Beer”, I can interpret that to mean that San Miguel Beer is a perennial powerhouse and it is hard to beat. But that interpretation would be gratuitous because there were conferences when the San Miguel team was a pushover as in the 2011 Commissioner’s Cup when it ended in 9th place.

When Jong said “San Miguel group,” he meant the three teams under the corporate umbrella of San Miguel Corporation: San Miguel/Petron, Purefoods, and Ginebra. He said he has been there. We can take that literally because he has been coach of San Miguel Beer and Ginebra San Miguel.

Jong must know there is a common factor that gives SMC teams the edge over non-SMC teams – the referees. It’s not that the referees are paid by SMC to favor the SMC teams. The referees are influenced by the crowd. A survey conducted some time ago indicated that Ginebra, Purefoods, and San Miguel, in that order, are the most popular teams.

Undoubtedly, Jong got to know the edge well when he coached Ginebra. The strategy of coaches of non-SMC teams, even of other SMC teams, when playing against Ginebra is to get control of the game from the very start and not allow Ginebra to rally at any point of the game. Otherwise, the stadium reverberates with the chant “Ginebra, Ginebra, Ginebra.” And the referees get carried away.

The best way to beat Ginebra is to gain and maintain a commanding lead up to the last minute of the game. In a close game, the referees are afraid to make calls that go against Ginebra. Maintain a big lead, that is exactly what TNT did when it played against Ginebra in the quarterfinals, eliminating the crowd’s favorite from the semifinals of the current conference.

PBA Commissioner Chito Salud told reporters that he is not going to fine Jong for his remarks because they were in reference to the San Miguel group. Just exactly what did the SMC group do to make it hard for opposing teams to beat an SMC team? Should not Salud investigate to preserve the integrity of the PBA?

Talk ‘N Text team owner Pangilinan was not cryptic. He didn’t say referees’ calls were bad for both teams. He said, “We can’t win with bad referee calls.” The implication is the bad calls went against his team that is why it lost.

Hired professionals like former Alaska Coach Luigi Trillo, former TNT Coach Norman Black, and Purefoods B-Meg Coach Tim Cone have been slapped stiff fines for similar remarks. Rain or Shine Coach Yeng Guiao was fined P100 K, but for directing a dirty finger at the PBA officials’ table. When he was with Barako Bull, Player Don Allado was fined P500 K and suspended for one whole conference, but for accusing the league itself of fixing games.

Salud was silent with regard to fining the TNT owner. His statement on the officiating during the San Miguel-TNT game was simply: “I assure everyone concerned that game officials are prepped in advance to anticipate this sort of dynamics and hence are aware and equipped to deal with them as they happen.” He called on the teams to focus on giving their best as they play the game on the merits.

Salud would not dare fine a PBA team owner. He does not have the stature to stand up to business moguls like Boss Danding and MVP, each of whom represents three votes in the PBA governing body. He could not even stand up to the owner of a new team in the league. He had to submit to the wishes of the owner of the new PBA team Kia Sorento who wanted the celebrated world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao to be head coach of the team and at the same time the team’s 1st Round draft choice.

Pacquiao had no exposure or experience as a coach or player in any basketball tournament, college or otherwise, sanctioned by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, the national sports association for basketball. His only experience is playing pick-up basketball with his amoyongs. Every follower of the PBA recognized the incongruity and ridiculousness of an unskilled rookie being the head coach of the same team. Salud saw it too but he allowed it because he was UTI – under the influence …of a team owner.

If one says that the choice of Pacquiao is the team owner’s prerogative, then it can also be said that swapping players is also the team owners’ right. But Salud has disapproved player trades, supposedly because they could create imbalance in teams’ competitiveness. But fining a team owner for remarks that undermines the integrity of the league is a different matter. That is a direct or personal confrontation of a PBA team owner. And the team owner at issue happens to be the president of Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.

Only the pioneer PBA commissioner Leo Prieto had the stature to stand up to the owners of PBA teams. Prieto himself described the requirements expected of a PBA commissioner as one who “must have a good grasp of the game” and one “who the PBA Board of Governors can trust and respect.” He met the requirements perfectly.

He was coach of the Don Manolo Elizalde team Yco in the old semi-pro league Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association, forerunner of the PBA. He coached the team to many MICAA championships as well as national championships. During his outstanding stint as Yco coach he was chosen as coach of the national team that was to participate in the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia in 1956. The team placed seventh..

Prieto was a successful businessman. He was the franchisee of several foreign and local well-known chains of restaurants. Prieto did not butter up to the team owners or the governors as he was not dependent on his salary as PBA commissioner. In fact, he donated it to charity. He could have put up his own PBA team if he wanted to. He was president of the Manila Jockey Club and was a staunch supporter of soccer football.

No other PBA commissioner can come close to Prieto’s credentials. Not the present PBA Commissioner. Just think, he approved the appointment of a raw unskilled player as head coach of a PBA team and at the same time approved the inclusion of that PBA head coach in the rookie draft. Laughable. And this at the instance of the owner of a brand new team in the league.

With Pacquiao as head coach, the PBA has become just a little better than an outdoor billboard or a provincial moviehouse as an advertising medium where Pacquiao endorses yet another product.

Can we expect Blackwater Elite to appoint Daniel Padilla or Gerald Anderson as head coach in the near future? Both aspired to be PBA players before they got sidetracked to the movie world. They play better basketball than the 8-division world boxing champion.

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