THE building and maintaining of a long-term national-team program for basketball has long been a project many have attempted to be a part of. For those who have been around long enough to remember, it’s true that the Philippines was at one time considered the best in Asia and certainly world class in the sport. But many who follow basketball now weren’t even born yet (yours truly included) when that happened and most of us now continue to wonder if it’s still worth spending the time, money and energy to try to get back some of that old glory again.
It’s still a wonder to me as to why Filipinos, despite the lack of height and athletic ability, love basketball so much. We play it, and follow it with a passion like no other sport. The money spent on basketball exceeds all other sports combined. The country overflows with basketball tournaments and leagues for all levels of talent. The availability of hoops on television has got to be more than any other country in the world. Basketball TV has the NBA, the PBL, the Euroleague, WNBA, the NBDL, FIBA, and whatever else worldwide tournament there is. Then there’s Liga Pilipinas to add to the PBA and the UAAP/NCAA. If you count all the different leagues and tournaments, there are now over 1000 games shown on Philippine TV with only 365 days in a year.
With so much obvious interest and passion, we as a country cannot turn our backs on building the best national team possible. The now-defunct Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) embarrassed our country when they were in charge of the country’s relationship with FIBA, the worldwide body who runs the basketball affairs. Once, we even sent the team from the Philippine College of Criminology to represent the country, a college that would’ve been lucky to be considered in the top 20 in the Philippines.
The new group Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) seems to have more direction and less self-serving intentions. We appreciate the PBL and Mikee Romero and others who have helped the SBP and sacrificed for the country, but unless we have PBA players, we will not have a chance outside Southeast Asia. With pro players, a ninth-place finish in Asia is a big disapointment. Without the pro players, we languished between the 12th and 16th spots in Asia. Our hearts can only take us so far, we still need enough talent to go along with it.
The PBA last week declared once again to commit their players and resources to build a national program. When I headed the marketing of the PBA four years ago, the participation of the league toward a national team was in my mind crucial to the league’s popularity and a goodwill gesture toward the basketball community. The best players, coaches and technology belonged to the PBA. I bought into Noli Eala’s vision that in order to make the pro league popular again, a full commitment was needed to the Philippine team. The PBA calendar was adjusted to coincide with the FIBA schedules. Now, commissioner Sonny Barrios along with the Board of Governors are recommitting the league after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the FIBA Asia Championships. The risk is there. Ticket sales and ratings have been known to drop when the focus is taken out of the actual PBA tournament and shifted to the national team. And what if we finish ninth again in the next qualifiers? It also costs many, many millions to build and sustain a team. Many say that we are spending too much money and paying too much attention to something that we don’t have a chance in being the best in the world at.
So is it worth the risk?
Absolutely. We as a race may not be as gifted or as talented in basketball, but our passion as a nation and our love for the sport counts for a whole lot. Basketball is our love. When you love something, you don’t settle for second best. So bring on all the risk and the problems that come with putting together the best national team as possible. We’ll let our love for the game figure out how to solve whatever comes our way. Our countrymen need to know that we are doing everything possible because the sport fuels our hearts. Sending another team like the Philippine College of Criminology is much more expensive alternative if you consider value for money, not to mention pride and credibility in the international community.