Part I: The Need to Globalize Philippine Basketball

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) model is now outmoded. They’re still living in the past, trying to cling on the spirit of its heydays in the 70’s and the 80’s. Sad to say, the spunk and glamor are gone. Well, at least for me, an avid basketball fan, who had religiously followed the league, game after game, until the early 90’s. Same can probably be said about our existing insular brand of “basketball infrastructure”, from the various collegiate leagues to the various commercial leagues, professional and amateur.

One can say that this insular point of view has kept us from improving to an acceptable level of regional or, even, global standards. In this 3-part series about Philippine Basketball, I aim to put forward ideas that the leaders of the sport can consider, toy around with, and hopefully, implement successfully — all with the end-view of putting the Philippines back to a podium place finish in regional and international tournaments.

For me, there were three (3) major developments that changed the world and the game of basketball, as it is now. First, FIBA’s decision to allow professional players to compete in FIBA-sanctioned international competitions. Second, the burgeoning popularity and worldwide reach of the NBA. And finally, the influx of foreign players into the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The PBA responded right away by fielding in an All-Pro team in 1990 for the Beijing Asiad and had sent select teams made up of pros since then. The best finish we ever achieved since we started sending our PBA players to international tournaments was a runner-up placing behind China in that 1990 version of the Asian Games. We then finished 3rd in the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games, 4th in the Bangkok Asiad in 1998, and 4th again in the 2002 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar (we would’ve placed 2nd behind China once again if not for that last second 3 point shot by Lee Sang Min of South Korea — and the 2 missed free throws by Olsen Racela — in the semis of that tournament).

At best, those initial forays were less than fully systematic. Constant arguments and debates on how to properly execute a basketball program geared towards developing a national pool of professional players hounded local basketball aficionados and kept them from effectively implementing a grand, sustained plan. There were even controversies against fielding in a foreign coach in Tim Cone. Ron Jacobs also had a hard time getting appointed to the national coaching job. Jacobs was given the nod eventually, but could not fulfill his duties as he was struck by a physical ailment while getting ready to prepare the national team for the 2002 Asian Games.

It was only recently that a semblance of order and a well-thought out program was instituted. PBA Conference schedules were made to synch with and give way to international basketball tournament schedules. A national training pool was created. A pool of coaches were nominated and selected. PBA team owners were providing full cooperation. But then, the unfortunate hand of bad luck struck Philippine Basketball as we were suspended by the FIBA and precluded from participating in FIBA-sanctioned basketball competitions. All because of politics in basketball.

The Pilipinas Basketball program was somehow derailed by this unfortunate turn of events. It may be a blessing in disguise as we now have a unified hoops organization in Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (BAP-SBP) that is bent on reclaiming lost glory for Philippine basketball. But the important fact is… our basketball gods knew that somewhere, somehow, the road to recovery starts with a recognition of unity and the need for cooperation.

But then again. That’s just the start of the long road ahead.