By now in the Philippine Basketball Association, every ugly worm has crawled out of the can kicked open by what seemed like an issue that already settled itself: the trade where Kia shipped its No. 1 pick—and some say its future along with it—to powerhouse San Miguel Beer.
Lost in all the innuendo and nasty social media comments of which the PBA was at the receiving end was the fact that right before draft day, its board of governors had generally agreed to let the swap proceed. Sure, the league would have had to endure brickbats thrown by fans that deemed the deal unfair and detrimental to the goal of establishing parity, but at least some level of acceptance had been reached.
But an overzealous and unnecessary attempt to justify the trade cracked that relationship even more, splitting the league into two camps. The line dividing the two? Chito Narvasa’s tenure as PBA commissioner.
The split led to one camp’s apparent boycott of the PBA board meeting in Los Angeles, the annual conference that allows the league’s stewards to chart the course of the new season. That camp’s absence thus uncovered what no one thought possible in the history of the PBA—that the new season’s opening would be pushed back until the two camps come to an agreement, or, worse, that the season would be postponed indefinitely.
How has it come to this?
Examining each ugly worm for the root of the problem is not only time-consuming but ultimately destructive. The more the board members survey the sins of the past, the wider the gulf will be between the two camps. The best tack is for the board to move forward and ensure that the national pastime recovers its sense of permanence in the lives of its countless followers.
After all, even with the thinning live crowds and the alternative entertainment platforms in pop culture, the PBA continues to be part of the people’s lives. For as long as basketball is worshipped the way it is in this country, the PBA will continue to be a major social force.
The fans may not watch the games as often, but they still feel a sense of comfort in knowing that the league is there, trudging on amid perception problems and dwindling audience numbers. The rabid response to the war between the camp calling for Narvasa’s resignation and the other urging him to stay on is proof that the PBA still commands major attention in Philippine pop culture.
For an entire generation, it is more than just the playground of the best basketball talents in the country. It is a shelter from the daily burdens of life, the uncomplaining roommate, the ever-present friend: It is home. The board’s continued power play sends the wrong message that it is more concerned about stroking its ego than it is about giving its millions of followers the sense of assurance that the PBA brings.
Of late, there has been reason to be optimistic. During the annual PBA Press Corps awards ball, outgoing PBA chair Mikee Romero made a surprise public appearance and assured fans that the season will go on as scheduled, the rift between the warring board members will be healed, the show will go on. And as if to bolster that vow, the league posted a copy of the opening-week schedule—a copy of which was leaked on social media the day before.
But fans are still holding their breath. Even that evidence of a Dec. 17 opening bears a contentious feature: Narvasa’s signature as the PBA’s approving authority. And beyond Romero’s assurance, no one from the opposing camp has come out to express support for Narvasa’s continued stay as commissioner.
Until that happens, any promise of the new season opening on time is wrapped in doubt caused by the current disarray in the board. For one, it is a race against the clock to get things started. The board needs to deal with the worms it has spilled. It needs to set the direction of the new season. It has to come up with a definite schedule of games and guidelines for the coming tournaments. And it has to do all that with a commissioner it unanimously backs.