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Bigger than basketball

We want them to be at their best when the league starts

Bea Micaller

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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus had been the biggest test to humanity.

No less than the staging of the Tokyo Olympics was canceled on top of other sports leagues in the world like the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Football League, La Liga, English Premier League and various Olympic qualifying tournaments.

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) League was no exception.

Barely few days after raising its curtains, the league was forced to call off its season after the national government placed the country under enhanced community quarantine in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The staging of contact sports and mass gatherings were banned while strict health and safety protocols like social distancing, washing of hands, wearing of masks and consistent temperature checking became the new norms.

With the country under total lockdown, sports leagues halted and athletes being limited to virtual training, the PBA found itself in a dark, massive hole that serves as a test to its character.

Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar slams against Phoenix’s Jason Perkins in the PBA Governors’ Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum, September 28, 2019 (Rio Deluvio)

But instead of rolling over and die, PBA commissioner Willie Marcial did some steps to keep the league and its employees’ heads above water and survive the three-month lockdown brought by the massive health crisis.

Virus-hit league
While some organizations are starting the shave their payrolls, PBA commissioner Willie Marcial did the unthinkable: He grabbed the crisis by the horn and invested on the men and women who made the league successful in its 45 years of existence.

It was a major sacrifice considering that the league — like the world’s biggest organizations — has been losing P30 million a month from ticket sales, advertising and sponsorships. With Metro Manila in a lockdown for three months, the league had already lost close to P100 million.

“The PBA continues to support its referees and game-day crew despite the pandemic,” Marcial told Daily Tribune in a previous interview.

“We have around 100 employees, 41 of them are being paid on per-game basis. But we have to make sure that everybody is covered and taken care of in this time of pandemic. This is the perfect time to band together for everyone’s survival.”

Marcial admitted that the virus threw their plans in disarray.

In fact, during their planning session in Italy last February, PBA chairman Ricky Vargas of TNT KaTropa projected that they would be having a 33-percent increase in their income this year.

Vargas, the trusted man of industrialist Manny Pangilinan, said the future definitely looks bright and 2020 was turning into a banner year not just on the business aspect, but also in terms of competition.

NLEX’s Kenneth Ighalo appears to use his face to block Alaska’s Jake Pascual during the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, May 29, 2019 (Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

Then, the pandemic happened.

“Nobody saw it coming,” Marcial said.

“But the good thing was that we were ready. We didn’t let this pandemic affect the stability of the league and livelihood of its employees.”

Life support
Right now, the PBA has 21 referees with nine blowing their whistles in the PBA D-League under the leadership of technical director Eric Castro and supervisor of officials Bong Pascual.

Marcial said they never reneged on their commitment to the referees, knowing that they form the backbone of the league.

“These referees continue to get their monthly paychecks ranging from P30,000 to P40,00 despite having the stoppage of games,” Marcial said.

“Our technical director, Eric Castro, makes sure to keep them busy by holding regular Zoom meetings and giving them training program to keep them fit in this long quarantine period.”

Aside from giving them financial support, the league also makes sure that the mental well-being of its employees is being taken care of.

“We’re keeping them busy,” Castro said.

“In fact, we even came up with exercises and training programs to keep them in shape.”

“We want them to be at their best when the league starts.”

The league also lends a helping hand to its broadcasters who treat their PBA jobs as their bread and butter.

Noted TV commentators Noel Zarate and Jay Dela Cruz bared that they are constantly receiving financial support from PBA despite the indefinite suspension of the games.

“The PBA and ESPN5 are giving us financial support,” said Zarate, a seasoned broadcaster who is in the business for more than two decades now.

“But it’s okay. I still have money from my savings and I still earn from my regular job as VO (voice over) talent of Solar Sports.”

Dela Cruz, an active commentator for PBA Radio, D-League, PSL and University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), confirmed the PBA’s claims and bared that it has them covered.

“The cash flowing on my side mostly comes from the assistance provided by the PBA and cash advances from the leagues I cover with respect to the number of games we are supposed to work on,” Dela Cruz said.

The virus may have ceased PBA from staging its games.

But it definitely did not stop the league from handing out perfect assists to its people — and it’s something far bigger than basketball.

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