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No lifetime ban on Balkman

There appears to be a misunderstanding on the PBA’s decision to ban Petron import Renaldo Balkman. According to PBA special assistant to the commissioner Willy Marcial, the ban isn’t forever unlike how it was described in some news reports.

“Commissioner (Chito) Salud never mentioned it was for life,” said Marcial. “If Balkman shows good behavior on the court in another league, the PBA will surely be open to welcome him back after a year or so. The ban isn’t indefinite.”

Balkman, 28, took a direct hit with regard to his playing career when the PBA slapped a ban and a P250,000 fine for his ballistic eruption with less than a minute left in Petron’s loss to Alaska at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Friday. A source close to Balkman said his agent and publicist in the US were in absolute dismay over the incident.

“It will take at least two years for this to wash out,” said the source. “His agent was working on a possible 10-day contract in the NBA but that’s out the window now. There was interest from teams in the NBA D-League and China, too. Now, he’ll head for Puerto Rico and it’s not even sure if he’ll be signed up. Balkman has to be worried about his future.”

Last Monday, Balkman was summoned to a meeting by Salud at the PBA office.  Salud previously said Balkman would need a convincing argument to justify what he did in his fit of rage. During the meeting, Salud told Balkman that as an import, he isn’t just a team leader but also a role model for the league’s young fans. He also asked Balkman to express his notions of sportsmanship, accountability and respect for authority. It’s interesting that the tattoo on Balkman’s left thigh made by Filipino artist Ryan Dante lists certain attributes under the heading “Character” and two are accountability and respect. Evidently, Salud wasn’t convinced of Balkman’s sincerity.

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While Salud was unforgiving in meting out Balkman’s sentence, he qualified it had no reflection whatsoever on the integrity or values associated with the Petron franchise or the San Miguel Corp. group. “Petron/SMC franchise’s reputation is solid and unshakeable,” said Salud. “I respectfully disagree with anyone who will say otherwise, much more on the basis of an import’s individual and singular act. It just isn’t the case. The SMC group is a great franchise run by great leaders. I know many of them personally and I only have great respect for them.  Mr. (Eduardo) Cojuangco, Jr. and Mr. (Ramon) Ang are pillars of Philippine society whom I have followed and admired ever since. The PBA and their franchise have been together for a long, long time and that’s valuable in every respect.”

Ironically, slapping a two or three-game suspension on Balkman instead of a ban would’ve been more crippling. A ban allows Petron to sign up a replacement import immediately while a suspension will not permit an interim substitute, a severe handicap considering the Blaze Boosters’ next three games are against Rain Or Shine, Talk ‘N’ Text and Alaska. There is talk that Petron is recalling former Barako Bull import Rodney White of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to the PBA as Balkman’s replacement. But White won’t be able to fly in until Sunday – the day after the Rain Or Shine encounter in Panabo, Davao del Norte.

Apparently, Salud put a lot of weight on Balkman’s history of suspensions in deciding his fate. Balkman was suspended in the NBA for elbowing Sasha Vujacic in 2008 and in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas for headbutting Grevis Vasquez two years ago. He was also cited for belligerent behavior during Petron’s exhibition game with Alaska in Cebu before the conference started.

“Because of Balkman’s past history, it would’ve been a big risk for the PBA to allow him to continue playing,” a source said. “What if he explodes again and this time, with a fan as a victim? The PBA would never forgive itself for giving him another chance, knowing he has a history of throwing tantrums. It wasn’t just a penalty for what Balkman did but also a measure to protect the league from a repeat of something similar.”

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The San Miguel Corp. group’s reaction of reevaluating its position as regards participation in the PBA is understandable.  The group is extremely protective of its positive image as a major player in the country’s economy, an employer of thousands and a leader in several industrial sectors. A decision to ban a Petron player indirectly stains the reputation of the highly admired conglomerate despite Salud’s assurance that the decision had nothing to do with the group’s lofty principles.

Perhaps, the PBA could’ve informed the San Miguel Corp. group of its decision before making a public announcement so as to allow Petron the opportunity to issue a statement in anticipation of the ban. This way, a misunderstanding would’ve been avoided and Petron could’ve been spared the embarrassment of being identified with the ban. Still, the PBA and the San Miguel Corp. group have been partners for too long to let an incident involving an import destroy their relationship. The PBA could never be as strong without the San Miguel Corp. group in the fold. The hope is this misunderstanding will bring understanding and harmony from top to bottom in the league that millions of Filipinos love with a passion.

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