Tanduay making PBA comeback?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

For 16 years, the Tanduay franchise stood proudly as a contender in the PBA but since leaving the league in 2001, Lucio Tan’s flagship liquor company has been absent from the pros. The emergence of Boracay Rum, a brand in Tan’s distillery group, in the PBA D-League has fueled speculation that Tanduay may be considering a return to the majors.

Surely, Lucio (Bong) Tan, Jr., 48, misses basketball. Last Wednesday, he showed up with Boracay coach Lawrence Chongson to check out Game 2 of the PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series between Rain Or Shine and Petron at the Mall of Asia Arena. Tan’s presence in the PBA game added even more speculation that Tanduay is seriously mulling a comeback to the league.

Although Tan is now consumed with increasing responsibilities in the family business, he remains passionate about the sport and talks about it with a high level of knowledge. “I love the game and I know there is a lot of business value in playing in the PBA,” he said. “At the proper time, maybe, my father might consider coming back to the PBA. Who knows? It’s a perfect vehicle for companies like ours involved in retail marketing. Personally, what I’d like to see in the PBA is balance. It would be more democratic if the PBA limits every investing group to a 20 percent vote in the Board.”

Tan said Tanduay left the PBA in 2001 with a heavy heart. “We paid a fine of P11 Million because the league ruled that for every game we played Sonny Alvarado and Eric Menk, we had to pay P500,000,” he said. “That was because at that time, their citizenship papers were under scrutiny. Eric was later cleared because it’s obvious his mother is Filipina but we never got our money back. As for Alvarado, we picked him in the PBA draft and presumed his nationality was cleared because if not, he wouldn’t have been included in the pool. Anyway, that’s over. We’re not asking for our money back. It was just a difficult period. We were competitive and in our mind, we didn’t break any rules.”

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Tanduay even resorted to obtaining TROs so Alvarado and Menk could play but later withdrew from forcing the issue in the spirit of sportsmanship. “My father became unhappy with the situation,” said Tan. “It was not long after that we pulled out of the PBA.” With Chris Banchero and Mark Belo leading the charge for Boracay, Tan said there is excitement once again in the Tanduay camp.

Tan is immersed and pre-occupied with business as Tanduay president and CEO, chairman of MacroAsia and a member of the Board of several top-rate companies like PNB, PAL and Eton Properties. There is so much on his plate that Tan said he looks forward to his only weekly break, every Tuesday night playing golf with close friends at Intramuros. A year ago, Tan outdid himself by beating golf pro and buddy Gerard Cantada, 55-57, over 18 holes in what has to be the highlight of his history on the greens.

Not too many know that Tan was once offered by Robert Jaworski to be Ginebra San Miguel’s top draft pick in 1995.  Tan was back in Manila after earning a degree in civil engineering with minors in math and Chinese Mandarin at the University of California Davis and often joined the Stag practices.  Stag was Tanduay’s team in the PBL, forerunner of the PBA D-League. Tan said he remembers matching up against Bal David in scrimmages and holding his own.

“We were neighbors with coach Jaworski at Corinthian Gardens and sometimes, bumped into each other jogging in the village,” said Tan. “I felt I could play in the PBA, I was at my peak. But my father wouldn’t hear of it. He didn’t want me to become a professional player. He wanted me to concentrate on the family business. Besides, Ginebra is our competitor. So my draft never happened. Instead, Ginebra picked Dodot (Jaworski) in the draft that year.”

Tan had another close call in playing high-level hoops. In 1995, he was in the 15-man pool for the Southeast Asian Games. Coach Joe Lipa and assistant coach Alfrancis Chua were at the helm of the national squad. “I would’ve loved to play for our country,” said Tan. “But Mike Orquillas, one of our players, was about to turn pro and wanted the chance to play so I gave up my slot in the pool for him. No regrets. I would gladly give up the chance for somebody else whose goal is to become a professional player.”

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Tan, however, had his opportunity to play international basketball the next year with Fortune Cigarets under coach Bong Go. “We were invited to play in a tournament in Malaysia,” he said. “We were surprised that several Southeast Asian national teams came to play so it was like the Southeast Asian Games all over again. We didn’t have any name players. I remember one of our players was Joey Jimenez. We beat every team with no problem.”

Twice, Tan scored 100 points in a game. Once, he did it with Triton in the Philippine Stock Exchange league in 1996 and another time, in the St. Jude alumni league. Tan’s ability to score from long range is widely known in basketball circles. The call to focus on the family business eventually brought Tan away from the court and into the boardroom.

In the business world, Tan is recognized for his vision as a business executive. In 1999, he said he started the country’s first call center XIC in Eastwood. Two years later, he opened a multi-service company in Singapore to focus on the developing “dot.com” industry. Singapore is close to Tan’s heart because he finished high school at Dunman in the sovereign city-state.

In 2006, Tan completed the academic requirements for his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University through a link-up with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The degree armed Tan with even more tools to take on major business challenges ahead. Among the notable Filipino graduates of Northwestern, based in Illinois, are Secretary of Finance Cesar Purisima, Central Bank Gov. Amando Tetangco, RCBC president Lorenzo Tan, highly-regarded banker and Philippine Hoteliers president Evelyn Singson and NBA Philippine country manager Carlo Singson.

 Will Tanduay return to the PBA? League chairman Ramon Segismundo recently said the league is open to expansion. In one or two or three years, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tanduay came back to the PBA with a vengeance.












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