Remembering the MBA

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

It’s been 16 years since the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) started operations, and 12 years since it closed shop. For those of us who were part of that merry traveling, it was the time of our lives. Recently, the majority of us who made up the pool of commentators and producers reunited for the first time, ever. Many of us still work together occasionally with the ABS-CBN Sports group, others have entered totally different fields, and a couple have passed away. But it was a painfully rare chance to rekindle old friendships and sharpen the colors of those old memories.

At a new restaurant in Quezon City, 12 of us reminisced about the constant traveling, as well as some realization about how dangerous it could have been for us as we traversed the length and breadth of the country following the teams to their home towns. All told, we covered games in various locations in Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Manila, San Juan, Pasig, Cainta, Batangas, Laguna, Iloilo, Antique, Bacolod, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao and Butuan. We stayed in fancy hotels, small inns, pension houses, resorts of every description. Some hotels had worms coming out of the shower (or no water), toilets whose flushing sounded like a grenade blast, swimming pools that left a slimy coating on your skin, bad food, no television or phones, noisy air conditioning, creaking metal spring beds, and all sorts of surprising living conditions. 

At one point, we had to stay in a motel in Pampanga since there were no decent hotels yet. And it was kind of awkward to have our names plastered on the door of each unit’s garage, as if you were having an announced tryst with your fellow announcers who also happened to be male. But we didn’t care. We were on the road, seeing new places every week, getting paid to talk basketball. Each week was a new experience, and we were treated like rock stars. It was a lot of fun.

It was also a period of discovery, an educational experience. Part of that education was avoiding your colleagues who snored the loudest (that will remain our secret), or rooming them together and letting them hash it out. It included who ate the most, drank the most, slept the most, talked the most when sober, talked the most when drunk, or talked the most, period. After a few weeks of lugging around heavy baggage, most of us learned how to pack lighter, or convinced newcomers that they had to carry our bags. We learned where the best restaurants were in every city, the fastest way to the airport, where the water was safe.

On those long trips, we got to joke about everything, from music trivia (Butch Maniego and Bob Novales were the experts) to sexy film stars from the 1960’s onwards (Butch again) to making up team names, some of which you can’t repeat in polite conversation. We saw each other face challenging times, and learned so much about being Filipino.

The routine was physically demanding. We had to meet at the network at 2:30 in the morning for the shuttle to the airport for a 5 a.m. flight. It was hard to get used to boarding while it was still dark, then disembarking in full sunlight. Games were played in the early afternoon into the evening and we had to wear coats and ties whether there was air-conditioning or not. In South Cotabato, it literally took less than a minute for my perspiration to go through my shirt. It would be so hot, my face would be flushed by halftime. Luckily, General Santos City built an air-conditioned gym. 

Some people remember the MBA as being the league where the crowd threw stuff at the players. That actually started in Cebu. The Gems were leading by eight points, when one of their players accidentally stepped out of bounds with the basketball. The fans erupted into a shower of debris, and the opposing team naturally thought they were the target. So this began throwing incidents everywhere we went. In the line of duty, I’ve been hit by coins (the eight-sided P2 and round P1 kinds), cardboard fans, half-filled water bottles, plastic cups, paper airplanes, toilet paper, and once had a spark plug fly past my ear in Pasig. The Negros Slashers started bringing beach umbrellas with them to Cebu, and they were only opened indoors.

PBA Most Valuable Player Willie Miller (Nueva Ecija Patriots), Dondon Hontiveros (Cebu Gems), Rudy Hatfield (Laguna Lakers), John Ferriols (Negros Slashers), Reynel Hugnatan (Negros Slashers), PJ Simon (Davao Eagles), Romel Adducul (Manila Metrostars), Don Camaso (Manila Metrostars), Donbel Belano (Davao Eagles), Alex Crisano (Pangasinan Presidents), Rob Wainwright (Cebu Gems), Chris Clay (Laguna Lakers), Dorian Peña (Negros Slashers) were just some of the MetroBall players who made the leap to the PBA. Alaska Aces head coach Alex Compton was the sole beneficiary of a rule that allowed foreign players who were born in the Philippines to play in the league when it opened in 1998. The rule was removed the following year. Compton and Clay played as locals in the MBA and imports in the PBA. But the “Heartbreaker” has the rare distinction of having played in both the MBA (also with the Batangas Blades) and the PBA and also coach in the latter.

Those of us who attended the reunion still wax poetic about those three and a half years of bliss from another time, and each has followed his own path. Sev Sarmenta continued as a sports broadcaster and followed his family’s tradition in education. Butch Maniego passed away two years ago. Mico Halili has become one of the most recognized names in Philippine basketball, and is married to his fellow MBA courtside reporter Pia Arcangel, who is now one of the most credible news anchors of the GMA network. Danny Francisco joined the corporate world of the Lhuilliers, who owned the Cebu Gems and support other sports. Bob Novales is still a disc jockey, now for an online radio network and is still a sought-after voice talent. Bobby Yan flirted with politics in San Juan and hosts his own magazine show. Lexi Schulze anchors a program on the ABS-CBN News Channel. Alex Santos is now a veteran newsman. Ira Panganiban has been on radio and is a known motoring journalist. Pia Gonzales is now happily married and based in London. Her vacation was the reason for our reunion. Our producers Jenny Jimenez, Marco Franco, Mitch Ku, Vic and Louie Caridad all found a home in ABS-CBN. This writer will be marking his 30th year in broadcasting next year, and 20th with The STAR soon after that. 

And we will always have those vivid memories of the MBA to bind us.


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