The MBA legacy

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 30, 2017 - 12:00am

It has been almost 20 years since the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) played its first games all over the country, and left a lasting mark on Philippine basketball. Just as the American Basketball Association was the rebellious, loud, colorful antithesis of the more staid, established National Basketball Association in its day with its fast-breaking, slam-dunking, three-point shooting weapons of crass distraction, the short-lived Metropolitan Basketball Association presented itself as a regional, national league. Granted, it had its flaws, but the intention was noble, not really to usurp the motherhood status of the Philippine Basketball Association, but to present an alternative with a large potential for growth.

The MBA had its unique rules, which made it both controversial, whimsical and radical. It was experimental in so many ways, and many of the rules were chucked out the window. Firstly, since the games would be televised on Studio 23 (now ABS-CBN Sports+Action, the shot clock was artificially shortened to 23 seconds, a subliminal suggestion that the games would be faster and higher-scoring. Games were played home and away, which dramatically increased the cost of travel, food and accommodations not just for the teams, but for the broadcasters, as well. This monumental endeavor was undertaken by ABS-CBN, which also purchased two state-of-the-art broadcast vans expressly to cover the games all over Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, something that had never been done before.

Striving to be different and play the game at an accelerated pace, the league added some rules that had likewise never been implemented before. In act of shooting or free throw-awarding fouls, the shooter was given the option of two free throws or a “free three”, an unmolested three-point attempt. The line-up along the shaded lane was extended outward, and the shooter positioned himself at the top of the three-point arc. It was a big risk, big reward situation that many trailing teams took advantage of. Sometimes, a made free three would shock the leading team and lead to a thrilling rally.

The MBA also revved up the game another way. A team that scored within four seconds after an opponent’s made basket was awarded three-point for the quick basket. This forced teams with big leads not to relax on defense, thinking it was a won game. Needless to say, the accelerated scoring pace resulted in some wild, occasionally reckless finishes. Still, the league had the players for it, young, tireless, excitable rookies who were willing to try anything to make a name. Even the fans were newbies. In some cases, the volume of shrill shrieking cheers at a first basket sounded like the last two minutes of Game 7. In some venues like Rizal Memorial Colleges gym, the shouting literally shook the dust from the rafters.

The broadcast team brought together the best of new talent and the late 1980’s to early ‘90’s Vintage TV panel. Veteran anchormen onboard were Sev Sarmenta, Bob Novales and yours truly. In the second season, the exceptional Mico Halili was elevated from courtside reporter at our suggestion. And the rest, as the cliché goes, is history. Analysts were a varied mix of former players and well-known experts, from Sen. Freddie Webb to coaches like Joel Banal. Some of the new analysts, already jaded, deeply experienced coaches, were so pumped up by working an MBA game, they found it difficult to sleep afterwards. It was a very raw experience, steaming hot venues with lustily cheering crowds, and the occasional foreign objects flying onto the hardwood.

It was inevitable that the MBA would run headlong into the PBA, with all the talent it was developing. One of the PBA’s first big catches was 6’6” power forward of the champion Manila MetroStars. But many others made their names in the PBA in the years that followed: Romel Adducul, Dondon Hontiveros, Dorian Peña, Wynne Arboleda, Rafi Reavis, John Ferriols, Donbel Belano, Reynel Hugnatan, Eddie Laure, and others. Chris Clay and Rudy Hatfield of the Laguna Lakers and Alex Compton of the MetroStars also played in the PBA, Clay and Compton as imports. In return, the MBA acquired PBA vets Vince Hizon, Alvin Teng, Richie Ticzon and a handful of others. But the traffic generally flowed one way, an exodus to bigger contracts in the PBA.

In its short life, the MBA gave us the Pampanga Dragons, Manila MetroStars, Laguna Lakers, Pasig-Rizal Pirates, San Juan Knights, Batangas Blades, Iloilo MegaVolts, Cebu Gems, Cagayan de Oro Amigos, Davao Eagles. The rules required at least half of the players for each team hail from the vicinity of their home court. Many were discovered, some choosing to make the pilgrimage to the PBA in Metro Manila, others opting to stay closer to home, where life was simpler and family was within reach. Coaches found jobs, players became coaches, and the wheel of basketball life turned.

On the broadcast side, three of the talents discovered in the MBA have gone on to have long careers in broadcasting. Halili and his wife, GMA 7 newscaster Pia Arcangel, first worked together while traveling all over the country as courtside reporters. Ira Panganiban, who started with GMA, became a newsman after his years doing interviews and updates for the MBA. Lexi Schulze is now a well-recognized news presenter for ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC). Butch Maniego and I worked together on the MBA, PBA, PBL, UAAP and NCAA, something that will not happen again. Some of the broadcast team have gone on to other things like teaching, producing, directing and of course, having families here and overseas. All that history was brought about by the short, fiery existence of the MBA.

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