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Sports

League business

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

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.                 – John Lyndgate

Once again, the Philippine Basketball Association is in the news for significant player trades. Just as questions about CJ Perez being traded for bench players and a draft pick were dying down, now a more behaved Calvin Abueva is heading to Magnolia for Chris Banchero and a pair of draft picks. Some observers are fanning the flames of anti-San Miguel Corporation sentiments, arguing that the strong teams are getting stronger, and that these trades defeat the purpose of a draft in the first place. Setting aside emotions, let’s try to break the issue down.

First of all, the PBA is a private enterprise. They can pretty much do whatever they want, as long as it does not break the law or cause extreme upset on the part of the fans. The league will always try to balance public perception with the interests of its member teams. If it appears that some teams don’t want to win (or spend) as much as others, then that is the risk they take. The league has its own managers and gate-keepers who filter these decisions. Every trade approved by the league carries its own risks.

Secondly, the league is regulated by the government through the Games and Amusements Board, which is undergoing a renaissance under the inclusive policies of chairman Baham Mitra and his board. GAB officers are at every official PBA game, on the lookout for wrongdoing. It has to be proven if any league member or official is acting against the best interests of the league. And that is always, always the challenge of law enforcement. They need evidence. Bad intention is not enough to propel investigation. It has to be manifested, and its negative impact has to be substantiated. If a losing team stays that way without any further deterioration, it may simply be a result of a combination of factors. One injury throws all assumptions out the window. The burden of proof is always on any accuser.

San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia have won all the championships staked since the 2017-2018 season. Those teams were all largely formed already when commissioner Willie Marcial came aboard. This is likely where the perception that league parity is waning comes from. Some point out the embarrassment of riches that some teams possess in terms of talent. But in four of those finals, the runners-up were other franchises. Is that enough parity? What is enough? Of course, officials of the teams that don’t win will also have their own dissatisfaction. Whether they choose to present a united front publicly, or complain through other means like friends in the media, is up to them.

Long-time Oakland Athletics executive Billy Beane was roundly criticized for recruiting an odd bunch of baseball players in the 1990’s onward. But he was actually pioneering the use of statistical analysis in combining lower-priced or undervalued players to overachieve and win. This became the subject of the 2003 book and 2011 film “Moneyball”. NBA teams were slow to adapt this mathematical advance, but many now do. The question is if the teams at the other ends of these high-profile trades are implementing similar analytics or are simply winging it.

At the end of the day, the PBA is a strong institution and is still a viable entertainment option, even with the multitude of competitive online content. Whether or not it will ever rise back up to the levels of popularity it enjoyed until the late 1980’s, time will tell. Today’s situation is vastly different, and access to competitive sports content is so easy. Then again, in sports, there are times when you end up satisfying only half the people some of the time.

CHRIS
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