Some fans head for the exit. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
Who do we blame? It’s an ugly human trait, something that Filipinos are often accused of doing way too often rather than admit guilt. But playing the blame game is often what we resort to when we feel that we have been wronged or an injustice has been done against us.
In the case of the debacle that was “The Last Home Stand,” what was supposed to be a great send-off for the Gilas Pilipinas squad against NBA players before our boys competed in international tournaments, became an unmitigated disaster.
The fallout from this might have lon- term effects for the national team members, for the PLDT Group led by Manny V. Pangilinan, and for the international reputation of the Philippines.
In 2011, in the middle of the NBA’s most recent lockout due to a dispute between players and team owners, several NBA All-Stars came to the Philippines to play two exhibition games against local talent.
Legitimate NBA Most Valuable Player winners Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant led those stars in one game against the 2011 edition of Gilas-Pilipinas and another game against a PBA selection. A fun time was had by all as Kobe and company treated Filipino fans to a glimpse of the kind of basketball most of us have only seen on TV.
Last year, the Philippines even hosted an NBA preseason game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers, raising hopes of the country eventually holding an official NBA regular season game in Manila.
This year, it was announced that another selection of NBA stars would participate in a charity event against Gilas-Pilipinas as they prepared to bring their game to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain and the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, Korea. Names such as Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, Paul George, James Harden, Brandon Jennings, Damian Lillard and recent NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard were coming over to give Coach Chot Reyes’ boys a good workout as well as a glimpse of what they will face over the next few weeks.
A problem that most basketball-loving Pinoys faced with “The Last Home Stand” was that the ticket prices were unbelievably high. With Patron A tickets marked at P23,300 and General Admission at P750, it seemed that the organizers were pushing the general public away from watching live.
Organizers East-West Private LLC justified the steep prices by stating that funds raised would go to charity, particularly for relief operations from Typhoon Glenda. Since Mr. Pangilinan’s own TV5 network promised TV coverage, majority had decided they would just watch the events set for July 22 and 23, 2014 from the comfort of their own homes.
Anatomy of a fiasco
For the few who went through the traffic and rains this past July 22 to get to the SMART Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, there can be no doubt that they were expecting some form of competitive match between the Gilas Pilipinas squad and the NBA players, dubbed the “PLDT Fibr All-Stars.” What they got instead was players from both sides shooting lay-ups for about an hour and a half before PLDT executive vice president Ariel Fermin and Coach Reyes addressed them by stating they would see something different.
The basketball drills, lay-up lines and glorified practice that followed slowly ate away at the attendees as they realized that there would be no game on this night; all they would see would be a glorified players’ practice, and that they had been lied to.
It turned out that the NBA had denied East-West’s request to organize an exhibition game as far back as April 2014 because it would be against the current NBA collective bargaining agreement.
The difference between the 2011 game and this 2014 “charity event” was that since there was still a lockout in effect three years ago, the individual players could get directly paid by PLDT and East-West (who were also the event organizers back then) without any kind of sanctions coming from the NBA.
There is no lockout at present, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did not endorse this exhibition game, and threatened fines and suspensions for any NBA player who would attempt to play a single competitive minute against Gilas.
The blame game
Amid the boos that rained down from the Araneta Coliseum stands, the Gilas Pilipinas players seemed embarrassed by what had just happened while the NBA players were handcuffed by the league for fear of losing money.
In a show of command responsibility, Pangilinan appeared in a hastily called press conference to apologize to the public and assure everyone who bought tickets that they would be refunded if they so desired.
Concurrently the president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), MVP’s support of local basketball resulted in last year’s silver medal finish of the FIBA-Asia Championships right here in our backyard. To say that he was embarrassed by this mess would be a giant understatement.
Fermin and East-West official Marie Espaldon justified the fiasco that occurred by stating they had never, in fact, promised a game in the first place. They argued that they promised a “charity event,” thus they were speaking the truth.
Fermin also said the sold tickets would still go to charity, in effect telling anyone who wanted a refund that they would be taking money away from “a good cause” if they ask for their money back.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about this whole snafu isn’t the hassle that the organizers are putting the paying public through for their refunds. It’s not even the fact that no game was played between two sides who seemed ready to put on a show for the crowd.
The thing that sticks in the craw of most of us is the arrogance of Fermin, Espaldon and their ilk who still refuse to admit any wrongdoing and are still stating they didn’t lie to the public.
Some quarters have taken MVP to task, saying that as chairman of PLDT, he should be aware of every detail of something as big as this event, and that he should have called the event off sooner when made aware of the situation.
Still others state that the ramifications of this situation has wiped away the good vibes of Gilas Pilipinas’ recent bronze medal finish at the FIBA-Asia Cup in Wuhan, China, and that this may affect the players’ morale as they prepare for Spain.
Perhaps more far-reaching ramifications of this public relations nightmare is that any future NBA- or FIBA-endorsed activities such as the 3x3 tournament or the FIBA Asia Championships won’t be awarded to the Philippines to host.
Those doomsday scenarios may seem a little far-fetched or a little too gloom-and-doom, but make no mistake that they are out there for people in the know to consider.
Even as officials behind the event supposedly promised that “heads will roll,” the average basketball-crazy Pinoy has been left shaking his head and wondering how things could have turned out so disastrously for something that was supposed to bring smiles to people’s faces.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.