An onion-skinned league

By Jason Inocencio

Posted at Feb 25 2015 08:41 PM | Updated as of Feb 26 2015 04:42 AM

It was barely an insult. And isn’t it true in the first place?

That’s what I thought when Purefoods Star Hotshots import Daniel Orton uttered his now-notorious line after suffering a 95-84 upset loss to Kia Carnival on February 18. Kia is coached by the eight-time world boxing champion and fighting congressman from General Santos City, Manny Pacquiao.

By now you’ve all heard of the story.

Saddled with foul trouble throughout the Kia game, the former Kentucky Wildcat eventually fouled out with 1:31 left after scoring a measly six points on 1-for-7 shooting and only had three rebounds. The defending PBA Commissioner’s Cup champions were demolished by Kia import PJ Ramos to the tune of 32 points and 26 rebounds, while LA Revilla had 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.

In a game that saw the “Pambansang Kamao” score his first PBA point -- a free throw -- and the Carnival scoring the upset, the story instead became about Orton’s post-game rant. The former first-round pick of the Orlando Magic said, “This game is seriously a joke. The way the game was going, the refs took the game that I know and love and made it into a mockery.”

Pressed on what he thought playing against Pacquiao, Orton did not hold back. “That’s part of the joke I was talking about. Professional boxer, yeah, okay. Congressman, alright. Professional basketball player, no. It’s a joke. Seriously, it’s a joke.”

Fined and fired

What followed was a firestorm that included a fine of P250,000 slapped on Orton by PBA Commissioner Chito Salud, and his eventual removal as Purefoods import by team executives in favor of balik-import Denzel Bowles.

Since then, the story of the former NBA player who insulted the boxing icon has hit international news sites, squarely putting the PBA and Filipino basketball in a bad light. In a week where we should be celebrating the momentous signing of the long-awaited fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. this coming May 2, instead we get this.

In the two games leading up to the match against Kia, Orton had led Purefoods to a 1-1 win-loss record. He had been averaging 19.5 points per game, 17.5 rebounds per game, five blocks per game, and 2.5 assists per game since finally being activated to take over for the popular and effective yet undersized Marqus Blakely.

It’s not news to hear an import get frustrated with the physical style of play in the PBA. “Asia’s first play-for-pay league” has long displayed its physicality as a badge of honor, and imports who can survive it and thrive despite it are held in high regard.

At only 24, perhaps Orton wasn’t prepared for the banging that comes with PBA play and couldn’t adjust. But with multi-titled coach Tim Cone handling Purefoods coaching duties, that’s highly unlikely.

The good news is that Orton didn’t have a meltdown like former Petron reinforcement Renaldo Balkman did two years back. You know, the dude who lost his mind, went after the referees, then placed his own teammate Arwind Santos in a chokehold.

Still, Salud stated as he issued the fine that, “This office disapproves of and frowns upon the cavalier manner in which Mr. Orton issued his comments and the unwarranted antics and liberties he has taken with the league and a fellow player. This insulting behavior will never be condoned by this league.”

Balat sibuyas

Okay, fair enough. The problem here is that what Orton said has been on the mind of more than a few basketball experts, as well as fans, since Pacquiao announced his desire to both play and coach for Kia. I’ll admit it, I thought it and I laughed about it with many friends as Kia drafted the boxer/congressman/singer/TV host in the first round of the 2014 PBA Draft. Some friends had countered that neither Pacquiao nor Kia had done anything wrong and followed the league’s processes when hiring and drafting him. After all, the 36-year-old was living out a childhood dream.

Alright, sure. I’m all for chasing your dreams, even if you’re already internationally famous, make millions for fighting and in endorsements, and gets elected into public office despite having no experience whatsoever. But when the league that you join can’t take the heat from one disparaging comment and gets that one foreign voice fired, I call bulls**t on it.

Purefoods governor Rene Pardo, a generally liked team official who was ever-present as the former San Mig Coffee franchise won four straight titles recently, spoke on behalf of his team and the league in addressing Orton. “Wala na kaming balak pang palaruin si Orton,” Pardo said. “Nagalit lahat sa kanya. Kung ang PBA binigyan siya ng P250,000 fine, kami, nagbigay sa kanya ng passport niya.”

To say that the handing of a pink slip to Orton is an overreaction would be an understatement. After all, Purefoods or the PBA could have just asked Orton to apologize after paying the fine. The fine, in my opinion, is exorbitant because I will bet that if an import insulted any other local player or coach, I’m sure the subsequent fine wouldn’t be in the same ballpark.

What this shows to the world is that the PBA and the Filipino basketball player are thin-skinned, insecure, and blindly loyal to someone who never even played a single minute of organized collegiate basketball before entering the PBA Draft. To be this defensive over a statement that many, many people have been thinking and laughing about in bars and in basketball arenas is a joke.

In the vernacular, we have a term for someone who is too sensitive, namely “balat sibuyas” or onion-skinned. It implies not having a thick enough hide to withstand a poke or two and falls apart after one cut.

In the years that Manny Pacquiao has brought national glory to the Philippines, he has withstood cuts, bruises, his eyes closing, his body aching, his head being knocked around, and even being knocked out cold. Nobody has ever accused Manny of being “balat sibuyas” as he endured all of these and doled out his own share of punishment in the boxing ring.

What the PBA has done with this fine, and what Purefoods has done by firing Orton, is a disservice to Pacquiao and practically validates the joke that Orton said his playing has become. That’s a damn shame.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.