MANILA, Philippines – A basketball league founded by senator and former world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao will unwrap on Thursday at the Araneta Coliseum, aiming to help the development of grassroots basketball as well as to give more exposure to local players.
The Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) was formally launched on Monday at Annabel's Restaurant in Tomas Morato, with 10 teams competing in its inaugural season.
The participating teams are: Bataan, Batangas, Bulacan, Caloocan, Imus, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Paranaque, Quezon City, and Valenzuela. League organizers said they plan to add squads from Visayas and Mindanao in future seasons.
For now, however, all eyes will be on the 10 teams starting on Thursday, with the Paranaque Patriots and the Caloocan Supremos beginning hostilities at 7 p.m. The game as well as the league's opening ceremonies will be aired live on ABS-CBN Sports+Action.
"This is the noble project of our founder and chairman, Sen. Manny Pacquiao," said Arnold Vegafria, the league's overall head of production and marketing who also serves as Pacquiao's business manager.
"Talagang dream niya ito," he said.
According to Vegafria, Pacquiao's vision for the MPBL is to help in grassroots development by showcasing local players, while also giving an opportunity to collegiate players or former professionals who fail to earn a spot in the PBA.
"It's an amateur league," explained Kenneth Duremdes, who will serve as the league's commissioner. "Kaya nga natin siya tinatawag na liga para sa lahat ng Pilipino, kasi lahat dito, as long as Filipino ka, kasali ka."
"Kagaya nga ng sabi ni Sen. Manny, matutulungan natin ang mga players na grumaduate sa college na walang mapag-laruan, mga ex-pro na hindi masyado nabigyan ng exposure sa PBA. May exposure sila dito," he stressed.
All teams are allowed to have five former professionals, and are required to feature at least three homegrown talents from their province or city. Duremdes said they are hopeful that by playing in the MPBL, these homegrown players will catch the eye of more high-profile squads – and perhaps, even the national team.
"'Yung mga grassroots players natin, malay mo, springboard nila ang MPBL," said Duremdes. "Who knows? Maybe they will represent the country in the national team."
"Ito ang nakikita ni Sen. Manny – mga players na out of school or out of the big leagues, ma-expose sila sa MPBL at mapansin sila ng national team or professional team," he added.
Already, some former professional players have committed to play in the MPBL. Gary David, who last saw action for Kia in the PBA, will play for Bataan. Paolo Hubalde, who last played for Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League, will play for Valenzuela. Players from the NCAA and the UAAP have also signed up for various teams.
Taking its cue from the now-defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA), the MPBL is also trying to bring the sport closer to fans by holding games in venues outside of Metro Manila. While the season-opener is at the Araneta Coliseum, subsequent game days will be held in provincial venues, with each team expected to host at least two games on their home floor.
"Itong liga natin, tayo ang magdadala mismo sa mga tao, sa mga basketball fans," Duremdes declared. "Ito na 'yung time na makikita ng mga basketball fans natin na up close and personal ang mga ini-idolo nila, at lalo na, ang mga hometown hero nila."
The 10 teams will play in a single round-robin elimination. The top eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals, where the top four seeds will have home court advantage over the bottom four. The No. 1 seed will have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
The quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals will be a best-of-three series.
Fans are encouraged to watch the opening ceremonies at the Big Dome, where the MPBL will give away a car and 10 motorbikes in a raffle.
MPBL games will be aired live on ABS-CBN S+A every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.