Following NBA model, PBA now studying options for 'bubble'

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 25 2020 02:02 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is studying options for its own "bubble" where it hopes to resume the All-Filipino Cup later this year.

The PBA has been on hold since March, when it stopped the Philippine Cup after just one game day due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Teams only resumed small-group practices on Tuesday, after getting swab tests done and with the approval of the Games and Amusements Board and the Inter-Agency Task Force.

Now, the league is taking concrete steps towards the return of actual games by considering possible venues for a "bubble," similar to what sports leagues in the United States -- including the NBA -- have done.

"And'yan na tayo eh. My own feeling, as part of the board, we do not have a choice. May model na eh. The model is the NBA, and we should just go ahead and move forward, and look forward to the time na maglalaro na tayo," PBA chairman Ricky Vargas said on Tuesday, during an appearance at the PSA Forum.

Vargas and PBA commissioner Willie Marcial have always expressed optimism that the season can still be salvaged, and they believe that the best way to move forward is through a "bubble" type of environment.

The NBA is holding its bubble at the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida, where 22 teams were invited to play eight seeding games and then the playoffs. Other leagues -- including the National Women's Soccer League and Major League Soccer -- have already successfully completed tournaments inside a bubble as well.

Vargas said that PBA governors are "excited" about the possibility, and they are already assessing several possible sites.

"Several options came up," he said, including the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, as well as venues in Clark. Araneta Center is also an option, given the presence of a hotel beside the Big Dome.

Marcial said they are looking at areas in Batangas and Subic as well.

"Kung mapupunta sa bubble, ilalatag ko sa kanila at titingnan namin ang pinakamagandang options," he said.

"The bubble is the only way to start this," said Vargas. "Kasi kung maghihintay pa kami ng vaccine, or maghihintay pa kami ma-lift sa better (quarantine) classification, it's going to be very difficult to wait that long."

"More importantly, the fans are already asking," he added. "Ano ba ang ginagawa ng PBA? And'yan na ang NBA, ano ba ginagawa niyo? We owe it to them."

Vargas acknowledged that the "bubble" will be a difficult undertaking, especially from a financial perspective. Already, the league is facing a financial crunch after nearly six months of inaction, and a bubble will be quite costly. The chairman noted that the NBA spent well over $180 million for their set-up at Walt Disney World.

"We will have to take a look at our own financials kung pwedeng sagutin ng PBA 'yan, or will it be shared with the teams. These are important issues that have to be discussed in the board," he said.

"Meron din namang mga mas murang option -- the option of Inspire is not as expensive as the hotels that are in Cubao," he added. "Hopefully, we can get sponsors to help us out, then they will be able to help defray the cost."

What's certain is that the bubble is the safer option as far as restarting sports events is concerned. 

The NWSL completed its Challenge Cup in July without returning a single positive test, and no one inside the NBA and WNBA bubbles in Florida have tested positive, despite a high number of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Vargas said PBA officials are well aware of the advantages of holding games in a bubble.

"There is now some openness in that discussion, kasi nga we need to start somewhere," he said.

"Ang maganda dito, it's no longer an experiment. Meron ng example. All we have to do is follow the example," he also said.

(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).