MANILA -- The PBA roared back into action on Sunday, with the TNT Tropang Giga and the Alaska Aces waging battle at the Angeles University Foundation (AUF) Gym in Pampanga.
Fans were not allowed inside the venue as part of the stringent protocols put in place by the league and their hosts in Clark, but the PBA installed LED boards in the gym where fans can make their presence felt.
At the moment, the virtual fan system is still being tested and only PBA personnel as well members of the PBA Press Corps and the league's broadcast partner appeared on the screen.
PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial assured that fans will soon be given the opportunity to be part of the virtual stands.
"Pina-practice lang namin," he said after the game between TNT and Alaska, won by the Tropang Giga, 100-95. "Magpapasok na tayo ng mga fans, pero ayun nga po, kino-consider natin 'yung mga teams, mga sponsors. And'yan rin ang mga governors natin."
"Mga 250 per game ang pwede pumasok," said Marcial. "So tingnan natin kung ilan ang mapapasok nating fans."
"Starting October 19 magpapasok na tayo. May mechanics, nag-uusap ang social media namin at TV5 kung paano ang execution."
Even without fans -- physically or virtually -- Marcial was pleased with how the PBA restart kicked off.
Teams have been training at the AUF Gym for the past couple of weeks, trying to work their way back into game shape after nearly seven months of inactivity. It was only in the "bubble" that teams finally got the go-signal to hold 5-on-5 scrimmages, as they only did small group training sessions prior to their arrival in Clark.
Despite the long layoff, Marcial noted that the intensity and the physicality that are the hallmarks of a PBA game are still there.
"Nakita naman niyo na talagang all out sila, duma-dive sa bola, nakikita niyo kung paano sila magbanggaan," said Marcial.
"Sinasabi lalaro lang kayo sa hotel? Hindi," he said. "Hindi ganyan ang laro ng PBA. Talagang 'yung intensity, maganda ang laban nila, so sana tuloy-tuloy ito."
It was clear that the fans had missed them, as evidenced by their activity on social media. Marcial noted that they were trending on Twitter during the TNT-Alaska game, and there were thousands of fans watching their livestream on the PBA website.
"Malaking bagay sa lahat ng mga kababayan natin, makapagbigay tayo ng kaunting saya sa kanila. Malaking bagay yun sa PBA," said Marcial.