MANILA, Philippines -- Changing foreign reinforcements used to be part and parcel of the PBA's import-laden conferences but it is a process that has now been made more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restrictions brought about by the global health crisis have made hiring imports less straightforward than usual, with the PBA needing a special permit from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) just for the foreign players to be cleared to enter the country.
"Kailangan ng special permit (from DFA). Kailangan meron ka rin sa DOLE, kasi working visa yata, kung hindi ako nagkakamali," PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said on Tuesday. "At kailangan din sa Bureau of Immigration."
Marcial said they have already secured 9(A) visas for the imports hired by the PBA ball clubs for the upcoming Governors' Cup this month, and some of the players are expected to arrive by this week.
The PBA has required the foreign reinforcements to be vaccinated, and all of them will strictly follow the quarantine protocols required by the government before they can join their teams.
But this longer process means that PBA teams must be sure of the imports they are hiring for the upcoming conference, as it will not be so easy to make a change if they feel that the player they got isn't the right fit for them.
"Magkaka-problema," Marcial acknowledged when asked about the possibility of changing imports in the middle of the conference.
"One, hihingi ka ulit ng endorsement. Ie-endorse ng DFA. Dadalhin mo na naman doon sa kung saang consulate 'yun. So mga ilang araw, baka isang linggo 'yun, 'di ba?" he pointed out. "Pagdating dito, naka-quarantine na naman 'yun. So hindi ko alam, hindi natin alam."
Marcial is counting on the possibility that restrictions on foreign travelers will be eased in the coming months but he knows this is not a given.
"Pag pinalitan… Siyempre, baka ma-injured, o hindi maganda ang chemistry doon sa team, so magde-desisyon ang teams diyan, kung papaano," he said.
With this scenario, several teams have opted to stick with imports who have previous PBA experiences.
NLEX coach Yeng Guiao previously said that they will bank on a player they are familiar with rather than take a gamble on a newcomer. The Road Warriors tapped KJ McDaniels, who previously played for TNT, for the Governors' Cup.
Other teams who are bringing back veteran imports are: Barangay Ginebra with Justin Brownlee, Magnolia with Mike Harris, Phoenix Super LPG with Paul Harris, Rain or Shine with Henry Walker, San Miguel Beer with Brendan Brown, and Alaska with Olu Ashaolu.
Some teams are debuting new imports, however. Defending All-Filipino champion TNT signed McKenzie Moore, although he previously played with them in a regional tournament. TerraFirma has hired Antonio Hester, Blackwater picked up Jaylen Bond, and NorthPort will feature Cameron Forte.
Meralco has tapped former NBA player Shabazz Muhammad in place of their veteran import Allen Durham who is currently playing in Japan's B.League for the Ryukyu Golden Kings.