MANILA, Philippines -- The PBA will have "something to prove" when it starts competing in the East Asia Super League (EASL) next year, league chairman Ricky Vargas said on Thursday.
The PBA formalized a multi-year partnership with the EASL on Wednesday, committing to join the pan-regional league where it will compete with other top leagues in Asia including Japan's B.League and the Korean Basketball League (KBL).
"We're very excited to be a partner of this league," said Vargas. "It's important for us to open up relationships and cooperations with leagues in the region, and this gives us the opportunity to do so."
"It also provides us the venue for exposure and opportunities for the PBA, Philippine basketball teams, and players," he added. "It's an opportunity to play with the best talents against tested teams, and against the very best in the region."
PBA teams had already competed in EASL invitational events, which launched in 2017 with The Super 8. NLEX and Blackwater competed in the second edition of the event in July 2018. In 2019, Blackwater, San Miguel Beer, and TNT took part in the expanded tournament called the Terrific 12.
Starting October 2022, the EASL will hold a formal regular season where eight teams from leagues all over East Asia will compete in a round robin, home-and-away format. The eight teams will be divided into two groups of four each, with the top two advancing to the semifinals.
For Vargas, the EASL is an opportunity to prove that the PBA remains the best professional basketball league in Asia even with the rapid growth and expansion of neighboring leagues.
"I think the PBA has also something to prove, that it is the best in Asia, and that we do have the talent to be able to compete in this league," said Vargas.
"We not only have the talent, we have seasoned competitors who played in the PBA and in our national team. And the other thing I'm very proud of, we have the coaching know-how to be competitive," he added.
No PBA team has made the final of an EASL competition yet, although NLEX reached the semifinals of the 2018 Super 8, and San Miguel was also a semifinalist in the 2019 edition of the Terrific 12.
The PBA has yet to formalize its process for choosing a team that will represent the league in the EASL. However, initial plans involve drawing lots from among the top four teams in the league, according to Vargas. Another possibility is to form a team built from those four franchises as well.
Vargas didn't rule out the participation of the Philippine national team in the EASL.
"We want to be competitive, and we will be competitive, and that's how we look at it," he said.
Matt Beyer, chief executive of the EASL, said he had no issues with how the PBA plans to choose its representative to the tournament.
"I would like to say a big thumbs up to what Chairman RIcky just said because it's all about being competitive. That's what the fans want to see. We want to see the best Filipino teams possible and we want to have the matches possible on a weekly basis," said Beyer.
"I think in terms of this partnership with the PBA, we want it to be long term, fair, equitable and a true win-win. So we support the PBA's method for selecting teams, and we're looking forward to really strong Filipino teams taking part in the EASL," he said.
At stake in the competition is the top prize of $1 million for the champion, $500,000 to the runner-up, and $250,000 to the third-placer.
Vargas acknowledged that the hefty prize money "is good," but made it clear that the PBA will also be competing for pride.
"The prize money is good, but we are a very proud organization, and we'd like to be able to prove that we can compete with the best in Asia," he said.