Not a lot of people were attending the PBA games live this year, but that doesn’t mean fans stopped paying attention to the league.
When the story was compelling, when the stars found a way to engage their followers and, of course, when Barangay Ginebra stayed relevant, no local sports competition got the public buzzing more than the 42-year-old league.
ABS-CBN News looks back at one of the most dramatic and controversial years that PBA fans have ever seen.
The Ginebra-Meralco series
In yet another season in which the PBA struggled to draw live crowds at games, the Barangay Ginebra-Meralco finals in the Governors’ Cup was one the league badly needed to boost revenue. It had all the elements of perfect sports theater -- a rematch of the previous conference, Greg Slaughter’s return, a rivalry between corporate giants San Miguel Corp. and the Manny Pangilinan group, and a social media beef between Jared Dilinger and Ginebra fans made the series a compelling watch. In the end, Ginebra won in 7 games and the cash register couldn’t stop kaching-ing.
The Helterbrand retirement
He held off hanging up his jersey in 2016 because Mark Caguioa thought his best bud had one run left in him. While Helterbrand didn’t get playing time, he won one more title when Ginebra topped Meralco in the well-attended Governors’ Cup final series. The 2009 MVP, who turned 41 two weeks before being showered in championship confetti, thus rode off to the sunset on a high, winning note.
The return of Greg Slaughter
There was no doubt Ginebra’s 7-foot center would come back from a knee injury, but how good he was going to be once he returned was the big question mark. It didn’t take long before Slaughter killed those doubts, winning best player of the Governors’ Cup and leading Ginebra to the title. As a bonus, to start off the 2016-17 season, he scored 24 effortless points missing only 4 of 14 shot attempts while registering 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. Might “the Gregzilla” finally bump off “the Kraken” from his 4-year MVP reign?
4th MVP for June Mar
It’s still the San Miguel Beer center’s world and the rest of the league is just living in it. He chalked up two titles and the top player award in the Philippine Cup. Eleven opposing teams haven’t been able to game-plan against Fajardo because of his size and skills. In the all-Filipino tournament, he was a mismatch against local defenders; in the import conferences, he automatically formed a Twin Tower combination with the foreign reinforcement. Simply put, nobody had an answer for No. 15.
The Christian Standhardinger trade
Judging by its very early showing in the 2017-18 season, Kia appears ready to prove it knew what it was doing when it gave away its precious right to the No. 1 pick of the 2017 rookie draft. But given how Christian Standhardinger is killing it in the ASEAN Basketball League, it’s hard not to think what an incredible fortune-changer the Germany-born Filipino would have been for the PBA’s struggling franchise. Short term, Kia can be competitive and live with its decision that way. Long term, though, giving up Standhardinger will come back to bite Kia one way or the other.
Chito Narvasa resigns
While not the sole reason for commissioner Chito Narvasa’s resignation, the Standhardinger trade was certainly a factor. There was concern in the offseason that a stalemate between two factions in the league board -- one supporting Narvasa, the other against his leadership -- would cause a serious ripple effect on the league. That deadlock was broken when Narvasa stepped down.
Kiefer Ravena’s arrival
He’ll soon be the face of the league if he keeps up his outstanding play. Maturity? Check. Social-media savvy? Check. Student of the game? Check. With the No. 2 pick in the 2017 rookie draft, NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao said he’d be OK to land whomever falls on his lap. Standhardinger has been a beast, true, (sorry, Calvin Abueva) but in Ravena, Guiao might have hit a jackpot, a playmaker with virtually no weakness and one who suits his push-the-ball system better.
The 3-stop all-star game
At first, the logistics of holding 3 all-star games on 3 different islands seemed iffy. But once the multi-city event was underway, it became apparent this was the perfect way to bring the league closer to its provincial fans. The concept pitting the league’s best players per region against Gilas Pilipinas at a time when the national team needed tune-up games gave everyone involved a reason to take the games more seriously. Overall, it was a win-win proposition. File/PBA Media Bureau
It was an up and down year for one of the league’s most popular players. Romeo looked ready to challenge June Mar Fajardo for the season MVP when he surpassed expectations in the 2016-17 Philippine Cup. Off the court, he announced his engagement, signed a deal for his own signature kicks, and was included in a US video featuring his otherworldly handles. The lows include health issues, on-court misdemeanor that resulted in hefty fines, and trade rumors that he later quashed.
The rivalry between SMC and the MVP group
The competition between the league’s two most influential corporate backers got a tad bit personal and heated this year. Accusations of officiating bias and favoritism toward one camp were being hurled regularly. (It was so intense that at one point San Miguel Corp. sports official Alfrancis Chua and TNT coach Nash Racela nearly came to blows.) When the commissioner’s office fell into a crisis, teams started to take sides and they were the two factions that emerged. At the start of the 2017-18 season, all 12 team representatives made a show of unity, agreeing to find a new commissioner and put the league’s interest ahead of theirs.