How do you become a professional basketball player?
That question is one of a thousand that will forever be embedded in the hearts and minds of us, the Filipino people. After all, our country’s number 1 sport is basketball and it is also our national sport. Every year majority of our countrymen tune in to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Collegiate Champions League (CCL), Fil-Oil Pre-Season Collegiate Basketball, the Philippine Basketball Association Development League (PBA D-League), the now defunct Philippine Basketball League (PBL), Liga Pilipinas, National Basketball Conference (NBC), Mindanao-Visayas Basketball Association (MVBA), for a time the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) and of course the 40 year old league that is the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
Indeed we love basketball, other than the fact that the likes of Carlos Loyzaga, Kurt Bachman, Carlos Badion, Ed Ocampo to name a few represented and won various tournaments here and abroad. During the professional era, Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, Allan Caidic, Nelson Asaytono, and even modern stars like Mark Caguioa, James Yap, Marc Pingris, Jason Castro, Calvin Abueva, Gabe Norwood etc. captured our hearts and imagination. In addition, our national team, Gilas Pilipinas brought Philippine Basketball back to the basketball map, so did the emergence of the Filipino Phenom Kobe Paras who is tearin’ it up in the United States high school basketball league and will most likely be part of the University of California Los Angeles Bruins (a top basketball program in the US NCAA).
Now we go back to the question above. How do you become a professional basketball player?
In a perfect world, a player would work on their game, they would spend hours in the gym lifting weights, run the treadmill, do a lot of training, join camps such as the Milo Best, the Skywalker Camp to name a few. High school players would also have to endure the rigors of competition, as hundreds if not thousands of those kids vie for a spot in an elite collegiate basketball program, not to mention the pressure of winning a championship or two for their alma mater.
The same can be said when a kid plays for a collegiate basketball team, they are expected to win a championship or two, deliver a once crappy collegiate team to respectability or elite level, among other things. There is also the pressure of making a good first impression, not only on both professional and semi-professional team scouts and the fans. The kid also has to worry about his grades because collegiate (even high school) athletes can be cut from a team if they don’t perform well in their academics. And we have to talk about pressure from other sides. Pressure can also come from the (insert name of the university or college here) community, the pressure of winning a championship or at least making it in the Final 4 after God knows how long. Then there’s also the PBA-D League, a stepping stone of sorts, a league where the kid can either play against, or be team mates with, his rivals in college. The D-League is where most of our promising collegiate players improve their craft and learn from former pros and coaches.
Then there’s the PBA Draft. According to a PBADraft.net article, an average PBA player stays in the league for a maximum of 5 years, so the promise of professional glory is not within reach just yet. Promising amateur/collegiate players such as Alex Araneta, Brixter Encarnacion, Ervin Sotto, Tony Boy Espinosa, Ruben Dela Rosa, and Marcy Arellano to name a few, are proof of this. Some of them had decent college careers, others even had great ones, but they ended up being either busts or scrubs that sadly became expendable as younger and hungrier players are ready to beat them over a PBA slot, and there is another factor called injuries.
Players have to work their way into their team’s rotation. A rookie at times would have a hard time cracking the main rotation, except of course if you’re Paul Lee, James Yap, Benjie Paras, Alvin Patrimonio et al.
Then we have the Filipino-Foreigners (Fil-For). A Fil-For has to prove his Filipino lineage in order to play for Asia’s pay for play league. They also have to serve a year or two playing in the PBA D-League before applying for the PBA draft. The Fil-For, like the homegrown athlete has to work their way up to the main rotation.
Making it to the PBA is hard, staying is even harder. Our professional players have to work, sweat, and bleed for every minute they get, every award, accolade and achievement. The crowning glory for every player is of course a championship. Every player would trade their Most Valuable Player award, Rookie of the Year award just to get that elusive trophy.
So again. How do you become a professional basketball player?
For Manny Pacquiao, just be a boxer, an eight division world champion, a singer, a movie and tv celebrity. Manny Pacquiao’s entrance to the PBA is perhaps the darkest day in professional basketball, even worse than the disappointing 2014 Asian Games campaign, more insulting than Robert Jaworski Jr. making it to the PBA. Manny Pacquiao in the PBA (and Chito Salud allowing it to happen) is a spit in the face of every youngster and veteran who worked their way to the PBA.
Months before and after his PBA debut, social media is flooded by people who raise their voice against Pacquiao playing and coaching for KIA, yet some of his fans who are probably blinded by his fame were riding his cock. I know it’s a marketing ploy from the PBA, but it’s still a mockery. Players in the PBA worked and fought for their way to the league (except for him and Dodot) and Pacquiao got an instant entrance to the PBA.
Then we had Daniel Orton, former NBA player and draftee, the same Daniel Orton who you would probably use if your team is bugged by injuries in NBA 2K games, said something that everybody is afraid to say.
“That’s (Pacquiao playing) a joke, part of the joke I’m talking about. Professional boxer? Yeah. Congressman? Alright. But professional basketball player? Seriously? It’s a joke,” he said.
Orton uttered those immortal words after taking a humiliating loss against Pacquiao’s team KIA Carnival. Ignore the fact that Orton played horribly, ignore his 6 points and 3 rebounds, that is a different issue. Pacquiao is not only making a mockery out of the game that I love, the league that I grew up watching, he is also turning it into a damn circus with him as lead clown.
I know Pacquiao is following his dreams, but at what cost? He may have given about 15 slots to other players who want to relive their PBA glory, but he still stole one player’s dream. The slot could have been given to a kid who worked, sweat and bled, won championships, experienced heartaches and disappointments all throughout his amateur career. A player who really deserves it and even a coach who is primed and ready to steer a PBA team. I bet every one of us can name 10 players not playing in the PBA that are better than Pacquiao.
Here’s a thought, would you be proud if a foreigner who likes basketball asked you to watch the game live with him at the Araneta and sees Manny Pacquiao making a complete fool out of himself? Would you tell him how he got there?