THE finals of the Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup is expected to draw huge crowds, primarily because of the appearance of crowd darlings Ginebra San Miguel Kings, who pack the stands as they always do, when in contention.
It invariably reflects the never-say die spirit, which was a legacy of “The Living Legend” Robert Jaworski, the charismatic hard-court warrior, who provided the excitement and the unbridled passion for the game that marked his career as a playing coach of Ginebra.
But to us, the most meaningful aspect of this best-of-seven championship series between Ginebra and the Meralco Bolts is that their entry totally erased any doubts about sister teams competing against each other with the favored squad believed to be the choice of the corporate owners—San Miguel Beer in the case of Ramon Ang and Tropang Texters in the selected hierarchy of Manny Pangilinan.
However, basketball fans and even some of us in media were pleasantly surprised that the two less-favored teams in the minds of us all, reinforced the integrity of the PBA by powering their way to a finals showdown.
This was the singular achievement of the pro league because it proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the outcome of the games depended on the desire of the players to raise the level of their game and to aspire to reach new heights of human excellence on the basketball court and not the supposed preference of the team owners which, in a sense, seems a little unfair.
Ownership didn’t matter. The choice of the corporate bosses, indeed if they do choose at all, was never taken into account as the players and the two classy coaches—Tim Cone and Norman Black—played to win and they did so, handsomely.
Commissioner Chito Narvasa must share in the singular achievement of reinforcing the integrity of the game and as a result, the league itself.
Once applauded as “The Big Little League” in a prestigious regional magazine, the PBA has now become bigger than ever in Asian basketball, precisely because of the unsullied integrity which, we must confess, should also be attributed to the referees, who demonstrated their competence and neutrality in both semifinal series. It erased the serious doubts of the past and shed new light on the reality that when challenged to do a good job, the PBA referees and the individuals chosen to oversee their performance reached new heights of efficiency and set new standards of accomplishment, which again reinforced the bottom line in any sporting adventure—unsullied integrity.
We look around to find out who should be credited for this visible turnaround in erasing doubtful perceptions and setting a new tone in the pro league. Aside from Commissioner Chito Narvasa and his staff, credit must go to the team owners and the two brilliant coaches—Tim Cone and Norman Black who elevated sportsmanship, fair play and competitive decency to a level probably never seen before.
Indeed, a measure of the mutual respect between the two coaches is the fact that when we called to congratulate coach Norman on making it to the finals and asked him how he thought the San Miguel Beer-Ginebra game 5 would go, he didn’t hesitate in telling us, Ginebra would win because Tim was such a great coach and he would never lose two games in a row.
Such was the measure of the man which I am certain Tim Cone respects and would, in whatever manner possible, reciprocate.
We were invited, after quite a few years, to host the pre-finals press conference at the sprawling PBA Café in Metro Walk and did so gladly. Because the PBA has been an integral part of our life beginning from the beginning, when the late esteemed businessman-sportsman Leo Prieto was Commissioner and the eminent lawyer Rudy Salud was the legal counsel, who crafted the Constitution and By Laws of the league just as he did for the World Boxing Council which is the No.1 pro boxing organization in the world.
It was a most enjoyable experience because our friends—gentlemen-coaches Tim Cone and Norman Black steered their teams to victory with style and will deservedly face-off in the best-of-seven championship series.
With over 23,000 paying patrons watching Game No. 5 of the Ginebra-San Miguel Beer series, which was much more than the 16,000, who trooped to the Mall of Asia Arena to watch the La Salle-Ateneo showdown, including alumni and students, it told a story of how the PBA still reigns as the big, little league and unquestionably a reflection of the unbridled passion of Filipino basketball fans for a league that provides excitement at a very reasonable price and doesn’t let them down in fulfilling that vision.
If the advance sell-out ticket sales for the first two games is any indication, then perhaps there couldn’t have been a better match-up.
Go play the game gentlemen with the same unbridled intensity you showed when it mattered most in the semifinals. Play basketball as only you guys—the Kings and the Bolts know how and in so doing, have a fun series.