I get goose pimples whenever a Filipino basketball player is recruited to play in a commercial or professional league overseas.
That’s because their ilk are few and far between even after the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) introduced the “open basketball” policy in 1990, thereby abolishing the distinction between amateurs and professionals and allowing all to suit up for their club or country in any international event sanctioned by the world’s basketball-governing body.
Before 1990, the pros from the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Philippine Basketball Association were not permitted to see action in prominent competitions such as the Summer Olympics and World Championship.
Players from the PBA also were not qualified to participate in the Asian Games and Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) tournament, the FIBA qualifier for the Olympics and Worlds. The ABC tourney has since been renamed as the FIBA Asia Championship.
For some time, the so-called transfer of technology also applied to only foreign players seeking employment in our various roundball leagues. Most hoops fans call them “imports.” I would rather describe them as basketball mercenaries whose main consideration is financial in nature.
In contrast, seldom did you hear Filipino cagers being hired to play for a club based abroad. That is until the birth of the ASEAN Basketball League a year ago.
If memory serves me right, Ricardo (Ric-ric) Marata (who died in New York in April 2010 at age 45) was the first Filipino cager ever to play for a foreign team. He was a member of the Vancouver Nighthawks during the World Basketball League’s second season in 1988.
Subsequently, there were stories of aging PBA veterans Paul (Bong) Alvarez and Vince Hizon taking their tried-and-tested wares to America in the 1990s. The two were brought to Philadelphia by the late U.S.-based sports agent Sam Unera to play for the Pennsylvania Valleydawgs in the United States Basketball League (USBL).
The employment of Filipino cagers by foreign commercial clubs, however, did not increase exponentially until our neighboring friends from the Southeast Asian region agreed to join forces and form the ASEAN Basketball League late last year.
Since the Philippines is the undisputed power insofar as ASEAN men’s basketball competitions are concerned, it was only natural for other ABL entries to include Filipinos on their rosters – not as “imports” (each of the six clubs is permitted to hire two foreign players with no Asian blood) but rather as “comrades-in-arm” teammates on equal footing with their brothers from the other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.
Likewise, there is an abundance of displaced cagers around the country as there are, at most, only 150 roster sports available in the 10-team PBA circuit and just a few hundreds more in the different developmental or minor leagues.
The ABL, which is currently in its second season, is filled with second-tier Filipino pros like Al Vergara (Singapore) Leo Avenido (Singapore), Kiko Adriano (Indonesia), Don Camaso (Indonesia), Ronald Capati (Indonesia), Froilan Baguion (Thailand), Kevin White (Brunei), Chester Tolomia (Brunei) and Bryan Faundo (Brunei) in the lineups of the five other league squads.
Of course, we have our own team in the reigning ABL champion Philippines Patriots.
The ABL is manna from heaven for our numerous displaced Filipino cagers. But our “export” of players should not be limited to the fledgling ABL.
There are more lucrative pro leagues in Asia to conquer.
Perhaps it’s time for the topnotch Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league to open its doors to Filipinos as well.
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