Without a doubt, the Filipinos have a deep love affair with basketball as a national pastime and social identity. Everywhere you go, you will see a lot of boys and teenagers wearing their favorite NBA jerseys and inter-barangay colors. Basketball permeates in everyone from the dilapidated makeshift hoops from a Tondo slum to the modern, state-of-the-art SM Mall of Asia Arena. This is our pride and joy as we live or die from it.

Ever since the Americans introduced hoops to the islands at the turn of the century, we have excelled in this sport ever since - that was before China, Iran, and South Korea has taken our birthright away from us. A proud nation that we were once was, we defeated different teams and we once ruled Asia as the king of the hill. With a fifth place finish in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany and an unprecedented third place finish at the 1954 FIBA World Basketball Championship (now FIBA Basketball World Cup) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, things have gone wrong and we haven't made it to either tournaments after the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany and the 1978 FIBA World Basketball Championship that we hosted.

What Went Wrong?

Although we still have the best individual talents that other countries don't have, I think it was the change of our perspective in how we played basketball. During our glory days, collegiate spirit and amateurism were the intangible qualities that defined our games since we played hard and never gave up on games even if we are matching up taller and bigger players from Europe and the U.S. As the quality of our players grew during the late sixties and early seventies, there was clamor for a professional league that will be patterned after the NBA.

In 1975, the Philippine Basketball Association was born and all the best players in the country were soon making the best out of it. As a result, the Basketball Association of the Philippines were forced to send "weakened squads" to major tournaments that were supposed to be where Robert Jaworski or Mon Fernandez should be playing. That was the start of our fall from grace and the rise of new players in regional basketball. In that year, China won the Asiad for the first time and that moment on, the Philippines never won a regional crown sans the 1986 tilt in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Although it may be clear that the PBA has diluted the talent pool of our national team all those years, we can't always put the blame on the league. There was also a shift in attitude as players in the amateur ranks worked hard to get into the PBA and not cracking a spot on the national team. Sometimes, a player may try to use his stint with the national team just to impress a scout in the pro league.

Player development remains in limbo as more countries employ more scientific techniques. Let's face it, we are not blessed with tall athletes but many players want to dunk the ball like their favorite NBA idols instead of learning the fundamentals of the game. Many of us want to try the fancy dribbling moves of a Derrick Rose or Michael Jordan's signature fadeaways instead of polishing our basic skill-sets first. No wonder, our national team can be pounded into submission by a tall Chinese squad or obliterated by sweet-shooting and athletic Korean team any day!

We may still rule Southeast Asian basketball by a mile (although many countries have fast catching up) but the Philippines will remain a basketball underdog in the Asian level (maybe in the global level to a certain extent) unless if we do something about it.

What Needs to be Done?

The PBA has to reinvent itself and meet the demands of the time. Although the PBA remains a prestigious basketball institution, it has now lagged behind in terms of quality and level of play as compared to the newer leagues in the region like the Chinese Basketball Association and the Korean Basketball League. What are the reasons behind this trend?

  1. Stagnant and Stale - The local pro league still play with the usual three-conference format with two import-reinforced conferences. It doesn't make any sense to say a PBA champion for 2012 when there are three teams who won titles for the year - Talk n Text Tropang Texters for the All-Filipino Cup, B-Meg Llamados for the Commissioner's Cup, and Rain or Shine Elasto Painters for the Governor's Cup.
  2. Russian Roulette - The problem with a league with only ten teams with one company owning two or more teams is predictability and lack of parity. Some teams with bigger payroll budget can afford to stack up talents better than other teams so it is impossible for other teams to become successful and recoup their losses. Another side effect, all the best players will go to one team and even the best players do go to the bench (and never get to reach their full potential). "Rich" teams can make a one-sided team happen as what happened in recent PBA player trades and signups.
  3. Less Excitement - The PBA has become less exciting the past couple of years and adding new teams would be much better so that more and more players are given chances to prove their talents but with only ten teams and new players added year-by-year by the draft, we will not be surprised to see some players not getting enough playing time. Some will become basketball mercenaries and play for foreign leagues and maybe, represent another country. With new collegiate stars jumping the pro ranks this year, we may expect some veterans and untested sign-ups to be pushed out of the roster. Another thing that makes it more boring is the fact that more and more foreign-blood "Filipinos" are added to the mix. Although some of them really have Filipino blood but most of them don't act Filipino enough so that many people would have a hard time connecting with them.
  4. Player Attitudes - It's already been discussed above but there is one thing that I can say with some pro players, they don't play as hard as their predecessors. Back then, the San Miguel-Ginebra or Alaska-Swift/Sunkist derbies were the most memorable. Many players today are afraid to get injured while some act like schoolboy bullies when they are supposed to be role models.
  5. Poor man's NBA - As best as we could, we try to emulate the NBA but we never develop our own basketball identity. Why not implement international rules into the game? Throw in some home-and-away element to it by taking a cue from the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association. Inject enthusiasm into the game with a heated regional rivalry like the heydays of the Cebu Gems and Negros Slashers.
  6. Barangay Mentality - The problem with the leadership in our basketball governing body is the barangay mentality. Our "Filipino pride" forces us to shut our eyes on innovations and knowledge brought by foreign coaches so we tend to discredit the success of Rajko Toroman in favor of local coaches with deep "connections." Politics still plague in how basketball is being run. Some pro clubs and collegiate teams bar some players in playing for their country because of selfish reasons - not being able to play in crucial games, afraid of getting injured, or certain technicalities. Which is much more important, playing for money or playing for one's country?

I think, collegiate basketball needs to be overhauled and not localized. It should be nationalized like the US NCAA tournament. Although there is the Collegiate Champions League, the main spotlight in the collegiate basketball program of our country remains with the UAAP and NCAA. What about the CESAFI?

Once we develop our homegrown talents, reinforced with needed Fil-foreigners and naturalized players. It is time to open ourselves with fresh new perspectives from foreign coaches (not necessarily Toroman). The global game is nodifferent as the traditional post player is now transformed into an athletic big man with a shooting touch. It is high time to field the best basketball players and forced them to play team basketball like what the United States did with the Dream Team. No more second-rate players and wannabes, the cream of the crop should be on the team.

Many countries have naturalized players to play a position that they don't have so why can't have one of our own? We did had Arthur "Chip" Engelland, Jeff Moore, and Dennis Still but we need to add a foreign teammate to Marcus Douthit. Will Javale McGee answer the call (and the money)? I hope so.

Last Thoughts

Dreaming of seeing the Philippines' basketball team finally playing in the world stage would be something that I would love to see in my lifetime. The question is when and how!

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{picture#https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-AgIZYN7u_Hg/VZvLmrA0hpI/AAAAAAAARt8/mscbLJ1All4/profile%2Bpic.jpg} JP Canonigo is a historian, professional blogger and copywriter, online content specialist, copywriter, video game junkie, sports fanatic and jack-of-all trades. {facebook#http://www.facebook.com/istoryadista} {twitter#http://www.twitter.com/jpthehistorian} {google#http://plus.google.com/+JPSakuragi}
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