April 02, 2023

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | International opportunities are a blessing to PH basketball, not a threat

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | International opportunities are a blessing to PH basketball, not a threat

Carl Tamayo and Dave Ildefonso are the latest athletes to leave the Philippines for international basketball opportunities, joining the ranks of the Ravena brothers, RJ Abarrientos, Dwight Ramos and more. It’s an exciting time for our players, but there’s also a hesitation — a sense of worry — within some circles of the basketball community that we’re facing an exodus of talent that would hurt local leagues.

But is it really as bad a problem as some worry about? Or could these global opportunities be an opportunity rather than a threat?

It took a while for overseas opportunities to reach our local players at this frequency, but the globalization of basketball is nothing new. Not only has the PBA been a destination for imports since the 1990s, but female basketball players like Allana Lim have been hired as imports around Southeast Asia since the early 2010s.

“The NBA is the biggest example,” SLAM Philippines content editor Jon Rodriguez shares with me in a podcast episode published in 2022. “There are more than a hundred players who are from outside the US.”

Players like Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo have further solidified the perception of Europe as the home of excellent talent and successful programs. Wouldn’t it be something if the Philippines and the PBA were likewise seen as a hotbed for global talent?

Rodriguez adds, “It should go both ways, right? We accept talent from overseas, but at the same time, we should also be able to export our talent [because] it goes to show that our local talent is worth of global competition — that we’re good enough to play out there.”

Which is why many UP fans cheered for Tamayo’s overseas move as a net positive for Philippine basketball, even as they acknowledged it would be a blow to UP’s championship chances. On top of that, who wouldn’t take the chance to pursue your full potential and make a substantial amount of money abroad, especially in this economy? (That Japan salary could sure get you a lot of onions.)

So why does the apprehension towards global opportunities persist — from meme pages criticizing players who choose to forego the PBA, to prominent personalities saying the PBA must be protected from the so-called threat.

Titan Management Group managing partner and FIBA-licensed player agent PJ Pilares, who manages Dwight Ramos, says in the same podcast: “For me, there’s really no reason for [the PBA] to be insecure because the pool of talent here, regardless of who leaves, is still gonna be really solid.”

Pilares says: “You only have 12 teams [in the PBA] and the amount of excellent basketball players in the country is really high. It’s different from how it was in the 80s, 90s, early 2000s.”

“It shouldn’t be an issue of players leaving. It’s more of if [local leagues] are able to adapt,” he adds.

Adapting doesn’t just mean competitive salaries, but the bigger picture here is the branding and fan experience — revitalizing the PBA’s brand for the new generation, investing in digital content and fan engagement, easy and reliable access to free live streaming.

Imagine a new era for the PBA: one where it positions itself as the training ground and launch pad for Filipino talent to go global. Where, so long as a player has no active contract in the PBA, he’s welcome to explore opportunities abroad; and importantly, where they can easily return to the PBA.

Imagine a PBA where the global players flow in and out with every season, adding a different flavor to every conference. Players still based in the Philippines full time would gain more experience by playing alongside the global ones. Fans would eagerly follow along to see who the next international star could be, compare how returning players from overseas have change their game because of their experience abroad, and all the while, the level of competition in the Philippines gets higher. The PBA for the global generation and the digital age.

This is a crucial moment in the PBA’s long and storied history. Uncharted territory, for sure. But depending on how our basketball community handles this moment, it could usher in a new, exciting era for us all.