Basketball has always been the staple Filipino sport since it was introduced by the Americans back during colonial times. Due to its popularity, more and more people grew to play the sport, while some were contented by simply spectating. Back then, the only way someone can watch a competitive basketball game was through collegiate leagues and amateur tournaments, where the best young players showcased their skills. When time came that the amateur tourneys were no longer enough to satisfy public demand, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was created in 1975, becoming the second oldest professional basketball league in the world.
In its 39-year history, the PBA has had many teams participate in its three conference-format season. Some entered as pioneering members of the association while some bought other existing franchises to gain admission. Another way of entry is through expansion, which is only applicable if a league is experiencing great success and recognition. In the case of the PBA, they satisfy this requirement, which is why they could conduct expansions when they see fit.
This season, the league will see two expansion teams join its 10 team fold, namely Blackwater Sports of the cosmetic company Ever Bilena, and a team from Kia Motors, which is yet to get a moniker. There were initially three expansion teams approved for entry this year. But the third team, the NLEX Road Warriors of the Metro Pacific Investments Corporation, opted to buy an existing franchise, the Air 21 Express, instead. Blackwater and NLEX were formerly members of the PBA D-League, the only two teams to ever win a championship in the said ranks.
The last time the PBA added an additional team was back in 2000, when Red Bull was accepted as the 10th franchise of the league. As an expansion team, the Association allowed Red Bull to take six players from their amateur team directly into the professional ranks. Thanks to this concession, the Energy Kings took six of the most talented amateur prospects back then, all of which happened to play for their Philippine Basketball League (PBL) team. Led by future stars Kerby Raymundo and Lordy Tugade, Red Bull was able to play competitively despite being a new team.
Unfortunately for the Blackwater and Kia, they were not given the same privilege of elevating their players from their amateur teams (in the case of Blackwater). They were only allowed to take players from an expansion pool composed of unprotected players from the 10 PBA teams. In addition, they are also set to pick 11th and 12th in the upcoming draft, which dead last in the first round. This situation left the two teams scrambling for quality talent to help them in their PBA campaigns.
Kia and Blackwater took turns picking players in the expansion draft held last July 18. Blackwater selected two-time PBA MVP Danny Ildefonso with the first pick. However, the former San Miguel star is no longer with the team due to a contract dispute. Other Blackwater draftees include former Rain or Shine gunner Alex Nuyles, Mixers sniper JR Cawaling, and Meralco guard Paul Artadi in a veteran laden team to be coached by Leo Isaac. While Blackwater was clear with their intention to compete right away, Kia would confuse basketball observers with what to expect of them.
The Korean car company’s first move was to instill boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao as their head coach, earning the ire of basketball purists and fans alike in the process. In the dispersal draft, Kia selected former pro Reil Cervantes with the second overall pick, while also adding the likes of Paul Sanga, Alvin Padilla, and Nic Belasco. Former Green Archers LA Revilla and Joshua Webb also earned spots with the team. Meanwhile, Pacquiao has joined the recently concluded PBA rookie draft, where he was drafted eleventh overall, with hopes of becoming a playing coach for the same franchise. Another decision that came as a surprise for followers of the PBA was Kia’s drafting of Rene Pacquiao, a relative of the boxing superstar. With the decisions Kia has made over the past few months, their participation in the professional league has puzzled several PBA fans and enthusiasts.
Expansion teams are always a good sight in every professional sports association, overall. Not only do they create new job opportunities for unheralded but deserving players but they are also a sign of how healthy a league is in terms of popularity and financial success. Though the life of a new team may be hard at first, patience and proper player development will always help new teams prosper as they continue with their stint. Ultimately, Expansion will help a small league like the PBA in strengthening its presence and brand in this basketball-crazy nation.