Halftime Thoughts: Exodus of Philippine talents

As the Philippines has seen an increase of collegiate talents opting to play abroad, some may wonder if this is the right choice.

After two years of no action within the scene of collegiate sports, the UAAP Season 84 opened with a bang, providing Filipino fans a spark of excitement. During this period, a few familiar players that crowds expected to see donning their universities’ jerseys again have forfeited their college eligibility to take the jump to the professional leagues.

Their decisions were met with surprise from fans. But considering that the young talents were unable to play the game they love due to COVID-19’s raging effects, these moves were understandable.

What truly surprised many was that many of these athletes—including Kobe Paras, Dwight Ramos, Juan Gómez de Liaño, and Javi Gómez de Liaño—chose to play overseas in the fast-growing Japan B.League over the historically rich Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Together with them are former UAAP standouts Bobby Ray Parks, Kiefer Ravena, and Thirdy Ravena, who also decided to take their talents internationally even after finding success in the local scene.

Fast forward to today, it seems that whenever a PBA star nears the end of a contract, the question looms, “Will he be the next to make the move overseas?” While the demand for our compatriots’ services is a testament to the quality of our promising local talent, questions have unavoidably been brought about what we can call Philippine sports’ recent exodus and its implications on the local sports situation. Is it better for Philippine sports if our up-and-coming athletes focus on playing abroad? Or will maintaining the local professional scene’s appeal further improve our grassroots? 

Basketball is as ingrained in Filipino culture as a religion. As one of—if not the most—basketball-loving countries in Asia, it is only natural for foreign teams to look toward our countrymen to bolster their lineups. But what is it that attracts Filipino players to leave home and to apply their craft in a different land with a language they don’t understand?

Drawing the line

The common denominator among the expatriate hoopers in question is that they are in the younger years of their professional careers. Being in their youth, they are willing to go into uncharted territory, such as the Japan B.League, to test the waters with hopes of building their own legacies. Possibly, they feel that they have a place to go back to if they find that the path they’ve gone on isn’t for them or if they wish to return in their later years.

It should also be noted that players who sign up for the Japan B.League aren’t just given a different challenge for them to sink their teeth into. Monetarily, they are reportedly able to earn almost four times as much as they could locally, according to an article by In addition to this, they are given lavish accommodations, access to a private car, the chance to experience a different culture, and travel across a different country throughout the season. While these benefits probably aren’t the biggest factor behind their decisions, they probably didn’t hurt.

While the handful of promising athletes opting to take their skills abroad are still a minority, what is stopping others from following in their footsteps? While the PBA may always be “home” and have prestige, the benefits of playing abroad may be too good for Filipino stars to pass up.

The global game

The local basketball scene may be heading down a similar path as the Brazilian football one. While Brazil is one of the top nations in international football, it can be viewed as an over exporter of its talent. Brazil has the highest number of professional footballers playing in other countries’ leagues with a total of 1,330 professional players as of 2019. They led this statistic by a gargantuan margin, having around 460 more than the second largest exporter, France. Despite this, the revenue of the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, its home top-flight league, pales in comparison to bigger leagues such as those in Europe. If one looks at the Brazilian national team’s best players, the majority of them are household names practicing their trade away from home.

Moreover, revenue cannot proportionally be correlated to the passion of loyal fans toward a sport. Fans religiously flock stadiums to support their clubs, but the economy of a third-world country simply means that players there get paid way less than in more developed countries. People should consider that these athletes raise and take care of families, too, which is why making a better financial decision shouldn’t be a surprise. In the case of Brazilian footballers, several view the game as a chance to leave their home country and to lift their families out of poverty.

While there are parallels between Brazil and the Philippines and the countries’ passion for sports, there are major differences between the cases of the two. The competitive landscape and structure of both basketball and football arecompletely different.

Football leagues traditionally do not limit the amount of foreign players allowed in a roster. Most professional basketball leagues, however, have limits—including the Japan B.League. In controversial fashion, the PBA only allows one foreign athlete for each team in every conference. Some critics consider this rule as old-fashioned and unconventional, robbing local talents to learn from and to compete with budding stars overseas.

Furthermore, the level of talent of Filipino basketball players is not as esteemed as that of Brazilian footballers, objectively speaking. Several of Seleção’s representatives are top of the top talents, bolstering the likes of Neymar Jr., Vinicius Jr., and Gabriel Jesus—some of the most popular faces in the sport who, unsurprisingly, play for European clubs. While the demand for our local talents may not meet that of Brazil, the situation of another developing country can serve as a cautionary tale for the local basketball scene.

Paying back passion

Passion and loyalty are important, but professional athletes have goals of building a decorated career, similar to any professional in other industries. If local leagues aren’t able to pay competitively and to provide a heightened level of play, Filipino talents will want to play abroad.

Money, most definitely, talks. After K. Ravena’s controversial move to the Shiga Lakestars despite still being under a contract with NLEX Road Warriors, PBA Chairman Ricky Vargas mentioned that buyout clauses on contracts were being studied as a solution for local talents to be released from the PBA to foreign teams. He furthered, however, that they were looking at the option with caution, as foreign teams would be able to “buy you out any time” due to disparities in currency strength and overall spending power with the Philippines and other nations.

The growing interest of local players in foreign leagues would only threaten our domestic counterpart if it had less to offer. If the foreign leagues have more to offer to our Filipino professional players, it is only a matter of time before they pack their bags. Those behind the PBA will have to acknowledge this sooner rather than later.

Brain drain is not an uncommon phenomenon in our nation. In any industry, those who can pay top dollar for talent will do so—whether it be doctors, nurses, engineers, or basketball players. However, the time old saying still stands, “There’s no place like home.” There is no true precedent to this ongoing event, but once these players are monetarily satisfied, perhaps they would return home in the fashion of many other expatriates.

As things currently stand, we will not be able to hoard our talent in a local league with a limited number of teams. Athletes who choose to make the jump are doing so as professionals who see a better opportunity. Rather than tunnel visioning on the immediate success of the Philippine professional scene, the local governing basketball bodies should focus on doing what they can to support their compatriots and utilize globalization for the improvement of the Filipino game as a whole.

Brazil as a nation may have their own economic problems, yet their passion and talent allow them to shine on the international football stage. We could borrow a page from their book and let our players shine overseas while also benefiting the sport domestically.

The players aren’t turning their backs on their home. Just like football’s Brazilian standouts, they still represent the flag by playing for their club and on the international stage. Professionalism and loyalty to country do not need to clash.

Diego Manzano

By Diego Manzano

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