Monday, January 6, 2014

Once Upon A Time, There Was the MBA

In the Philippines, the Philippine Basketball Association or PBA is the basketball league of all basketball leagues. It's like the final frontier for every dreamer who wishes to play professional hoops in the country. It's like the NBA. But unlike the NBA, teams in the PBA represent companies instead of cities and other geopolitical divisions. There was a time, however, when the Philippines also had its version of the NBA where teams carry the names of cities and provinces. That league is the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association or MBA. Teams would actually travel across the country to compete, where one team hosts the visiting team. The players were also at par with their PBA counterparts, if not better. It was March of 1998 when the MBA formally began.

MBA official logo

Four years later, in July of 2002, the league was no more. It was good while it lasted, and somehow I miss watching basketball games for regional pride. Regional pride -- this is one thing that the PBA will never have. Will the MBA have its rebirth any time soon?

I doubt. At the core of MBA's demise -- and, conversely, of PBA's continued survival -- is finance. In the Philippines, funding a team that is required to regularly travel via air transportation is too costly. Which is why the PBA only rarely schedules 'out of town' games. But for the MBA, its strength was also its weakness. Its strength was its ability to bring professional-level basketball games closer to home, literally. Yet it was its weakness as it required extra funding. Eventually, several corporate sponsorship were withdrawn, until one day the MBA could no longer afford what it began.

But at the time when the MBA was still rolling, games were no less exciting. Cities have their heroes and rivalries were intense. Add to these things at least two salient features of the MBA. For one, there was the "free three." It was basically a three-point shot attempt in exchange for a pair of free throws. For another, there was the "blitz three," which was a shot worth three points when made within five seconds of a change of possession. Both may seem strange by today's standards, especially for those who haven't heard of the MBA in the first place. But for those who were able to closely follow the MBA, these features brought professional basketball to a whole new different level.

Alex Compton of the MBA's Manila Metrostars.
Image from

One of the popular players in the MBA is Alex Compton. He was 5'11" and was a key component of the Manila Metrostars. In 1999 during the league's second season, the Metrostars bagged the championship. Compton was also heralded as the Most Valuable Player. Compton perhaps best epitomizes another part of the MBA's system compared to that of the PBA's. Back then in the PBA, foreigners are allowed to play as "imports" except during the All-Filipino Conference. Each team, however, is limited to having only one foreigner for its lineup. On the other hand, the MBA allowed foreigners to play for the teams regardless of number. They were not even considered "imports"; they can play throughout the season. All that is required is that they be born in the Philippines. Having a Filipino blood -- mother's side or father's side -- was out of the question. Compton is one of them.

No doubt, the MBA was designed to be different from the PBA. Two leagues, one sport. But only one of them was able to weather the times and deal with the indispensable necessity of sufficient and consistent funding. Perhaps the Philippines is not yet ready to hold its own basketball league ala-NBA. Love of the game is one thing. Having the purse to backup this love is another. This is not to say that the different regions in the country don't have basketball leagues of their own, even if minor. Of course they do. Rather, this is to say that gone are the days when teams from up north would travel all the way down south -- and vice versa -- to play the game.

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