PBA battles poachers head on as Philippine Cup opens Sunday

THE Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) opens its 47th season with the Philippine Cup on Sunday staring at the challenge posed by poachers who have been snatching the league’s current and future stars.

But TNT KaTropa’s Ricky Vargas, who’s serving an unprecedented fifth term as league chairman, remained unfazed.

“Surprisingly, the PBA stood its ground and the PBA is successful even without the players that we have lost,” Vargas told Monday’s pre-season press conference at the Conrad Hotel in Pasay City. “We learned a lot from the past two years when we’d lost some of our key players.”

The lure of the foreign leagues—particularly the Japan B.League and Taiwan league which offers juicy contracts stipulated in US dollars—saw an alarming exodus of current stars and potential future top players.

These include Thirdy Ravena, Dwight Ramos, Kobe Paras, Kiefer Ravena, Bobby Ray Parks and Justin Baltazar who are all playing in the B. League.

“Poaching has been very serious, we’ve lost some very good players who did not join the draft or who have been in the draft, but left the PBA,” Vargas said.

Vargas said unregistered agents are doing the poaching but admitted the league couldn’t go after them legally.

“All we’re asking for is not for them to poach, but to be professional about the whole process. I guess it takes a lot from the players to be professional about it, and from those poaching them to be professional about it, and from the agents that poached them to be professional about it,” he said.

The Philippine Cup, meanwhile, opens with newcomer Converge facing Rain or Shine at 4:30 p.m. and Magnolia taking on defending champion TNT Tropang Giga at 6:30 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Sunday.

The Leo Prieto Awards and the opening ceremony will be held starting at 2 p.m.

PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial and 11 of 12 members of the board of governors—Vargas, Robert Non of San Miguel Beer, Alfrancis Chua of Ginebra, Silliman Sy of Blackwater, Chito Salud of Converge, Eric Arejola of NorthPort, Raymond Zorilla of Phoenix Super LPG, Bobby Rosales of Terrafirma, Rod Franco of NLEX, Rene Pardo of Magnolia and Atty Mamerto Mondragon—attended the news conference. Meralco team governor Al Panlilio wasn’t around.

Season 47 returns with the three-conference format with the Commissioner’s Cup with 6-foot-10 reinforcement plus guest team Hong Kong Bay Dragons starting in September and Governors’ Cup with 6-foot-6 imports taking its turn in the last quarter of the year.

“The priority is to get back to normal and the only way we will get back to normal is to have three conferences,” Vargas said.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes