PBA @ 40

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 12.39.29 PM(Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler.com)

The Philippine Basketball Association is Asia’s oldest professional basketball league. Next to the NBA (born in 1946), it is, according to Wikipedia, “the second oldest continuously existing” men’s pro basketball organization in the world.

Today, the league starts its fifth decade of existence. And what a mega-production the Opening Ceremonies will showcase.

The Philippine Arena, located in Bulacan, will host today’s twin opening games. I had the chance a few months ago to see for my very eyes this humongous dome-shaped structure (while traveling en route to Baguio) and it’s an eye-popping sight that I’ve never witnessed before.

Fifty five thousand people. Yes, that’s the capacity of the Phil. Arena and the PBA hopes to flood the entire stadium with loud and fanatical spectators. “We’ll try to fill up the 55,000-seater arena. I think we can do it,” said our good friend Pato Gregorio, the PBA Chairman.

Will the number of fans who’ll troop to Bulacan set a record? In our country, yes, definitely. The previous PBA record was around 25,000; the recent NU-FEU Finals Game 3 of the UAAP surpassed that figure. Surely, with a crowd of over fifty thousand, today’s game handily breaks the record.

Worldwide, the largest-ever basketball crowd was in 1998 when the Chicago Bulls played the Atlanta Hawks. That brought in over 62,000 spectators. If the Phil. Arena reaches full capacity today, we’ll be ranked among the world’s top five biggest basketball crowds. Ever.

A huge reason for the excitement? Because our most famous Pinoy will lead the opening salvo. No, Manny Pacquiao isn’t fighting Chris Algieri today (that’s on Nov. 23 in Macau), but the boxer-turned-ballplayer will be the center of focus as the coach of Kia Sorento. (Speaking of the team name, wasn’t the original name “Kia Kamao?”)

The question is: Will Manny play or not? We know he will coach — but will he dribble and shoot as a player? Weeks back, I read comments from Freddie Roach saying that he insists that MP not play — to safeguard his ward from injury. But the latest I read was that he has softened his stance and given Manny the go-signal.

My guess? Of course, Manny will play. You think he’ll just stand by the sidelines and deprive himself of a chance, for the first time, to fulfill a lifelong dream? Let’s just hope the Blackwater guys take it easy on the boxer.

The schedule today: The Opening Ceremony kicks off the festivities at 1:30 p.m. Then, Kia plays Blackwater Elite at 3 p.m., after which Ginebra San Miguel battles Talk n Text at 5:15 p.m.

To help transport the riding public to the venue, Kia has partnered with JAM Liner for the bus company to “hakot” as many as 10,000 fans from Metro Manila — all for free — to Bulacan. Up to 200 buses are said to be ready for deployment.

What’s new this 40th season? Plenty. There are plenty of new faces, including over two dozen rookies. And these two new teams: Kia and Blackwater. There will be a total of 12 teams in this PBA All-Filipino Philippine Cup.

The format? It’s a single round robin schedule; each team plays 11 games during the elimination round. The top two teams advance to the semis while the bottom two squads get eliminated. The remaining eight teams enter the quarterfinals.

Schedule? After today, the next game is on Tuesday (Globalport vs. NLEX and Rain or Shine vs. San Miguel). The regular weekday schedule will be every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Some Saturdays will see out-of-town games. During Sundays, the first game commences at 3 p.m. TV5 will show complete the live coverage.

Related to the PBA’s 40th year, a new documentary was recently launched. It’s called “A Nation’s Passion” and it was produced by Bill Velasco. A few months back when Bill and I met here in Cebu, he told me about this major that. It was finally unveiled earlier this week to a select group in Resorts World Manila. I recall Bill coming to Cebu to spend time interviewing Ramon Fernandez.

Beginning today, for the PBA… life begins at 40.

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