The man who will keep his job » Manila Bulletin Sports

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By Ding Marcelo

The Rookie Draft of the PBA last Sunday proceeded smoothly, with Commissioner Chito Narvasa extolling the fans as the backbone of the continuing march of the world’s second oldest professional basketball league. (Yes, the NBA is the oldest.)

 Without you, fans, he said in his opening remarks, the PBA would not be where it is, a league now truly a part of the lives of Filipinos known, justifiably, as basketball crazy. He got that right. So it’s a wonder why those very fans are the people he shortchanged with the trading brouhaha that eventually sent Kia’s first round draft pick to San Miguel Beer.

 Trading first-round picks is not unusual. What is unusual is trading a high-caliber pick, in this case Christian Standhardinger, for a slew of bench warmers. It’s akin to a fool giving up his fat and juicy cow in exchange for a wily neighbor’s skinny, sickly chickens.

 Narvasa simply ignored the grumblings from the fans and the one brave PBA team that spoke up. Alaska owner Wilfred Uytengsu went right out and decried the trade as “dubious.” But everyone in the basketball nation—even the team owners that kept silent—could see that this was a one-sided exchange. Last Friday, Narvasa went ahead anyway and approved the trade.

 When the Filipino-German’s name was announced, there rose boos from the gathered fans—an unusual reaction, a first in PBA draft history, but also quite understandable. Fans know when they’re being hoodwinked.

 Kia could never give a reason, at least not anything anyone could understand, for why it traded the 6-foot-7, 28-year-old Fil-German, who could have turned the fortunes of that struggling franchise.

 Even more perplexing, Kia, which chalked up a 0-11 win-loss record in the last conference, was giving up this great specimen of a player to a team that already had 6-foot-10 June Mar Fajardo, winner of the last three PBA MVP Awards.

 Whatever the reason, Kia decided to peddle the first pick around, and chose SMB, the strongest team in the league and the last team in need of a first overall pick.

 Meanwhile, Narvasa—in a belated prick of conscience?—vowed last weekend to have no more repeats of the kind of trade that transpired between Kia and San Miguel. In his words, “We have to amend some of the procedures, like the draft. Definitely this kind of procedure for next year will not be in place anymore. Wala na yan, hindi na puwede. We’ll look for a way how to have that being avoided so we will change that procedure.”

 I think the man is going off tangent. There is nothing wrong with the process; what is wrong is how he played his hand. He disrupted the process. He violated the spirit of the rules of his own league.

 The process in place in the PBA is exactly how it works in the NBA and in all other sports’ drafts worldwide. Worst team, first pick. The PBA got it right the first time: the worst team after three PBA conferences gets the No. 1 pick automatically.

 Why can’t it work now? Why is Narvasa saying the current trade process has to change? He has to change. Not the rules. And he doesn’t even say how he intends to change those rules. I guess he’s never heard of you can’t correct a wrong with another wrong.

 Already, it is wrong that the commissioner, the very head of the PBA, has shown no commitment to fight for the interest of the entire league. It is wrong that the commissioner has, instead, shown such shameful weakness in the face of pressure from the PBA’s most powerful teams.

 In the course of all this, some may find fault with the PBA teams themselves. And, certainly, all teams have their own corporate interests to pursue, many will go for the kill if given the chance, and some already have. But this is my take on this blame assignment: Those are the givens. That is why there is a PBA commissioner. It’s his job to make sure the whole league is protected. It’s his job to treat all teams, weak and strong, new and old, with fairness. It’s his job to temper the greed.

 In this most important part of the job, Narvasa is a failure. But his most recent action likely will keep him as commissioner.

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