I LOVE YOU, THIS GAME: Trouble from Lakerland
Forget competing with the PBA, barely into the start of its operations, the MBA already got in trouble with the National Basketball Association, the most powerful professional basketball league on Earth.
The essentials for the Metropolitan Basketball Association to function were in place.
ABS-CBN was ready to give it a shot and Ramon "El Presidente" Fernandez believed in the idea and was on board as the MBA's first-ever Commissioner.
But for the MBA to start as an actual league, it needed teams.
And picking teams is not as easy as it sounds.
NORTH VS. SOUTH
With the way how things work in the Philippines, it made sense for the MBA to go for the North vs. South route.
This pattern was still heavily-influenced by the American leagues as MetroBall CEO Ramon Tuason had a first-hand experience of the home-and-away format when he was living in the States at the height of Martial Law.
"I did [North vs. South] because I grew up in the States, we were used to the football, baseball, and basketball leagues always having the regions come in, and then Finals it was always North vs. South or East vs. West," Tuason told ABS-CBN Sports in an exclusive one-on-one interview about the origins of the MBA.
"We thought in the Philippines it would be perfect, North vs. South no?" he added.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
While the idea of North vs. South was fun and intriguing, Tuason still had to make an informed decision which cities or provinces he wanted to hit for the MBA.
So he read some books because with books, you gain knowledge.
And knowledge is power.
"I thought at that time, after reading books about franchising and all that, we had to choose the most popular and more populated cities also," Tuason said when discussing the reasoning behind the original 12 teams that formed the MBA.
"Of course in the North, we chose all the way from Pangasinan down. Pangasinan, Tarlac, Pampanga, then down to Manila. And then further south, Batangas, Laguna, that thing right? Tarlac was not able to come in but we were able to get the six teams from here that included Pasig. Pasig came to our doorstep, na-tsambahan namin yung Pasig but we lost Tarlac. In the south, almost all the teams we wanted," he added.
The first 12 teams that competed in the MBA's first season were Pangasinan, Manila, Batangas, Pampanga, Laguna, Pasig-Rizal, Cebu, Negros, Socsargen, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and Iloilo.
Pampanga ended up being the inaugural champions of the Metropolitan Basketball League.
FINDING THE OWNERS
While the cities and provinces were already located, the next step for the MBA was to find people to finance these teams.
For some, like Cebu, it was easy to find a team owner.
"What's interesting is we got team owners to match those teams. Like Cebu, we thought of who could we approach in Cebu and there's two or three names actually. And most of them are sports backers already. Lhuillier picked it up immediately," Tuason said.
For other teams, Tuason approached with a different strategy. It varied depending on the place and the people he was dealing with.
"With Davao with Anthony Del Rosario, he wanted to get into politics and it was a venue for him be well known and they could afford it. So each city had one or two families that we wanted to approach and we got them most," he added.
"In Batangas we were looking for a family, we were looking at the Recto family but at that time it was a bit controversial. The Araneta family came to us and deciced, 'let's do Batangas.' I said okay, no problem. In other words we didn't need the family to have a big business or a footing in the city but we wanted the family to at least have something in the city. A residence, people that work there, or a branch and we got that through LBC. Something like that," Tuason added.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
So the team locations, along with matching owners, were finally identified. Now the fun part comes.
Naming the teams.
Of the original 12 MBA teams, Tuason says that he recommended a monicker for about eigth of them, which were to be approved by the team owners.
"As a matter of fact, out of the first 12 teams, I recommended eight names," Tuason said.
For some of the teams, it was just clever ideas that made sense. For others, the team had to have that name.
"Lhuillier got into Cebu right? And they were into the jewelry business so obviously Gems," Tuason said of the Cebu Gems.
"Iloilo, Robert Puckett was in solar (energy) so I said why don't you put Volts? He said 'oh I love it.' Batangas has to be Blades, so things like that. The owner had the final choice but we gave recommendations and they picked it up. Davao of course, had to be the Eagles," he added.
TROUBLE FROM LAKERLAND
Not all MBA teams faced smooth transition with regards to naming their respective squads.
It wasn't because the home fans rejected them though, it was more than that.
Laguna in particular, who went by the name of the Lakers, got the attention of the NBA.
Oh yes it's true.
"The NBA, [Commissioner] David Stern, sued the MBA here because we were using Laguna Lakers," Tuason said, recounting that one time the MBA, barely into the start of its operations, already got in trouble with the most powerful professional basketball league on Earth.
"I went over to Bert Lina, the owner of the Laguna Lakers. He said 'Ramon don't worry about that,' but I said 'sir we're gonna get sued,' he answered 'where are they gonna sue us? They have to sue us in our courts and we're gonna have it moved to Laguna. Who do you think is gonna go against us in Laguna?'" Tuason added.
The NBA stopped bothering the MBA after one letter.
And so the MBA was ready to rock. It was fun and it was crazy. Speaking of crazy... (to be continued)
*I Love You, This Game is a series celebrating the Metropolitan Basketball Association's 20th anniversary. Stay tuned for more!
READ PART 2: I LOVE YOU, THIS GAME: The Passion of the Nation
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