PBA: Balkman gets a second chance to erase bitter 2013 memory
Paul Lintag on May 18, 2018 05:11 PM
Before Renaldo Balkman makes his triumphant PBA return, let's take a quick look back at the incident that almost defined his career in the Philippines.
It was March 2013 and the PBA was in the middle of its Commissioner's Cup when Petron Blaze import Renaldo Balkman did the impossible.
On a pretty random Friday night at the Araneta Coliseum, towards the end of a Petron loss to Alaska, Balkman just snapped and went on an unprecendented rampage against referees and coaches.
The end was absolutely baffling as Balkman ended up choking teammate Arwind Santos. Arwind was trying to calm Balkman down.
The Puerto Rican reinforcement issued an apology afterwards and however sincere, the PBA still ended up slapping Balkman with a hefty P250,000 fine.
He was also banned for life.
By all intents and purposes, that should have been the end of Balkman in the Philippines.
But five years later, Renaldo resurfaced and he ended up playing for Tanduay-Alab Pilipinas in the ABL.
Alab changed sponsors mid-season as San Miguel came in. It appeared that Balkman finally had some sense of closure. Petron and San Miguel are practically one and the same even if the two teams played in two separate leagues.
However, fate had other plans as new PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial, after consulting with a handful of parties, including former Commissioner Chito Salud, ultimately decided to lift Balkman's lifetime ban.
All of a sudden, Renaldo had the chance to properly redeem himself with San Miguel if San Miguel actually wanted to.
Stars aligned for Balkman as the defending champion Beermen struggled right out of the game in the 2018 Commissioner's Cup despite fielding an upgraded super team.
Two days after San Miguel went 0-2 for the conference, Balkman's PBA return was made official, replacing Troy Gillenwater as import.
Before Balkman plays his first game back, ironically against Alaska, let's take a look back at the incident that almost defined Renaldo's legacy in the Philippines.
Mico Halili worked the play-by-play for the PBA's official broadcast five years ago. He witnessed it all.
Now the Digital Sports Head for ABS-CBN, Halili recalls how the whole thing went down, worth a second look as we prepare to see what Balkman does with his second chance.
Question: What do you remember about that game in general? It seemed like a regular outing in the middle of the conference.
Mico Halili: I don't remember it being a crucial, emotionally-charged game in the playoffs or the semis or the Finals. Which made the incident more baffling in a way. It was definitely unexpected. I remember that entering the game, Petron was playing like the best team and Renaldo was playing like the best import in the league.
Q: Balkman already looked irate even before the incident happened. Covering the game live, can you describe how he was? Petron was doing well in the season but it can be safe to say that he was pretty frustrated against Alaska.
MH: Surely there are reasons that led to Renaldo's frustrations with himself, the game, the officials, even with his teammates but I'd rather not speculate as to what those reasons were. He did say in the TV interview 48 hours later that he was frustrated with the game officials.
Q: Watching the whole thing unfold in real time, when did you realize that this was probably not going to end well for Balkman?
MH: Wasn't the first time for me or my broadcast partner Jason Webb to see players get frustrated or complain incessantly to officials during a game. Also wasn't the first time for us to see teammates arguing on the court. But when Renaldo pushed off assistant coach Biboy Ravanes, there was an alarm in our head that went, "Oh no." And as soon as he started pushing away teammates who were just trying to pacify him, we feared it would escalate into something probably unexpected or even unprecedented.
Q: Balkman choking Arwind was pretty shocking, can you remember anything similar that happened in the PBA or in other leagues? Or was that unprecedented?
MH: Never saw anything like it. We've seen free-for-all fights in basketball. Commentating while opponents chase each other on the court is part of the job. Teammates fight but it normally happens in the locker room at halftime, or after the game, or during practice but never saw it happen this way on live television.
Q: You got to interview him on live TV and then he apologized. How did that go considering his eventual punishment hasn't been decided yet?
MH: It was so quiet in the studio, we could hear one another breathing. When we were waiting to go on-air, I remember just staring at the tattoos on Renaldo's neck because we were so quiet. I mean, what kind of small talk could you do in a situation like that? When you see someone place his hands on his teammate's neck and suddenly have him sit on the same studio set, it becomes a surreal experience. But when Renaldo arrived with his Petron teammates, he was quiet, he was despondent, definitely not defiant in any way. He was just ready to apologize and explain his side. And so he apologized. Then Arwind joined us on the set, put his hand on Renaldo's shoulder and said, "Balkman is like my brother." What started as a tense interview morphed into a candid conversation about basketball, the mistakes people make, and the importance of asking for second chances in life.
Q: What was your initial take on the lifetime ban?
MH: We knew the sanction would match the gravity of having an incident like that play out on live television. Although we were expecting the possibility of a lifetime ban, the announcement still hits you like it was unexpected. The combination of Renaldo's basketball resume, having the incident reach fans all over the world because of the internet, and the amount of discussion generated by a regrettable moment, the league was emboldened to make a stand.
Q: Renaldo Balkman is back but at the time, did you even imagine that he'll find a way to somehow return to the country?
MH: Didn't think we'd see Renaldo playing basketball again in the Philippines, didn't think we'd see Renaldo playing basketball again in the PBA, but that's what happens when life gives us a second chance.
Renaldo Balkman will debut for San Miguel Beer (0-2) as they take on the Alaska Aces (3-1) Saturday at Dumaguete City.
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