The true problems that the PBA All-Star selection reveal

23-metre buzzer beater from USA’s Matt Millett at Special Olympics

Recently, Ali Peek drew flak over his statements on social media about the snubbing of PBA players such as Sean Anthony and Vic Manuel for an All-Star roster spot. What’s worse was that he pinned the blame on the media who had no hand in the formation of the teams. He added to the insult by claiming that those who covered the game voted for those who gave gifts or perks.

While the comments of the one-time Mythical First Team member are uncalled for, he did shine light on the reality that there are deserving players who were left out. But every year, this happens for even exceptional players are fighting for limited chances. However, there is a way to ensure that this will not happen again. It will still involve the fans. But this time, the media must take part in the process.

Fans vote the starters, media selects the reserves

After all, the All-Star Weekend is for the fans who would like to interact with their favorite PBA player. Entice them to participate by selecting the starters. More often than not, they will still select most of the rightful ones. But what the fans miss, the media can resolve. Let those who cover the game for a living choose the reserves because they can base it in performance and not popularity.

I am not questioning coaches’ credibility in selecting the replacements. But their schedule is so packed that they have a lot of priorities than selecting the All-Star bench. Thus, they delegate the voting to an assistant coach who might be shuffling multiple coaching jobs as well. That’s why you can’t fault them choosing a number of their own players because they see them almost every day. With the media choosing the roster fillers, the integrity of the All-Star selection is maintained plus they can write about their choices to put a spotlight on the other superb ballers that casual fans do not give attention to.

Upgrade the incentives for being an All-Star

Aside from the perks and the quick vacation that they squeeze in at the middle of the season, there’s not much monetary incentive to be in the All-Star game. In 2016, the winning team got Php 150,000 while the losers received Php 75,000. The same amount applies to the pre-game dance-off. That sums up to Php 450,000 divided to 24 players who receive six figures of salary in a month. A player gets an extra Php 30,000 if he is named All-Star Game MVP. As good gesture, they often donate the cash prize. In 2015, the entire pot was donated to the family of the late PBA technical director Ramil Cruz. As for the 2016 money? It was given to the wounded soldiers who fought in the Marawi siege.

But why not use the All-Star experience as long-term incentives for the players. In all contracts, they can put an All-Star clause wherein a player who makes an All-Star roster is eligible for a salary increase. The more All-Star appearances the player makes, the higher the allowed salary increase. This will motivate the PBA pros to perform well every game regardless of opponent for they are playing to boost their pay.

On a lighter note, this move will also entice the player to campaign for his All-Star inclusion. Just like in the NBA wherein they have all sorts of gimmicks to get fan votes, the local players can take inspiration from those. Not only will it help increase their branding but it will give much social media mileage for the festivities and the league itself.

Selling the players to the fans

It’s not Sean Anthony’s fault that he is having an amazing conference for one of the lesser known teams in the league. However, what the PBA lacks is a better push to introduce the best players to fans with waning interest. I remember a time when an energy drink even had action figures of famous players as giveaway. The divide lies with the fans not knowing who the other players are because of affiliation or perhaps lineage. For the younger teams, the PBA must offer its hand in promoting these stars.

Aside from their commendable Home Court campaign, how can they do this? First, the league can increase its digital marketing efforts. It’s time that the PBA Media Bureau delegates some of its resources to produce content for online consumption. Be it human interest articles about the player’s humble backgrounds or short videos about a day in a player’s life, a concerted effort to make the players known and relatable will help revitalize fan interest.

Likewise, the league can also employ an “adapt-a-town” strategy wherein they will play a certain number of games in that area. Given the traffic jams that we experience in the metro, some are discouraged to even commute or drive to either Araneta Coliseum or Mall of Asia Arena. This initiative will help bring the game closer to local communities and increase interaction between players and fans. Perhaps they can start looking into these places as game venues.

The great divide in basketball talent

Luzon’s team is stacked. Meanwhile, Visayas’ starting five is also terrifying but having Emman Monfort and an oft-injured Joe Devance are head-scratchers. However, Mindanao’s roster is shallow as compared to the other two. Raffy Reavis can hold the fort defensively but was he there because there was nobody to choose from? The same thing can be said for Cyrus Baguio and Carlo Lastimosa. Simon is a great player but he is often relegated to the Magnolia bench.

The biggest concern regarding the recent PBA All-Star selection is the concentration of talent in the cities and in the areas near the metropolis. There must be a way to boost player development in the provinces especially in the Land of Promise even before they play collegiate ball in Manila. They should get the same level of training and guidance from an early age so that these prodigies won’t be left behind skill-wise. Ultimately, starting them young will give them what it takes to bring basketball glory not just in the PBA but in international competitions.