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It's not the commissioner, it's the teams

Is Chito Narvasa to blame for the PBA's recent roller-coaster ride? Maybe not. Dennis Acosta (file photo)

By JP Abcede

WITH Chito Narvasa's reign as PBA commissioner officially ending in a few days, the country's premier basketball league is undergoing a revolutionary transition. Or is it?

As much as Narvasa is too temperamental to be the figurehead of an established entity that is essentially entering midlife crisis in human years, is he really the cause of the current state of the PBA?

An addendum: he is the same Narvasa who at one time was the president of the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines, the group responsible for disallowing Rajko Toroman and other non-Filipinos to coach in the country's only professional basketball league.

If we look back, the uneven competition, the lopsided trades, the flaccid on-court product, as well as other things that ail the league, have been a problem that we can trace back to its roots.

To those who are complaining of the supposed lack of parity (all but one conference was won by an SMC club during Narvasa's stint) where two conglomerates composed of three teams each are the only ones fielding competitive lineups, then how come no one is looking at the "revered and fabled" Crispa versus Toyota rivalry that practically summarizes the first decade of the PBA the same way?

But is the supposed lack of parity really a problem? Since 1980, only 11 teams have won an NBA championship, but no one considers the Association a flawed product.

Compare that to the ASEAN Basketball League, where no squad has repeated as champion since its inception.

Despite that, it is finding it hard to find its feet in a region of the world where its market prefers to move the ball around with their feet.

As for the eye-gouging trades, did they only happen during Narvasa's time? How come in this day and age where everything is archived online, no one harkens back to the Bong Tan-era Tanduay firesale before it folded, where the Rhum Masters sent Dondon Hontiveros to San Miguel and Eric Menk to Ginebra?

It is as if the concept of "farm teams" at the PBA is only a recent phenomenon when FedEx/Air21, the company that picked up the slot of that Tanduay franchise, was doing the Sam Hinkie "process" starting on day one.

Let me gladly remind you that there was no Express first round draft pick that stayed beyond his rookie contract, whether it is brothers Yancy and Ranidel de Ocampo, Renren Ritualo, or Arwind Santos.

At times, they became greedy and decided to trade their picks on draft day itself, if not before. Not content of owning one team, the Lina group then decided to purchase the beleaguered Red Bull/Barako Bull franchise, giving them twice the number of roster spots for bigger teams to park their 'developmental' players to.

Has there ever been a perfect commissioner, the ideal commissioner? We have touched on the two-team hegemony that highlighted the Leo Prieto era and trickled towards Mariano Yenko's time, which then led to the so-called "dark days" during the Rudy Salud and Rey Marquez years.

The rookie classes of 1988 and 1989 reached peak form in the Jun Bernardino period, but his was also the time the PBA faced competition in the MBA, and the older league reacted by... direct-hiring "Fil-Shams". Is that a failure of leadership on Bernardino's part or was it the teams utilizing a band-aid solution that proved to be more problematic later on? Or is it a combination of both?

For me, Noli Eala was the best commissioner for the simple fact that he was the only one who was forward-thinking among them, trimming the PBA calendar to two conferences to take into consideration the FIBA competition calendar despite the fact that we are suspended from participating in international competitions for a chunk of his reign. But no, he had to besmirch his legacy with his love letter to "Tweety".

Then came Sonny Barrios and Chito Salud, both of whom wantonly pressed the undo button and reverted the PBA to its default setting (three-conference format, unli-rounds for the rookie draft).

So, where does this leave us? Does the league commissioner really wield that much power to influence the product? Anti-David Stern conspiracy theorists would like to think so.

However, the only time he directly used his 'commissioner powers' was to veto a trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Then there are the cases of Adam Silver banning Donald Sterling and Bernardino nullifying Tanduay's offer sheet to Danny Ildefonso, but these are extreme and rare occasions when the commissioner had to put his foot down to establish order in what can be considered unusual chaotic situations.

In the end, all I am saying is, no matter who takes over Narvasa's spot as commissioner, the PBA would stay the way it is if the same people are governing over these teams that make these one-sided trades that cause the uneven competition, thus producing an eyesore of a product on the court.

As long as there is a Silk Road that operates between the PBA's haves and have-nots, change would not be in sight anytime soon.

(Disclaimer: The views and the opinions of the writer do not reflect those of Dugout Philippines.)

Follow him on Twitter: @jpabcede