Flashback Friday: The MBA introduced us to these rules

By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--It was during this month 20 years ago when a game changer in Philippine basketball came into existence.

A far cry from the current PBA format, where companies put up teams to represent their products, the MBA gave fans outside Metro Manila a reason to watch high-quality basketball action in flesh more often thanks to its home-and-away style a la NBA.

But unlike the NBA and the PBA, where most of their house rules are somewhat the same, the MBA introduced interesting modifications which somehow helped the games become more entertaining.

As we pay tribute to the defunct pro league, let us recall the said rules and how it changed the game even in the global aspect.

1. The 23-second shotclock

One of the differences between the usual pro ball rules and the MBA rules is a lower time limit for a team to set up its offense.

On whether it is an ode of sorts to the league's official broadcaster (Studio 23, now known as S+A, is on Channel 23 for free TV) or just purely coincidental is uncertain until now, setting the shotclock to 23 seconds paved the way for a more fast-paced basketball game in the MBA.

Well, it was not that felt as the PBA shotclock is set at 24 seconds. Still, a single second of difference goes a long way.

2. The one-and-one

Unlike the PBA, where six team fouls will put a club in the penalty situation for a certain quarter, in the MBA, five fouls will suffice for a team to be in the penalty.

However, the MBA has two kinds of penalty situations, the single bonus and the double bonus situations.

In the single bonus situation, every time a team commits its fifth, sixth, or seventh team foul in the quarter, an opposing player will be sent to the free throw line for a one-and-one.

Here's where we will lift off. A person living during the late 90's to the early 2000's is a certified basketball geek if he remembers the one-and-one situation from the US NCAA (or maybe the March Madness at least).

But in an era when the only way to watch US NCAA games is through videotapes, a dial-up internet (if you're lucky to have one), or shelling out a ton of cash to watch them live in America, the one-and-one rule is basically new to the Filipino hoop fans that time.

A free throw shooter is required to make the first free throw for him to get the second charity, which will count as a bonus free throw of sorts. If he misses the first free throw, it will now be a live ball situation and play continues without going through the second free throw.

The only exception is if a player is fouled in the act of shooting during the single bonus situation, in which he will get a second free throw regardless of whether he makes the first or not.

This proved to be a bane for players with low free throw percentages that time, prompting them to exert more effort from the charity stripe.

3. The "Free 3"

I already mentioned above about the double bonus situation. This happens when a team commits its eighth team foul for a certain period.

The opposing team has two options on how they will make the most out of the foul and the succeeding ones, through the traditional two free throws or a single shot from beyond the arc known as the "Free 3".

For Youtubers who always bump into MBA highlight reels, you may notice two short parallel lines at the distance equal to the diameter of the free throw circle placed at the middle part of the three-point arc. That's the Free 3 zone.

A player regardless of his position can opt to exchange his two-free-throw opportunity for a "Free 3". If he makes the long tom, he gets all the three points. Otherwise, action resumes.

While some players like former Pangasinan President and Nueva Ecija Patriot Rensy Bajar made a living from the Free 3, some others use it as a tool to improve their game from 22 feet out.

Notable examples for the latter case include former Manila Metrostar Don Camaso and, guess who, former Cebu Gem Dondon Hontiveros, who would become a "deadshot" in the PBA and in national team play.

4. The "Blitz 3"

A late addition to the MBA rules was the inception of the "Blitz 3".

As part of putting more premium to fast-paced action, the league gave fastbreak scorers three points instead of the usual two if they make their inside shots in five seconds or less.

Imagine this rule being adopted by the NBA and the PBA in the present day, when Mike D'Antoni's "seven seconds or less" system is being praised.

Remarks: A stop-and-pop mid-range shot made within the first five seconds of the shotclock will just count for two points as a player needs to be inside the paint for the Blitz 3 to take effect. Also, any fastbreak shot made after the first five seconds of play will just count for the usual deuce unless it's a stop-and-pop three, that is, if a player still has the ball, whether he is dribbling or going for the layup or dunk, when the shotclock strikes 17, he is not anymore eligible to score the Blitz 3 for that play.

A quirk: I just mentioned the phrase "when the shotclock strikes 17," that is, six seconds has already past in the shotclock. The MBA played during the time the shotclock countdown will only update when the clock reaches n.0 seconds, that is, the shotclock will only read 22 if there is only 22.0 seconds left on the clock, 17 if there is only 17.0 seconds left, 15 if there is only 15.0 seconds left (more on this in a while), and zero if the shotclock reaches 0.0. Also, n.m seconds will still be read as n+1 seconds. For example, 17.1 seconds will still be read as 18 on the clock. The dilemma could ensue if a player makes his fastbreak lay-in as the shotclock reads 18. So one can argue that a Blitz 3 can be called within the first 5.9 seconds of the shotclock.

5. The eight-second backcourt rule

Arguably the MBA's biggest contribution to world basketball.

Lowering the time required for a player to cross the basketball to his team's frontcourt from 10 to just eight seconds, coupled with the 23-second shotclock and eventually the Blitz 3 incentive, set the stage for faster basketball play in the MBA.

FIBA may have taken notice of the positive effects of the eight-second rule that the global governing basketball body adopted the said ruling in 2000. The NBA and the PBA followed suit a couple of years later.


The MBA indeed helped mold the careers and even the modern-day international basketball scene thanks to its special house rules. Yes, the league closed shop after just five seasons, but its impact will last for a long time.

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