SBP president sees silver lining in FIBA ruling

One of the themes to emerge from the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP)'s press conference following the FIBA sanctions handed down to both the Philippines and Australia was that things could have been worse.

The SBP accepted the suspensions from FIBA, which included 10 Gilas players, coaches Jong Uichico and Chot Reyes. Although the SBP will still seek clarifications regarding all the decisions, the governing body of Philippine basketball had been bracing for worse.

"In a way, honestly FIBA has been quite fair in their process, except we want to clarify some things," SBP president Al Panlilio said. "Honestly it could have been much worse. For me it's something that as I said, accept, but at the same time we want to clarify some facts, maybe if we do that we can mitigate some things in the decision, hopefully."

It took a little over two weeks, but FIBA was firm in its suspensions and fines to both the Philippines and Australia regarding the infamous brawl that occurred on July 2. Calvin Abueva got the longest ban with a six-game suspension followed by Roger Pogoy, Carl Bryan Cruz, and Jio Jalalon with five-game suspensions. Coach Chot Reyes was suspended one game and fined. SBP itself was also fined.

But it was apparent that the SBP was thinking on a larger scale.

The player suspensions appear to only impact the 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers and do not seem to cover future FIBA tournaments and the Asian Games. The 10 players suspended will still be able to compete in the PBA.

"I think if you look at the decision, it's very clear it says FIBA World Cup," Panlilio said on the possible effect on the Asian Games, but also added, "But having said that, even before the sanctions have come up, we at the PBA, with chairman Ricky Vargas and Commissioner (Willie) Marcial have actually started talking about it at least for an Option B in case the sanctions happen."

Then there's the country's hosting of the 2023 FIBA World Cup. When Panlilio was asked in the press conference if there was any sanction that would affect the hosting, he insisted that all the decisions are only inclusive of the Qualifiers. Even though the next Gilas home game will be behind closed doors and the SBP will be under probationary period in holding home games for the next three years, the World Cup hosting will still not be affected.

"It's not mentioned, so that's good," Panlilio said regarding the World Cup in 2023.

"When I say it could have been worse, those things could have been affected. It's very clear now that the focus on the sanctions are in the 2019 qualifiers. Again, it could have been worse," he furthered.

Prior to FIBA's decisions, the SBP was prepared for all possible outcomes. The player suspensions are obviously a big dent to the program, not to mention the 13.3 million-peso fine, but it seemed that Panlilio and the rest of the SBP insisted to look on the brighter side.

"You always think of the worst case, right? I don't think we thought of a total ban, there was concern on the hosting for sure in 2023, there was concern on potential suspension of the federation for a period, but those could have been the worst scenario," Panlilio shared. "That's why I said, these sanctions are still quite heavy, still forceful sanctions form FIBA, but it could have been worse."

Philippine basketball was dealt with a huge blow after FIBA's severe decisions on Gilas Pilipinas. If there's any solace in all this, the SBP said it best: things could have been much worse.

'Play hard, but not violently'

Panlilio stressed that there are limitations no matter how physical the game gets. It's important that players try their best to keep their emotions in check whenever they hop on the floor.

"I think there's a level of play that we can compete hard. You will see whether there's an intention to hurt rather than just playing hard," said the SBP head.

"It's a physical game. But we just have to know also the constraints, limitations that you have, and what is allowed and not allowed."

But it's not only the players. Panlilio said the referees also play a huge role in preventing unfortunate free-for-alls to happen.

Panlilio, who is also the Meralco governor in the PBA, said game officials should do something to stop tensions from escalating into an ugly altercation like the one that happened during the second window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.

The three referees who called the game have been suspended for a year.

"They play a huge role in controlling the game. If they knew there was already some tension that's happening, they could always say 'stop doing that,'" he said.