Year in Review 2018: PBA enters 43rd season under new regime (Part 1)

Editor's note: the ESPN5.com team looks back at 2018's top stories in local sports with our Year in Review series.

Talks of seeing the demise of the Philippine Basketball Association, an institution not just in the country but in Asia, loomed on the horizon following a leadership impasse that started when then league commissioner Chito Narvasa approved a trade between KIA (now Columbian) and San Miguel Beer in late 2017.

The controversial trade saw KIA give up its 2017 first overall rookie pick in exchange for several role players from San Miguel. The Beermen went on to use that pick to select Christian Standhardinger, seen by many as a game-changing player following his stint with Gilas Pilipinas.

Two warring blocs were formed from that controversial trade, putting Narvasa's future as league commissioner and the PBA's 43rd season in jeopardy. But more than a month after the leadership impasse, the PBA board eventually banded together again under new league chairman Ricky Vargas.

Just before the season-opening game of the PBA's 43rd season on December 17, 2017, Vargas, announced the resignation of Narvasa and the appointment of long-time media bureau chief Willie Marcial as acting commissioner.

Not long after, the PBA board of governors unanimously approved the promotion of Marcial from league officer-in-charge to full-fledged commissioner.

Vargas considered Marcial as the "healing commissioner", putting to consideration the latter's experience-from being a statistician at the time of founding PBA commissioner Leo Prieto, to working with then PBA TV coveror Vintage Enterprises before becoming part of the Commissioner's Office during the time of Noli Eala.

Before Marcial's appointment, he has served as media bureau chief since 2003 under the league's four previous four commissioners-Eala, Sonny Barrios, Chito Salud and Narvasa.

Marcial law

As one of his first acts as league commissioner, Marcial formed a five-man committee that would study and approve player trades.

Unlike past practices when the commissioner had the sole power to approve trades, Marcial saw the wisdom in studying the merits of a trade proposal before making a decision as a committee.

PBA legal counsel Melvin Mendoza heads the five-man committee, along with technical and operations head Eric Castro, and technical team members Junior Bengua and Roscelle Fabie Teotico.

Marcial will only step in to break a tie should there be a stalemate in the voting process of the committee.

The five-man trade committee was formed in response to the controversial 2017 KIA-San Miguel trade, which the PBA leadership doesn't want to happen again.

Marcial's leadership also saw the PBA games transition away from tight officiating to give more leeway for more physical plays. The games also got faster with scores going beyond the century mark, a change that was geared towards making the game more exciting and action-packed.

Marcial also introduced his pet project called "PBA Homecourt" where he, along with current players, former league superstars and PBA staff, make surprise visits to different barangay courts in Metro Manila. At least 16 barangays have been visited by the PBA during Marcial's first year as commissioner.

The PBA, under Marcial, took an even more proactive role in supporting the national team, especially in the aftermath of the Philippines-Australia brawl on July 2. Proof of the PBA's commitment to fully support Gilas was when the league board agreed to send Rain or Shine's core to represent the Philippines in the Jakarta Asian Games.

NLEX bench tactician Yeng Guiao was appointed coach of the national team, which despite practicing for just two weeks, went on to finish fifth place in the Asiad. That experience also saw Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson play for the Philippines for the very first time.

Considering that top Gilas players had to serve their respective FIBA suspensions from the brawl, the PBA agreed to make all players from the 12 ball clubs available for Gilas.

During Marcial's first year as commissioner, San Miguel went on to become the first PBA team to win four straight Philippine Cup after beating sister team Magnolia in five games in the finals. Barangay Ginebra then won its first PBA Commissioner's Cup crown in 21 years after beating San Miguel, 4-2 in the finals series. To close out the season, Magnolia ruled the 2018 Governors' Cup after subduing Alaska in six games, marking the Purefoods franchise's first PBA crown since achieving a rare Grand Slam feat in 2014 under Tim Cone.