At the start of the Philippine Cup early this year, all we got was an agonizing taste of high-level PBA action, when the defending champions San Miguel Beermen disposed of the Magnolia Hotshots, a team many touted as a contender to the throne while June Mar Fajardo was out.
Since that Sunday basketball game, the doors have closed, the balls put back into storage, and sneakers hung up. Players who have spent the better part of their lives with a ball in their hand dribbling couldn't find a court to play in, that would not merit sanctions and penalties. All we could do was wait, hope and pray that this would all end soon.
Well, it looks like the wait is about to end. Plans that appeared hazy at one period in time are becoming clearer with each passing day. And now, in less than a month, the PBA is set to restart once again.
These are obviously exciting times, as it looks like all systems are go pending approval from the IATF. But while a lot of details have been shared, there are still a lot of questions yet to be answered when the league tips off on October 9. Let's take a look at some of them.
1. What kind of basketball are we going to see in the bubble?
We know that every player that puts on a PBA team jersey is playing at an elite level that 99% of the country's population can only dream of reaching. Their skills are finely tuned, and they're all hungry to get back on the floor.
We're all excited to see our favorite players return. However, what kind of shape will they be in when they step on the floor on October 9 and begin play? It's a different scenario finding your basketball rhythm at the start of a new season to what we're about to see in October. For one, players normally only have a few weeks' break during the offseason before they start it up all over again. They also are able to practice in the offseason to remain sharp and ready.
But players haven't had that luxury during these past few months because of the pandemic. And while the assumption is that majority of the players stayed in shape by getting creative in their homes, being in shape is completely different to being in basketball-ready shape. The toll that a 48-minute game puts on your body, whether the cardio or the bumps and bruises, is just different.
The IATF as of this writing still hasn't allowed full contact scrimmage of the 5-on-5 variety. And until that happens, players won't be truly able to immerse themselves back in the bumping and grinding world that they've grown so comfortable in already. There are only three weeks left until the restart. So while we should be happy that basketball is going to be back, manage your expectations about the level of play until these guys find their rhythm again.
2. Are the safety precautions in place to prevent the bubble getting burst?
This is probably the biggest question that the PBA is facing. Because of what the NBA has done in Florida, there's a blueprint already out there for how to create a bubble that is seemingly foolproof.
But that was never a realistic proposition for the PBA. The logistics, location, daily swab testing , technology and countless other little nuances that make the NBA the best-prepared league of the four major North American sports didn't come for free. Millions of dollars were invested into this, with the hope that they will be able to get a return in investment just from having basketball back.
The PBA doesn't have those same deep pockets, especially not after a pandemic that has brought the economy to its knees. Therefore, they had to get creative and find a way around the margins to still make this happen.
Selecting Clark was a good start because they're away from heavily populated areas that can threaten to burst the bubble. But now the work begins on a daily basis. We'll find out soon just how testing will be done, and how regularly it will be administered to everyone in the bubble. But will that be enough? And if results come out in the middle of a season and a player or personnel is found to test positive for COVID, what happens then?
It's going to take a lot of hard work, discipline and cooperation and trust for literally everyone that enters Clark. And all eyes will be on the PBA to see the success of this endeavor. If they can keep everyone safe and allow this season to continue and finish without any issue, this could easily be one of the best success stories of 2020.
3. Who are the contenders again?
We've been so caught up in the logistic and preparation and the will-they-or-won't they of the PBA Bubble that we forget that there's actual basketball to be played. The San Miguel Beermen are still the defending champions! The North Port Batang Pier are sneaky contenders if Christian Standhardinger can play at an elite level! JP Erram has yet to make his debut with the TNT KaTropa! The NLEX Road Warriors have 50 guards on their roster!
It will take some time for everyone to get fully comfortable with their settings and surroundings in the bubble, and for those watching to get used to this situation. But the truth is, we're all eager to get back to discussing basketball-related storylines. After all, that's pretty much the entire reason why we're starting this up all over again. Basketball has been away from our lives for far too long. In a few months, here's hoping that it can come home again.