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PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial recalls his reaction during first bubble game

After almost seven months of sleepless nights amidst the uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Those doubts that crept through his mind were finally removed on Sunday afternoon, when TNT and Alaska's tip-off signaled the official resumption of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.

"I was with [Alaska team] governor Dickie Bachmann, I told him, '[Governor], I'm already fine with a jump ball. They did it, and that was a big thing," said Marcial on the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum webcast on Tuesday.

He added that he told One Sports' Carlo Pamintuan in a prior interview that he had goose bumps just recalling the resumption of the season.

"When the players were just warming up, it was already a different feeling. When people thought that the PBA will not resume, I did not lose hope," he recalled.

"To the fans, this is straight from my heart, my only motivation were the fans. I just wanted to make them happy."

He also shared how the PBA was able to overcome numerous challenges, specifically the logistical nightmares of organizing such a big event.

"We had to scout for locations, then hotels, conducting practices, finding buses, food, scheduling, testing. The PBA staff were a big help in assisting me. If it weren't for them, this would not have been possible," added the league chief.

Around 350 players, league officials, and staff, augmented by 50 television crew, will be in the bubble for the next 10 weeks, and the atmosphere has never been happier, explained Marcial.

"The players even joked [on my birthday,] telling me to throw a party, but of course mass gatherings are not allowed, so I saved a lot of money this year," the affable executive joked.

"As of now, we're all okay. They are in awe of Overseas Filipino Workers since they have to work for a long time without their families, it's a big sacrifice for all but we needed to do it."

To keep them occupied while not partaking in basketball-related activities, the league is thinking of putting up movie screenings and setting up console gaming for the players.

However, some found enjoyment in other physical conditioning drills like swimming and jogging. Marcial noted that some teams even pitched in to acquire a washing machine, where they could do their laundry.

Due to the prolonged absence of organized play, a dip in quality in play and officiating was to be expected. However, the commissioner was very surprised with what he saw in the past couple of contests.

"The quality of play may be even better than the games that we had at the beginning of some conferences, they're really physical."

THE staging of the PBA bubble will also have a global audience. Marcial revealed that FIBA has been observing games, while the NBA had been giving pointers to the PBA.

"The NBA has been imparting protocols. Scott Levy [NBA's managing director for Asia], wants us to be successful. SBP President Al Panlilio had also been talking to one of the NBA's officials to offer some help," Marcial added.

A successful staging may even signal a future bubble hosting of FIBA tournaments in Clark in the near future.

"That could be a great sign and increase our chances of hosting in the future. When you land at the airport, there's already a hotel. It's perfect for a bubble. We want to show the whole world we can."

Marcial also said that he is set to summon Poy Erram of TNT, JR Quiñahan of NLEX, and Rodney Brondial of Alaska for their flagrant fouls last Sunday.

Erram and Quiñahan were disqualified from their respective games after incurring both a technical foul and a flagrant foul penalty one.

"I will talk to them on why did they did it," said Marcial. Possible fines or penalties have not yet been discussed.

Erram had a sub-par debut in his team's 100-95 win against Alaska, tallying four points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Brondial was whistled for the flagrant at the 1:39 mark of the third period.

On the other hand, Quiñahan was a big loss for the Road Warriors at his time of ejection.

He was the game's leading scorer when he was ejected at the 1:37 mark of the third quarter. By the time he was tossed, he had accumulated a career-high 26 points in 23 minutes of action.

NLEX fell to Brgy. Ginebra, 102-92, behind Aljon Mariano's 20 points.