CLARK, Pampanga-While it has mostly been all business for the contingents here in the PBA Bubble, the break in between the ongoing semifinals series saw the management and staff of the Quest Plus Conference Center conduct its annual Christmas tree lighting event in a more meaningful and unique setting than in recent years.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on both the sports and tourism industries and this simple symbolism turned out to be a celebration of victories for both camps.
"For the last few months, it has really been a struggle," said Quest Plus Conference Center Clark Executive Assistant Manager Mabel Lopez-Roman. "Having the PBA Bubble come into our lives, it really was a silver lining. Not only did we meet new friends, (it became) a small community that really became bonded. Even if it may appear to be a small thing, we can celebrate (the onset) of (the) Christmas (season) with our PBA family."
With restrictions on both fronts slowly easing, this intimate gathering of the remaining inhabitants of the hotel celebrated not only the return of both industries, but also the success of an undertaking that not too long ago seemed quite farfetched.
"This is an indescribable experience," Lopez-Roman said. "It was like a dream because it happened in a span of (only) how many weeks. But now, when you hear the players and coaches, they bonded with our team and it makes us feel we did the right thing."
Representatives of all four teams along with PBA officials and members of the media were treated to the first ever buffet here with turkey, puto bumbong and classic Pampanga Batirol (hot chocolate) among the offerings that made the occasion even more festive.
PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial and Deputy Commissioner Eric Castro joined Lopez-Roman and Quest General Manager Michael Gapin and even had an "exchange gift" ceremony as Marcial presented an official PBA basketball to Gapin while receiving a stuffed toy named "Abe" (Kapampangan for "friend").
The event culminated with a music video presentation showing the hotel staff and all the PBA teams, officials (including the referees) rendering a song and dance interpretation of the APO Hiking Society's timeless hit "Tuloy na Tuloy pa rin ang Pasko" (Christmas Still Continues).
"The service they provided for us is on a different level," Marcial shared in the vernacular. "Imagine, everyone working here is also in the bubble, opting not to go home to their families just to ensure the success we are experiencing right now throughout this entire process. Their efforts are more than commendable."
Marcial, who has been very hands-on on following all the protocols set by both the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and Quest, praised the Quest personnel for "putting up" with the contingent.
"Even if it's in the wee hours of the morning, even if we may be frantic and chaotic at times, they have always been very responsive," he said.
As the 2020 Philippine Cup reaches its climax, talks are already underway in the planning of the 2021 PBA Season. Although COVID-19 vaccines are already on the horizon, there is still that possibility that the league could still open next year's competition in a bubble format.
"If it were up to me, I'd hold the PBA Bubble here again," Marcial exclaimed.
In the end, the Christmas tree lighting ceremony was also a commemoration of the PBA Bubble's resounding triumph amidst all the adversity and uncertainty this concept faced. It was a victory shared by Quest to bring the nation's passion back to the masses as an indication that basketball will never die in this archipelago.