When Joaquin “The Dean” Henson of the Philippine Star surprised us with the news that an NBA and FIBA certified agent has been pursuing 7-1 Kai Sotto for three months, trying to persuade father Ervin to agree in allowing his son to join Real Madrid on a $1 Million, five-year contract, I couldn’t help but think of the sacrifices in participating in FIBA tournaments and the desire of accumulating wins in the FIBA tournaments we join.
I always had issues with national athletes and sports personalities who sidestep the importance of competing at the highest level and aiming for a top prize in participated events. I view it as a shortchanging of fans who also sacrifice time and resources to watch the games, fully expecting a full effort and winning attitude from these athletes.
I often shake my head when I hear an athlete consider participation in prestigious sports events a victory, or consider getting a chance to play against their foreign idols victories, or getting a silver medal a victory and the like. Then tell the world how proud they are because they represent their nation.
Well, these are “victories” in their own right. And I’m not downplaying these.
But the “real” victory is becoming second to none. It should be really.
If one say they are not aiming for the top prize, especially if said even before the start of the actual competition, then what motive she or he has to go after it during the matches?
So when a 16-year old Filipino, who is 7’1” and has potential to invade the NBA, is being offered over P50M to play for a club known for its developing bigmen talent into becoming NBA starter caliber, it is a refreshing sight that is not to be considered as a “victory”.
Getting an offer from a prestigious ballclub is a “victory” in its own right but the real victory is getting in the NBA and eventually playing, or even starting, for an NBA team is.
I understand how difficult it is for a local cager to get into the NBA when the barometer of how skilled and talented he is, is his Filipino compatriots.
For all the scintillating numbers that Ramon Fernandez registered during his career in the PBA, most of them amongst the leaders and some of them maybe unbreakable, he was nowhere near of being considered playing for any NBA ballclub during his prime in the PBA.
Ditto Alvin Patrimonio or Allan Caidic. Include super FilAms like Asi Taulava.
Riccardo Brown, who got his education in the US, was incidentally was drafted by the Houston Rockets for the 59th overall pick in the 3rd Round of the 1979 NBA Draft but never got to play a game in the NBA.
No offense to local schools and local ball clubs, but I think the training done locally and the mindset of cagers has something to do with this failure to invade the NBA.
The training our student cagers are getting during college is primarily aimed at (1) winning the UAAP or NCAA title and, (2) improving skills in order to make a PBA team roster.
Once players hit the local pro leagues, they seem to stop aiming higher. The motivation to elevate their performance, and eventually their career, stops if they win a tournament.
It’s all about reaching local goals.
I could not imagine a mindset of a local cager who trains in the gym with the primary aim of making it to the NBA one day.
And I think it is because of the training and mindset, or lack thereof, that our local cagers are being exposed to, is what eventually prevents anyone of them from reaching the supposed ultimate goal.
Just think about this:
Since the inception of the PBA in 1975, the only one who came close to get a chance of possibly appearing in the NBA was Johnny Abarrientos during the 1990’s.
Well, it wasn’t even really that close. The decision to be rostered in an NBA wasn’t really up to Abarrientos.
Evidence why he was considered for an NBA job? They saw what he has done in the PBA.
Not a knack against or favorite local league but it is very different if the evidence will arise when Filipinos go up against the rest of the world.
Since we started winning games against quality opponents in the FIBA Qualifiers and tournaments some five years ago, at least a handful got good impressions from scouts and one even got some tantalizing offers for jobs abroad.
Remember Jason Castro’s rumored New York Knick’s offer? Or the real eye-popping P14M for five months’ work offered by a China Basketball Association (CBA) league ballclub?
Reports then indicated that the CBA offer was Jason’s to decide if he wants to make it happen. It was, instead, his preference to stay with Talk N Text, taking up the P420,000 per month max deal.
This is what participation in FIBA provides our local cagers. Talent scouts saw what matters most during those FIBA-Asia Tournaments.
I would love to see some of our local cagers emulate some Lebron James, that of building their own brand to allow the ability to control where he is going to play.
How about playing in the NBA? While it has not been done before, it is not also impossible to happen. It is just taking advantage of the right opportunity.
All these being said, this piece is not about leaving the PBA. The PBA has, is, and always be one of our main dish when it comes to local basketball.
It did and still will provide the main source of bread and butter for our local cagers. That should not be lost on all of us.
This is all about opportunities. Opportunities that our local cagers are getting by being exposed to international audience.
Opportunities to explore the international playgrounds. Opportunities to bring their career to another level. And opportunities to get paid, bring home bigger bucks, of course.
The sacrifices of the first players to done the Gilas uniform are coming to fruition. They are opening doors to younger cagers for bigger paydays.
Recall how Manny Pacquiao got Pinoy boxers on notice and got handsomely paid because he played with the big boys abroad. In the local front, unknown and upcoming Team Lakay fighters will surely be getting invites and rankings, partly because their other counterparts, who should be getting prime contracts, have been racking up impressive wins in ONE Championship cages and rings.
Kai Sotto and his family should think about this one long and hard.
If it were up to me, I will seriously consider taking on this offer.
I find it hard to refuse an offer like this when there is no other option available on the table that could be equal to this one.
This $1M payday is only the tip of the iceberg if they play this right.
It’s “barbeque chicken”, as Shaq would put it, compared to the payroll Kai is set to earn if and when he makes it to the big leagues.
Opportunities like this one don’t come too often. Just saying.
By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS
Banner photo: Kai Sotto (11) helps the Philippine Team garb a rebound against Malaysia during the preliminary round of the 2018 FIBA U16 last April 2, 2018 in China. Photo by fiba.basketball