What’s the Tab Baldwin score: brutally honest or grandstanding?


The status of coaching competitive basketball in the Philippines was put under scrutiny as former Gilas Pilipinas and current Ateneo Head coach Tab Baldwin made some rather ”harsh” comments that hit the Philippine basketball community hard.

Baldwin actually made various comments that resulted to raising of howls from the local coaches and imposition of penalties from the PBA.

Yet, it is ironic that a good number of basketball fans actually sided with Baldwin, probably understanding what he might have in mind.

Truly, when someone who occupies a high level of authority and speaks up of something negative against his own peers, there are two usual intentions why. Either it is to give what many term as “constructive criticism” or the speaker is trying to thrust himself in the limelight for other interests. It may involve both as well.

Nevertheless, I agree with the contention that Baldwin could have found a better way to make his points reach the proper persons without embarrassing his peers openly and the local coaches are not incompetent in their field at all.

Baldwin could indeed have good points but in a position to voice his opinions through a better channel considering he is a Talk ‘N Text consultant and staff of the current Gilas Pilipinas program.

I, likewise, understand the hurt felt by the local coaches because they are not “tactically immature”. I think they are competent in responding to the requirements of the circumstances they are playing under and that may not apply to what Baldwin is insinuating.

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Here’s why I think the status of Philippine basketball is what it is today and why Baldwin has some good points but was barking at the wrong tree:

The PBA dictates the general culture in Philippine basketball and business and entertainment is a big part of that culture

This is the main issue in Philippine basketball. Basketball here is primarily a business tool and a form of entertainment, rather than a sport that gets medals for the country in international meets.

The Philippines clearly patterned this to the US setup. The country’s best basketball players train and build their skills to eventually play professionally.

That’s the main objective, improve skill sets for enhancement of a personal brand and earn a living.

Filipino players don’t mainly ambition to become national athletes, unlike in lots of other disciplines. Sure, they’d love the opportunity represent the country in international competitions but that’s not really the main motivation for playing.

On the other hand, team owners and coaching staffs build a team primarily to help the company attract fans and eventually help it prosper financially.

PBA franchises join the league primarily to promote a product or company.

To say these are untrue and otherwise is the height of hypocrisy.

This is all Baldwin needs to know.

It was never about winning international medals. The mindset is not about winning FIBA tournaments or the Olympics.

The mere thought that winning might not even the second motivating factor for a PBA franchise is even confounding for me in this aspect.

Some teams might even be more motivated to just attract and entertain fans at the right cost than win the title at all cost. It’s the cost-benefit rule. It’s a basic philosophy used by successful businesses.

That’s the nature of a commercial league. This is the reason why a PBA title, or even a playoff appearance, might be more valuable than a FIBA title to some team owners and players.

This is the inherent culture being practiced for a long time and there’s definitely nothing wrong about it. It’s just the way it is.

Here’s a sample of how this culture was practiced by some stakeholders around 22 years back:

In a recent ESPN-TV5 article, retired PBA superstar Jojo Lastimosa revealed that he wished he not join the Philippine Centennial Team and stayed behind during the 1998 Asian Games to help Alaska’s march to a grand slam.

In hindsight, Tim Cone, his head coach at Alaska and assigned tactician of that Philippine team as well, might have been better off selecting another player because he didn’t really use his team captain extensively during the tournament. Well, he might have used him in some ways, like leadership, but not really part of the players actually seeing action on the floor.

Lastimosa, however, would eventually turn savior for the Filipino basketball-loving community and save Cone from returning home without a medal. The “Fourth Quarter Man” was finally fielded for long stretches in the bronze medal match and took over the game to scalp Kazakhstan for a podium finish.

The PBA’s indifference to the international goal then was displayed at this instance. For whatever reasons they have then, they failed to protect the Alaska’s interest while their key personnel were on the road for this noble mission.

I really wondered why the league did not allow Alaska to hire a third import [teams were allowed to hire two imports for the 1998 Governor’s Cup and Bong Hawkins was out due to an ACL injury] given that the stakes were really high at that time.

One doesn’t need to be reminded of how difficult it is for a team just to win the first two conferences and that Alaska’s really depleted bench prevented them from really having even a puncher’s chance at the grandslam.

That non-action was a key discouragement for teams to go all out in pursuit for gold medals in future competitions. No team owner is now willing to lend players for the national team if their interests in the league are, at least, not given importance.

The PBA, however, recently had been supportive of bringing the best players to international competitions. The becoming more open to helping the country win international titles was at an all-time high by them adjusting their calendar and allowing Coaches Yeng Guiao for the FIBA World Cup and Cone for the SEA Games to pick any player from any team for their respective lineups.

The government was not all in either at that time. Unlike today, word then was the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) was not in complete agreement with the PBA on terms regarding the league’s representation of the country in international meets.

It was then pointed out the often sources of disagreements is the PBA and its team owners has to tend for its economic needs and the BAP could have been more sensitive to this aspect so their relationship been smoother given that the BAP needs the services of the most talented hoopsters in the country and the PBA houses them.

This is just one instance of the display of the Philippine basketball stakeholders’ different general attitude on value of international titles.

Clearly, there is a conflict of interests of basketball stakeholders in the Philippines when it comes to participating and winning in international competitions. There’s the business and entertainment aspect for the commercial leagues like the PBA and then there’s the winning for the Philippine government, particularly the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.

In the end, Baldwin has some really good points if the sole aim is to win international titles.

Unfortunately, his criticism of local coaches and PBA referees is not sound because part of the things he is attempting to change is the culture.

That culture change might have dire consequences, his proposals will have a negative effect in the PBA’s normal operations and could mean loss of livelihood to many individuals.

By: Armando M. Bolislis
Photo from fiba.basketball

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