MANILA,  November 10, 2004 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Noli Eala said yesterday the departure of six Fil-foreigners found guilty of falsifying documents to acquire Filipino citizenship is a thing of the past and the league is quickly adjusting to the loss by moving forward.

Eala said he is in no position to reinstate any of the Fil-foreigners even if they succeed in seeking redress from the courts because it is the Board of Governors decision to uphold the Department of Justice (DOJ) findings on the eight who were investigated on suspicion their citizenship documents were fabricated.

Of the eight who were investigated, the DOJ found six to be guilty and recommended them for deportation.

Eala said securing a temporary restraining order to stay the order of deportation will not mean restoring a Fil-foreigner’s eligibility to play in the PBA. He suggested going to court for declaratory relief or filing a petition for certiorari if any or all of the six insist they are legitimate Fil-foreigners. However, Eala noted that victory on either count will not assure readmission into the PBA unless the Board rules otherwise.

"We’re moving forward and the adjustments are evident," said Eala. "We’re seeing teams play with smaller and quicker lineups. Take Ginebra, for instance, when they play the Fast and the Furious (Jay-Jay Helterbrand and Mark Caguioa) and the Slasher (Rodney Santos) in a three-guard combination on the floor. Or Alaska with Mike Cortez, Brandon Cablay and Jeffrey Cariaso. Those teams probably wouldn’t have been able to do that too much with bigger guys opposing them on the court."

As a result, scores in the PBA are increasing and the games are more exciting because of the quicker pace. In four of the league’s last five contests, each team hit at least 90 points. The only exception was Sta. Lucia Realty’s 86-69 upset over Coca-Cola last Sunday. A glaring example was FedEx’ 109-103 win over San Miguel last Friday. It was the third contest this season where two opposing teams netted at least 100 points apiece. The first was FedEx’ 126-121 win over Ginebra last Oct. 21 and the second was Red Bull’s 124-118 triple overtime decision over Sta. Lucia Realty last Oct. 26.

Eala observed that with the changing PBA landscape, more local players are getting a chance to show their wares like veterans Vic Pablo, Noli Locsin and Bong Hawkins. Free agents are also finding their way back to the league like Jovy Sese, Ogie Gumatay, Tony Boy Espinosa and Ryan Bernardo.

"The balance of power is changing and the league is better for it," said Eala. "I don’t think Talk ‘N’ Text is dramatically disadvantaged by losing Asi (Taulava). Their record speaks for itself and they certainly have a good chance of making it to the semifinals outright. They have the talent to do it. We’re achieving parity and that can only mean good news for the league."

As for rumors of more trades coming up, Eala said he welcomes change. "Nobody likes to be stagnant so I can understand why some teams are considering trades," he continued. "Look at the NBA (National Basketball Association). Fan interest is always high because of the changes it makes. Whoever thought Shaquille O’Neal would part ways with Kobe Bryant? Now that Shaq is with Miami, the Heat is off to a 3-0 start."

Eala confirmed that former NBA referee Jess Thompson is now in town. The Board will soon take up his proposed appointment as a consultant to report to technical manager Perry Martinez.

Thompson will open a referees academy here early next year in association with former PBA coach Eric Altamirano.

Eala recently flew to Seoul to attend the opening ceremonies of the Korean Basketball League as the host team SK Knights’ special guest. He was away for three days during the All Saints Day weekend break.

Eala was one of only three speakers during the inaugural rites at the government-owned SK Telecoms arena beside the Olympic Stadium. The others were the Korean Minister of Sports and SK Knights team president Soong Tae Jung. KBL commissioner Young Soo Kim was Eala’s host. Eala tossed the ceremonial first ball.

Eala disclosed that the PBA was invited to take part in a three-way All-Star tournament with Korea and China in January but he had to beg off because of a conflict in schedule. But he said in September, the PBA may join possibly a new Asian league with Korea, China and Australia as other founding members if approved by the Board.

"I learned a lot from the trip," said Eala. "The KBL is like the PBA in that teams are sponsored by companies and are not tied down to cities like in China or Australia. They have 10 teams just like us. KBL teams operate fan clubs where members pay dues to receive benefits like free rides to out-of-town games, giveaways and access to players. So players come and go but the fan following remains strong because it is team-based."

Eala said he was impressed by the opening show.

"The first act was a rock band then the popular idol Rain sang" he said. "Next was a dance number by the Dream Team made up of good-looking, 5-7 long-haired girls, followed by fantastic fireworks, like a rocket zooming from one end of the stadium to the other. Finally, the SK Knights were introduced, one by one, from different corners of the stadium, each accompanied by a fan, one a boy, another a girl, one in a wheelchair and so on."

Eala said each KBL team is reinforced by two imports. The SK Knights imports are Chris Lang and former Purefoods recruit Leonard White. Eala noted that the most popular Korean cager is probably guard Lee Sang Min whose three-pointer at the buzzer prevented the Philippines from barging into the finals at the Busan Asian Games two years ago.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved