MANILA, October 31, 2005 
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Despite failing to come to terms in buying the Shell franchise, Harbour Centre owner Mikee Romero said yesterday the country’s largest non-containerized port terminal is still interested to join the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and will seriously consider making the jump in the 2006-07 season.

Romero said Harbour and Shell were close to finalizing a deal before the start of the Fiesta Conference but ran out of time to seal it.

"We didn’t want to rush things," said Romero, a former La Salle varsity cager and a World Cup trap-shooting veteran. "Our timetable was to enter the pros after two years of establishing our franchise in the PBL (Philippine Basketball League). We’ve played only one conference in the PBL but when we found out the Shell franchise was for sale, we looked into it. We set a ceiling for our purchase price and we asked Shell to give us an offer we couldn’t refuse."

As it turned out, the negotiations reached an impasse with the parties P10 Million away from an agreement. Harbour pegged a price of P25 Million while Shell wouldn’t budge from P35 Million. Then, the talks were called off when Shell traded its marquee players, leaving the team without a nucleus.

Romero, 35, said former PBA coach Derick Pumaren would’ve piloted the Port Masters if the deal came through. Pumaren is now a coaching consultant with Talk ‘N’ Text.

"We were excited to join the PBA," said Romero. "But we had only two weeks to make a decision. It was too little time for us. In the end, we decided to concentrate on our PBL team and wait for the next opportunity to make the jump."

Romero admitted the prospect of buying a team made up of Tony de la Cruz, Billy Mamaril, Ronald Tubid and Rich Alvarez was enticing. He said if the PBA Board of Governors allowed, he would’ve asked to directly enlist five amateurs as a concession. Romero named Mark Isip, Gabby Espinas and L. A. Tenorio as three of the five in his wish list.

"With five top amateurs and the Shell nucleus, I think we could’ve put together a competitive team," said Romero. "But when Shell traded its key players, we decided to hold off."

Romero said the PBA’s return to prominence has rekindled Harbour’s interest in joining the pros.

"Now that we lost interest after the Shell talks were called off," he said, "but seeing the crowds back and how every game is so exciting, we’re seriously thinking of making the move up again, maybe as early as the 2006-07 season."

Romero said he has never discussed the possibility of joining the PBA with commissioner Noli Eala and hoped to meet him soon.

"I’m interested to find out from Commissioner Eala if the Board will allow a team to buy the Shell franchise before the purchase deadline expires at the end of February next year, skip the second conference and start playing in 2006-07," said Romero. "I’d also be interested to find out if a new team will be allowed some concessions like a lower minimum salary floor and bringing in players from the PBL."

Meanwhile, Romero said he is optimistic of Harbour’s chances in the PBL Heroes Cup.

In its first PBL conference this year, Harbour finished fifth of eight teams and was knocked out in the playoffs by Granny Goose after a strong showing in the eliminations.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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