MANILA, AUGUST 3, 2006 (STAR) By Dante Navarro - Coca-Coca yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to stay in the PBA even as it maintained that the controversial seven-player trade among Air21, Barangay Ginebra and Coca-Cola was done aboveboard.

"We are committed to stay in the league," Bobby Huang, president of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc. (CCBPI) and PBA governor for the Coca-Cola Tigers, said in a statement.

That should put to rest talks of an impending disbandment by one of the four teams under the San Miguel Corp. umbrella following reports that Coca-Cola would be replaced in the PBA by another brand or product under the giant food and beverage conglomerate.

Speculations of a franchise change made the rounds in the sports circle following a huge player movement with Ginebra getting the better deal of a three-team swap consummated last weekend.

But Huang said that rules and regulations of the PBA were observed in the controversial trade.

"An opportunity for this three-way transaction presented itself as the ball clubs reviewed their respective line-ups for the next PBA season," Huang said. "It is within the right and the prerogative of each ball club to determine and assemble what they believe is a competitive team. We respect the same right and prerogative of the other teams."

Likewise, Huang noted that access to marquee or "star" players is no guarantee for a championship. He cited the disbanded Shell Turbochargers, whose key players were traded to a particular team but which failed to win a championship.

"We are still of the opinion that the coaches will play a vital role on how he will harness, motivate and bring out the best from his players to achieve their desired goal — the championship," Huang said.

He took notice of Purefoods Chunkee, a team with no legitimate superstar like Alaska, San Miguel, Red Bull and Talk n Text, but emerged as the most dominant team in the 2005-06 season after it figured in two championships, winning the All-Filipino crown, figuring in two championships and eventually taking the All-Filipino.

"What may be a champion team on paper still has to prove itself on the playing court," Huang said. "Besides, it’s still a long way to go before the opening of the next season; many things can still happen."

But even if the PBA comes out with a decision clearing Ginebra, Coca-Cola and Air21 from their seven-player trade, the perception remains that the league is going in the opposite direction.

"They (Ginebra, Coca-Cola and Air21) may have followed the rules regarding trades, but the spirit was not," said Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao.

"This is not the path the league should take. It’s going on a different directio," he added.

Almost a week after the three ball clubs consummated on a transaction that was obviously beneficial to the country’s most popular team, the league has yet to conduct a formal investigation on the matter and come out with a decision that it was done without malice.

The PBA Board will have an informal get-together early today with new chairman Ricky Vargas of Talk ‘N Text as host, but whether the delicate issue of the trade will be tackled remains undecided since no agenda has been set.

Teams not controlled by San Miguel Corp. raised a howl of protest over the weekend after Billy Mamaril and Raffy Reavies were shipped to Ginebra from Coca-Cola with Air21 acting as the middleman.

The Gin Kings also seized the rights to Rudy Hatfield, again from Coca-Cola. In return, they traded Aries Dimaunahan and Ervin Sotto to the Express, and Manny Ramos and Kalani Ferreira to the Tigers.

Air21 unloaded Ryan Bernardo plus future draft picks.

The hot issue of Air21 conniving with SMC was even fanned yesterday when reports reached Buddy Encarnado, Sta. Lucia’s board representative, that the Express and the Beermen are intent on making another deal on draft day, Aug. 20.

Air21 owns the second pick, and is expected to choose LA Tenorio. The former Ateneo ace guard is reportedly to be traded to San Miguel since he is the type the Beermen badly need to mold as an heir apparent to the aging Olsen Racela.

The Express also have the fourth pick while the Beermen possess the third and fifth choices.

Such dealings, Encarnado said, is unacceptable.

"Huwag naman sana matuloy (Air21-SMB trade)," said Encarnado. "Masyado nang blatant. The PBA is composed of 10 teams and not everybody is not as big as they (SMC-controlled teams) are."

Sta. Lucia was one of the teams aside from Red Bull and Alaska that vocally protested last week’s trade, saying that the balance among the teams the league has been protecting through the years has now been tilted.

The Express, for their part, see no reason why the trade should draw objections. As far as they are concerned, they only wanted to acquire the players they need - Dimaunahan and Sotto.

Instead, Air21 team manager Lito Alvarez says, Sta. Lucia and the rest should now look into whether the Gin Kings will comply with the league’s salary cap.

The Gin Kings have three legitimate superstars in Eric Menk, Mark Caguioa and Jay-Jay Helterbrand, and recently extended signed big man Andy Seigle, another player believed to be receiving the maximum pay of P350,000 montly.

The addition of Mamaril and Reavies will definitely shake the Gin Kings’ salary cap.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola formally released a statement yesterday disputing reports that it is disbanding.

Bobby Huang, president of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc.

(CCBPI) and PBA Governor for the Coca-Cola Tigers, said that the team is committed to stay in the league and has now intentions of breaking up.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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