MANILA SEPTEMBER 26, 2006 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - If you’re proud to be Filipino, then you’ll fit right in with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) theme of "Pride Is Back" for the surprise show opening the 32nd season at the Araneta Coliseum next Sunday.

"We’re finalizing details with the artists performing in the show that will precede the Ginebra versus Welcoat game," said PBA commissioner Noli Eala. "But for sure, the players will be involved in the number. We won’t ask them to dance or sing but they’ll be there to entertain the fans. The show will be all about being proud to be Pinoy and it’s appropriate since the first conference is All-Filipino."

Eala said the league will offer a lot of "freebies" for fans to take home on opening day.

"We want to make Oct. 1 as entertaining as an All-Star Game or Game 7 of the Finals," said Eala. "Fans are in for a treat because they get to take home a lot of PBA stuff, like those clappers which the Miami Heat distributed to fans during the last NBA Finals."

Eala said the new season will mark a sharp focus on bringing the PBA closer to fans by making it more accessible.

"For one, we’re launching the PBA house-pass, an all-team access pass for fans to be able to watch all the double-round elimination games of his or her favorite team," said Eala. "With the pass, a fan is entitled to free PBA merchandise, to meet his or her favorite players and even enter the dugout of the team of choice before a game. All 10 teams will be involved in pushing for the all-access pass because it’s a way of giving back to their loyal fans."

Tickets will also be easier to buy through an on-line service, by cellphone texting and at nation-wide San Miguel Food outlets. An added feature is the league’s ‘subsidized’ pricing for upper box A tickets, down by 20 percent. The popular "Gimme Five" promotion of P5 for a general admission ticket will be back throughout the elimination round.

"The first thing that our PBA chairman Ricky Vargas asked me to look into when he assumed his position was to study our pricing policy with the view of lowering ticket cost for fans," said Eala. "Our proposal to keep the ‘Gimme Five’ promotion and lower the price for upper box A tickets is in response to his direction."

Eala said the new season will usher in a few rule changes.

"We thought of introducing the three-point dunk but we’re shelving that for the moment," said Eala. "We will consider it again next season. Some of the new rule changes are awarding two free throws and possession on an advantage foul to discourage the disruption of the flow of the game and resetting the shot clock to 24 seconds on a kick ball. There are other modifications on situations that require the resetting of the shot clock."

Eala explained that the PBA coaches chose to defer the implementation of the three-point dunk after the Board of Governors were locked in a tie on the vote to introduce it or not.

Eala said the PBA will honor its commitment to send the national team to the FIBA-Asia Continental Championships which are held once in two years and are the qualifiers for the Olympics and World Championships. That means it will no longer send the national team to the Asian Games, held once in four years.

"But four years from now, who knows, we may send the national team to the next Asian Games depending on the circumstances and if schedules are not in conflict," said Eala. "The problem with the Asian Games is there is no set month in a year when they are held. As for the coming Doha Games, the PBA will definitely not send the national team because the preparation time is too short, the schedule is in conflict with our season and from the start, we had expressed that position in a memorandum of understanding with the NSA (National Sports Association) for basketball."

Eala said the second and last conference of the season will allow each team to bring in an import standing no taller than 6-6.

Eala added that next year, the PBA is planning to hold a tryout camp for Fil-Ams in the US.

"We know there are a lot of talented Fil-Ams out there who can play in the PBA," said Eala. "We could put out the word for them to show what they can do in a camp where they pay a fee to play. If we push through with plans to expand to 12 teams, we will seriously consider holding a Fil-Am tryouts camp in the US."

Eala said there are ongoing negotiations with at least two large corporations to join the PBA in the 2007-08 season.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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