PBA: Is there any way to root for Talk 'N Text?
With the PBA playoffs heating up, I got to thinking...
In sports, it's a fair bet that if you like a team's players and coaches, then you like that team. In the Philippine Basketball Association, the Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters have come up with a logic-bursting formula to make a team full of exciting and likable players utterly hate-worthy.
When I look at the TNT roster, I see nothing but guys whose games and often (to the extent that I know or have observed them) whose personalities I like. Harvey Carey has become perhaps the premiere hustleman of the PBA; his hardhat approach to the game has made him indispensable to the team and allowed him to keep his minutes despite TNT's constant influx of marquee talent. I dig Jason Castro's waterbug speed and they way he skitters around the court creating chaos and scoring opportunities. Mark Yee is another borderline lunatic who's a joy to watch. I knew Aaron Aban and JR Quiñahan from their Alaska days, and even though they're buried in the TNT rotation, I still root for them. Ryan Reyes, when healthy, is in the discussion for being the best guard in the league, and beyond that he plays such a mature floor game; it's fun to see him take over a few possessions and control the flow of a game, often without looking for his own shot. Kelly Williams is one of the top talents in the country, a guy who has won an MVP and still not hit his ceiling as a player, one of the kindest guys around and someone whose courageous comeback from a serious blood disorder two years ago makes him one of the most likable players in the league. Even Mac Cardona, one of the PBA's great villains, has long been a guilty pleasure for me. Any guy who makes as many crazy shots as he does as consistently as he does is a winner for me.
This conference, they're even parading Shawn Daniels, one of my longtime favorite imports. I saw Daniels match up against Kwan Johnson the first time I ever went to the Araneta Coliseum in 2005, and I remember my initial skepticism toward this roly-poly mass of an import melt into disbelief at the way he could control the game with his quick hands and long arms on defense, Kevin Love-esque outlet passes and assists to his teammates out of the post. Daniels towed Air21/Burger King to the semifinals in the 2006 and 2009 import conferences, turning the perennially undermanned squad that's known for selling players into legit contenders and falling just short of the finals. This year, he's finally on one of the PBA's elite squads, and he's doing the same thing he's always done -- filling in the gaps on defense and making life easy for his teammates on offense.
I want the TNT players to win a championship. I SO want Shawn Daniels to win one. But I don't want any of them to win like this. Not as part of Talk 'N Text, which is like the PBA's answer to the Death Star. The squad was built to vanquish other teams, but it may end up destroying the PBA universe. That's clearly an exaggeration, but the same way NBA fans are turning against the Miami Heat now that they've tried to stack the deck with LeBron, Wade and Bosh, I can't bring myself to cheer for a PBA franchise that just throws enough money at guys to create a straight-up all-star team. We all thought that the PBA had its Yankees, and they were San Miguel, but this time around TNT has out-San-Migged the Cojuangco basketball empire. Who knew such a thing was possible?
Of course it's bad for the league. I'm enjoying the quarterfinal match-up between Alaska and Ginebra, but at the same time I'm wondering if it even matters. Will the winner stand much of a chance against the Death Star? Alaska seems likely to advance and they've got the benefit of a great import and coach Tim Cone, who's often at his best when forced to come up with solutions to impossible problems like "How to slow down TNT." Still, I think they'll get overwhelmed over the course of the series and never really give the Texters a scare.
And the regular season games involving teams like Santa Lucia and Coke and Air21 are becoming borderline unwatchable. I remember reading comments at FireQuinito, where readers were sarcastically suggesting that the PBA just become an MVP league (or MVP and San Miguel league, if SMC remains in the PBA for the long run), with six teams owned by Manny Pangilinan duking it out for the MVP cup. Well that hypothetical league, which was intended to be a joke, might actually be better than the PBA right now. If MVP owned all the teams, he'd have an incentive to spread out the talent. PBA fans would have balanced teams and games worth watching on a regular basis, instead of the current schedule that requires you to mark your calendar for a TNT versus B-Meg game or an Alaska-SMB match.
I'm getting a little bit worried about the PBA. This conference, for the first time since I began following the league, I noticed myself tuning out when I watched games on my computer. That shouldn't happen, and the TNT-SMC axis is largely to blame for draining the PBA's talent pool and only putting a fraction of it to use. They're like Daniel Day Lewis at the end of There Will Be Blood: "I drink your milkshake!" San Miguel used to be the number one culprits. This conference, I think TNT has pulled ahead.
So yeah, Talk 'N Text -- great players, great coaches, a lot of great people. Great team. I hope they lose.