Sometimes, we just need the truth slapped into our faces. We can’t avoid it. We can run and hide, but the inevitable will find a way to sneak its way back into our lives. 

Life will find ways to give us a Real Talk. Always. This is our version of it in the world of Philippine Basketball. Welcome to Humblebola Real Talk.

In an age when the NBA, widely considered the pinnacle of professional basketball, has been making strides in fostering inclusivity and empowering the athletes that bring joy and inspiration to millions around the world, it is… not surprising, yet not any less disappointing that the PBA, the premier professional basketball league in the Philippines, is doing the opposite.

Recently the PBA confirmed the existence of a rule approved by the PBA Board of Governors in 2018 which looks to penalize players who do not join the PBA draft despite being eligible. This “draft dodger” is targeted at those like Kiefer Ravena, Bobby Ray Parks Jr., Stanley Pringle and Garvo Lanete who delay entering the PBA draft while chasing an NBA dream or simply playing in different leagues.

According to the rule, athletes have two years upon completing their eligibility within which to sign up for the PBA draft. That’s 2 years from using up their college playing years and playing the required amount of D-League games. Failure or refusal to sign up for the draft within that time may result in a ban from ever entering the league in the future.

In contrast the NBA in the past decade has been setting up rules to prevent prospects from making the leap too soon, encouraging athletes to go through college first or refine their skills elsewhere before coming the NBA.

At first it looks like a harmless proposal. What’s the harm? Sign up, join the draft, don’t get drafted and you’re free to leave, just be sure to have your hand stamped so you can come back later on. The problem is if you DO get drafted and you DO get signed to a contract. You’re practically trapped.

With every player signing there’s a standard player’s contract for PBA players. Among the documented stipulations is an exclusivity clause, one that prevents players from participating in other basketball leagues for the duration of his contract. This was one of the issues faced by Calvin Abueva when the Phoenix Fuel Masters suspended him for playing in unsanctioned leagues.

For athletes whose hoop dreams end with signing a PBA contract, this is fine. They wouldn’t want to play anywhere else anyway. But for those who dream bigger, those who want to play in the NBA or even just an international league, this is trouble.

Can they simply refuse to sign with a team that spent their first round pick to draft them? Theoretically, yes. But at what cost? More bans? More sanctions? Looking like a huge douchebag for disappointing the team management and fans?

This creates a scenario where athletes whose goal is to take a shot at playing in bigger leagues, or want to take the time to develop their skills in order to make sure they can perform better before entering the PBA have to begrudgingly go through the whole draft process, hoping nobody picks him, and if they do, refuse to sign a contract so that they can continue to seek opportunity elsewhere.

Once they’ve signed a contract, that’s it, they’re locked into the PBA until the PBA doesn’t want them anymore. Rookie contracts span anywhere from two conferences to three years, and even when that contract is up, you’re still not in total control.

When Greg Slaughter announced that following the end of his contract with Ginebra he was going to take a break from basketball, signifying his intent not to renew his contract, league sources immediately reminded the public that should he later choose to return to the league, Ginebra would still get first dibs over signing him to a deal.

It’s one thing to demand professionalism, the idea that contractual obligations should be honored and complied with in good faith, and it’s another thing to pressure people into contracts that lock them in and leave them at your mercy.

With this rule in place and a ban looming over their heads, players like Alvin Pasaol, Troy Rike and Thirdy Ravena will need to consider joining the draft immediately lest they never get the chance to play in the PBA. For them, the PBA isn’t the only option. They’re good enough to be the faces of other brands and play in other leagues which will give them the same if not more income than playing in the PBA.

But for those who aren’t like them, those who want to bide their time and improve themselves before entering the draft, before going through the rigors of the combine because they know that the draft process is their best shot at getting noticed with all eyes on the prospects, rushing them into the draft when they don’t feel ready is pushing them into a trap of contracts they will have little control over.

With new leagues emerging, it’s easy to see why the PBA wants to pressure athletes into signing up with them. It gives them more control over the fates of the players, but of the basketball amusement industry as well.