You’ve probably read this a million times already.

Asia’s first play-for-pay basketball league.

The oldest professional basketball league outside of the NBA.

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has long prided itself on having a rich history. With a diverse set of characters and stories that have become classics, the PBA has safely established itself as the number one league for the everyday Filipino. 

The NBA is still the ultimate dream but making it to something as prestigious as the PBA is the next best thing. Who wouldn’t want to play for Asia’s first play-for-pay basketball league, the same organization that’s showcased the likes of Ramon Fernandez, Robert Jaworski, Alvin Patrimonio, and Johnny Abarrientos? 

The norm has always been NBA, PBA, or bust. But in a fast-paced world, norms are starting to be crushed. It’s become inevitable.

This all started to pick up steam during the early 2010s, when High School phenoms Kiefer Ravena and Bobby Ray Parks reportedly received offers to potentially play abroad. People immediately thought a road to the NBA was starting to pave itself. But more importantly, a path to becoming a better basketball player had emerged. Instead of playing in the local amateur leagues, why not play abroad? 

Kobe Paras’ transfer out of La Salle Greenhills to Middlebrooks Academy in Los Angeles further amplified this. While Kobe’s stint in the States may have been a mixed bag, he did come out with some important takeaways out of the experience. 

Mas may opportunity sa labas ng bansa. This has long applied for regular Filipino families. Basketball players were starting to gain a better understanding of this idea.

As interest in playing abroad started to increase, the reverse was happening for people’s trust in the PBA. But why was this the case? Why go abroad instead of playing in Asia’s first play-for-pay basketball league? The oldest professional basketball league outside of the NBA? What happened to NBA, PBA, or bust?  

Globalization has been ongoing for years now and basketball is not an exception to this. More than the emergence of superstars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Joel Embiid in the NBA, fans are becoming more aware of leagues outside the Association. 

The Euroleague has become widely accepted as the next best thing to the NBA. Just recently, the National Basketball League (NBL) in Oceania has gained prominence because of LaMelo Ball’s involvement with the league.

More than the talent, what have been more eye-catching for fans are the formats and programs within these leagues. From the structure of the Euroleague’s operations to the NBL’s Next Stars program built for elite young talents, professional leagues abroad have created an environment that is conducive both for competition and development. Leagues have adapted to this desire for continued progress of players. Growth never stops, even for pros, after all.

Which brings us to the PBA. 

Asia’s first play-for-pay league.

The oldest professional basketball league outside of the NBA.

A league with a history so rich they’ve continued to use this as the anchor of their marketing strategies. But there must be a point when a league, no matter how good its past may be, evolves, right? 

Coach Tab Baldwin touched on the league’s need for evolution on Coaches Unfiltered by Tiebreaker Vodcasts. He talked about how coaches in the Philippines are talented, but league systems hinder them from showcasing their complete abilities. This was met with plenty of criticism by opposing coaches. But surprisingly, the majority of fans accepted Baldwin’s controversial remarks. 

The writing was on the wall and fans have been all eyes. With knowledge of global standards and experience of what our local leagues offer, connoisseurs of Philippine Basketball have long advocated for change. The league hasn’t listened to its fans nor coaches. But all hope isn’t lost. The power is now in the hands of its talent.

As much power as owners have on their teams, we’ve slowly been ushering an era of player empowerment. Our athletes are starting to realize they have the power of choice thanks to their talent, which isn’t easily replaceable, and the global nature of the sport they play today. 

Long gone are the days of NBA, PBA, or bust. The Association remains a dream for Filipinos but it’s no longer the be-all, end-all of their careers. The true goal players have today is to simply be their best selves. If that means going to a foreign league that isn’t the NBA, so be it, as long as it benefits their career in the long run.

Enter the man of the moment, Thirdy Ravena. It has recently been reported that the three-time UAAP Finals MVP is headed to Japan to play for its B.League. It was met with plenty of excitement by Filipino basketball fans and not the reasons one may expect.

It’s not because of tougher competition. Arguably, the PBA has a more loaded talent pool compared to the B.League. In terms of raw talent, athleticism, and even skill, Filipinos are superior to the Japanese. So, what’s the value add then for Thirdy?

It’s all about the system. This is only the first step in what we assume will be the beginning of Thirdy’s journey through professional basketball abroad. What makes this move so exciting is because Thirdy will be exposed to a system that’s fit for modern basketball needs and a larger market that expands his reach in the basketball world. 

It’s like a fresh graduate’s first job in an industry that’s incredibly competitive. It may not be the best, but at least he’s taken a step to gain experience so he can move up the ladder in the future. Once he familiarizes himself with the system of the industry he’s in, more possibilities start to pop up. All of this so he can be the best basketball player possible.

But why not be the best basketball player possible by playing in the Philippines?

We ask ourselves the same question. Chances are, we’ll still be asking this as more and more players leap to leagues abroad. Filipino basketball players are only getting better. They deserve nothing less but a system and an environment that welcomes growth, progression, and the realization of one’s best self. You can’t just settle on being Asia’s first play-for-pay basketball league, or being the oldest professional basketball league outside of the NBA. We deserve more as Filipinos, in a sport that’s become global.