Despite a fire that broke out in a portion of Smart Araneta Coliseum because of faulty wiring that forced the PBA Commissioner’s Office to call off Game 6 of the Governors’ Cup Finals at the 11th hour on Wednesday, league chief Willie Marcial is still grateful beyond words.
“We’ve experienced some really low points the last two years [because of the COVID-19 pandemic],” Marcial told the Inquirer. “But this conference has really strengthened our belief that the PBA is still the No. 1 sports entertainment vehicle in the country judging from how the fans responded when we opened our doors [to live attendance] again.”
“The Good Lord has truly blessed our league,” Marcial went on. “The fans have been unbelievable and I thank them, and of course, our board of governors which continues to give all out support.”
Pandemic era records
The PBA is really experiencing a rejuvenation as crowds have flocked by the multitude. The best-of-seven title series between Barangay Ginebra and Meralco continues to drive the fans inside the venues as pandemic era records are being broken by the game.
“It just goes to show the Filipinos’ continued love for basketball and their appreciation to the kind of action the PBA can give,” said Marcial, who stressed that the safety of everyone was his primary consideration in postponing the potential title-series clinching game for the Gin Kings.
Faulty wiring within the Big Dome’s ventilation system near its Red Gate caused the fire. Thick, choking smoke then made its way to the stands and to center court where the league was holding pool play of its 3×3 tournament, which also had to be called off.
“Even if we are able to remove all that smoke, even after an hour or two, I think it’s still dangerous,” said Marcial. “It would be unsafe for fans, unsafe for players, and unsafe for the [league’s staff]. My priority is everyone’s safety.”
Marcial doesn’t think that the postponement will stop the momentum of the crowd from seeing the last game—or games—of the hotly-contested series that the Kings lead, 3-2.
Close to overflow
From playing in front of zero fans until near the end of last year, the Finals is playing before an average attendance of 15,271 fans, give or take a few.
The last two games have seen astonishing attendances, with Game 4, a 95-84 Ginebra win that sewed the series up, hosting 17,298 fans and Game 5 packing 18,251 fans at the cavernous Big Dome in Cubao, Quezon City.
Game 3 actually started the boom as an 83-74 Meralco win was witnessed by 16,104 souls.
“It really gives me goosebumps seeing the fans back,” Marcial said. “That’s why we (PBA leadership) kept running the league even throughout the pandemic because we know we owe it to the fans who have been with us no matter what.
“People are eager to watch the last games of the season, so I was really expecting another packed night,” he said with a smile.
Under Marcial’s leadership, the PBA has been met with a bevy of tests—from stoppages brought on by the pandemic, and an exodus of top prospects to neighboring Asian leagues. So count on Asia’s pioneering pro league to treat the Game 6 postponement as a small speed bump.
The stoppage during the pandemic was a cruel one as the Commissioner’s Office literally emptied its bank account and was forced to slash salaries of some of its personnel to make it through.
Players also took 20 percent pay cuts at one point, but everyone continued with some of the league’s marquee stars even telling Marcial that they were willing to shoulder some everyday expenses.
“I’m not losing hope,” said Marcial. “If we can battle through the pandemic, we can do anything. As long as the fans are there, we’re going to fight on.”
And judging from the way Ginebra and Meralco have played in this series, the league will have a great ending to its 46th Season no matter who wins. INQ
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