Nuts. That was one of the first things that I came up with this past March 8 while watching the PBA game between the Alaska Aces and the Petron Blaze Boosters at the Araneta Coliseum.
Alaska was in the midst of beating Petron, a masterful 83-73 win using defense and the skills of Sonny Thoss, Cyrus Baguio and import Robert Dozier. Coach Luigi Trillo’s Aces held Petron import Renaldo Balkman, the seemingly unstoppable former New York Knicks first-round draftee and former Denver Nugget who was averaging 28 points per game, to a lowly six points. It seemed all that was left was the final score.
That’s when he went nuts.
By now, everyone has seen the video of Balkman complaining to the referees after committing a foul, pushing away Petron assistant coach Biboy Ravanes, continuing his bitching, then brushing aside teammate Ronald Tubid, before committing the most egregious offense yet.
Boosters team captain Arwind Santos tried to pacify Balkman but was only met with harsh words. Santos, not a pushover by any means, pushed Balkman, and that’s when Balkman tried choking his own teammate.
In a matter of hours, Balkman was a star on Facebook and Twitter as he became a trending topic. Websites such as Bleacher Report and The Huffington Post had headlines that screamed “Watch former NBA player Renaldo Balkman choke a teammate” or “Renald Balkman chokes teammate in Philippines.” Whatever actions Balkman or anyone from Petron management would do next, the damage had been done.
The import supposedly was contrite when the Boosters returned to the dugout. He apologized to Santos, Santos’ mom, and his wife, as well as each of his teammates. Petron coach Olsen Racela supposedly gave a rousing speech that encouraged his team to unite in the face of this latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending drama people have dubbed the “Petronovela.”
For you see, before his meltdown, the 6-foot-6 Balkman was a clear frontrunner for PBA Commissioner’s Cup Best Import. He had led the Blaze Boosters to a 5-2 record, was a monster on the offensive end, and was supposedly a leader in the dugout.
But in that game against Alaska, he unraveled like few before him ever had. Not only was he missing shots, his energy seemed off, and his teammates couldn’t pick up the slack. Still, any longtime PBA watcher probably just chalked this up to one bad game and had Balkman and the Boosters looking to their next contest.
Instead, he went nuclear. Petron management quickly went into damage control mode as Balkman and Santos appeared together during the PBA’s AKTV Center show on March 10. Coach Racela even called in to back his import.
The entire Blaze Boosters squad showed up with Balkman mere hours before PBA Commissioner Chito Salud was set to announce the ramifications of his actions. They all stated forgiveness and contriteness while promising to move forward in hopes of claiming their first title in two years. Then the boom came.
Commissioner Chito Salud, on the afternoon of March 11, 2013, fined Balkman P250,000 and proceeded to ban the import from ever playing in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) ever again.
"I took into consideration Balkman's track record including the head-butting incident during a FIBA-Americas game between Puerto Rico and Venezuela, and his altercation with the bench of the Alaska Aces during a pre-season game in Cebu City,” Salud said.
"I also took into consideration Balkman’s evident disregard for local and the host country’s sensibilities highlighted by his choking act on-court in full public view of his own teammate who was trying to pacify him," Salud added. "Stiff as it maybe, this decision upholds the tenets of contextual accountability and the over-all interest of the league and fans.”
Tarnishing the league’s reputation
Clearly, Salud was not going to allow anyone, let alone an import, tarnish the image of the PBA. In the Age of Social Media, it took mere minutes for the video of Balkman’s hand on Santos’ throat to circumnavigate the globe. This was perhaps the first time the PBA was trending on Twitter since Barako Bull’s Mick Pennisi famously delayed flop after being hit with a basketball in March 2012. But this was no joking matter.
Balkman thus joined the short list of players that have been banned by the PBA for life. Imports Derrick Hamilton (Pepsi), Ronnie Thompkins (Swift), Kelvin Upshaw (Shell) were all sacked for illegal drugs, while Andrew Moten (San Miguel Beer) was banned for disrespecting league officials, and Jojo English (Sta. Lucia) for reneging on contractual obligations.
What followed the Salud decision has been almost as bizarre as Balkman’s actions. San Miguel Corporation, parent company of Petron, San Mig Coffee and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, declared that it was “reevaluating its participation in the PBA.”
A founding member of the league in 1975, San Miguel further added in a statement that, “Our reputation is of utmost importance to us because we have worked hard to cultivate this good name through the decades. But it takes only one unfortunate incident like this to undo all our efforts.”
This declaration has been viewed as sourgraping on SMC’s part as it viewed Salud’s mandate as too harsh. The food and beverage giant’s three PBA franchises have been some of the most successful and most popular teams in league history, though other power blocs (the MVP Group’s Talk ‘N Text and Meralco, and Bert Lina’s Barako Bull and Air 21) have risen.
For SMC to seemingly threaten pulling out of the PBA just reeks of bad sportsmanship and of a child who didn’t get what he wants so he’ll just throw a tantrum instead. The fact of the matter is that Petron’s import acted like a psychopath and he was punished accordingly.
If Petron, San Miguel Corporation, or big bosses Danding Cojuangco and Ramon Ang can’t deal with the commissioner’s decision for the good of the league, then they’re clearly only out for themselves and would be willing to risk another meltdown and further damage the perception of the PBA worldwide.
In years past, former PBA member Bong Tan of Tanduay once accused the league of being a “San Miguel league” as he claimed biases in favor of the SMC bloc. Now that they don’t get to keep their talented yet schizophrenic import, they threaten pulling out?