by TITO S. TALAO
Manila, Philippines – A TEAM from China, co-owned by for mer Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, is playing a goodwill game against a PBA selection handled by B-Meg coach Tim Cone on June 28 at SM-MOA.
No problem. Bring them over.
Plans are also afoot to have the visiting Shanghai Sharks test coach Chot Reyes’ Smart Gilas II team.
No problem. Go for it.
PBA commissioner Chito Salud was quoted to say, “the goodwill game aims to strengthen the ties between the two countries,“ and that “we’re heeding the President’s call to help heal our relationship.“
Commendable. But hold it, Houston, we may have a problem.
What? An incident that took place in August last year in Beijing could break out here and scuttle the PBA’s best intentions.
Here’s the CNN story:
“A goodwill basketball game between a U.S. college and a Chinese military team turned into an ugly brawl, leaving a blackeye on sports diplomacy.
“The game between the Georgetown team, which is in on a trip to China, and the Bayi Rockets escalated into an oncourt fracas Thursday.
“With about 10 minutes left into the exhibition game and the score tied at 64, players exchanged blows, triggering a bench-clearing melee.
“Match organizers failed to keep order on the court. Irate Chinese spectators hurled plastic bottles onto the court as the Georgetown players headed for the locker room.
“The American collegiate team is on a 10-day trip as part of a program to promote goodwill through sports and coincided with US Vice President Joe Biden’s official visit to China.“
Who’s to say for sure that the same won’t happen here? A misplaced elbow. A stuck-out foot. A bone-jarring moving pick. A hand-breaking foul. All in the heat of competition. Any of these could trigger a scuffle which might spark an escalation.
And with delicate political goals attached to this game, a bench-emptying brawl could inflame even more an already combustible situation, regardless whose side gets hurt.
The PBA has to make sure no burning embers from the Georgetown-Bayi incident will find their way here and get fanned.
How? Here’s a few: By keeping competitive fire on a manageable level. By reminding Cone that this is a goodwill game, not Game 7 of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals. No championship is at stake here, only friendly relations between neighbor countries. By producing an All-Star atmosphere, where explosive offense, not kick-and-claw defense, is the attraction. And by making clear to the PBA selection how the scenario ought to play out, explaining to them that they actually are ambassadors of goodwill, not home soldiers defending against an invading army.
Beat the other team, yes, but never lose sight of the fundamental spirit behind the project.
Lastly, get Yao Ming to tell his coaches and players the same.