By Nelson T. Beltran, Philippine Star Sports Editor
AFTER some period of hemming and hawing, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) signed up with the East Asia Super League (EASL) in the end, making it a pioneer member of the regional loop where top PBA ball clubs slug it out with counterparts from China, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.
After four test tourneys in Japan and in Macau, the EASL has set a first full-fledged season, featuring a home-and-away format touching off next year.
The PBA board has approved its EASL participation coming with a PBA representation in the EASL board.
“We’re to field two teams. It will be determined by drawing lots among the top four (in a certain PBA tourney that serves as the qualifier),” said PBA chairman Ricky Vargas.
The PBA first joined the EASL in the second edition of its Super 8 in Macau in 2018, with the NLEX Road Warriors and the Blackwater Elite competing with the Guangzhou Long Lions, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, the Seoul Samsung Thunder, the Incheon Electroland Elephants, the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka and the Formosa Dreams. NLEX finished fourth behind Guangzhou, Seoul and Incheon.
In 2019, EASL rebranded from its initial name Asia League and drew the participation of Blackwater, the TnT KaTropa and the San Miguel Beermen in its Terrific 12 edition. San Miguel entered the semis but lost a nail-biter against the Zhejiang Lions, 91-89.
Emerging as champs in the league’s four preseason tourneys were the Chiba Jets of Japan in 2017, Guangzhou in the 2018 Super 8, the Ryukyu Golden Kings of Japan in the 2018 Terrific 12 and the Liaoning Flying Leopards in the 2019 Terrific 12.
The league has been idle the last two years due to pandemic, but chief executive officer Matt Beyer and chief finance officer Henry Kerins, both Hong Kong-based, have been continuing work to firm up the planned official launch and drum up interest for the FIBA-sanctioned regional loop.
Meanwhile, the PBA board convenes in a meeting today to draw options for a tournament format and venue in anticipation of all eventualities for Season 46 second conference set to start late this month.
The main issue is the format that would fit the pandemic protocols imposed by the government.
The league chairman said a possibility is a home-venue-home setup if the current quarantine status in the National Capital Region eases down to Alert Level 2.
Mr. Vargas said they will lay down options for a possible extension of the current alert level or in case it shoots up.
But the league is all set for the second conference that will bring back imports with a height limit of 6-foot-6. TnT chases a season double with McKenzie Moore as reinforcement.