The Toronto Raptors are up 2-1 over the Golden State Warriors in this season’s National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, Palawan!

In a prior series vs the Portland Trailblazers, pundits and fans alike thought that the Warriors have no need of All-Star Kevin Durant, what with their dominant show without KD against the Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum led Blazers … but they are facing a totally different, formidable, resilient and simply hard-nosed team in the Raptors led by Kawhi Leonard.

Injuries may have caused some trouble in the Warriors with Durant out and Demarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson nursing injuries and Toronto made the smart move to get as many wins thus far while the Warriors are short-handed.

Like I said in a prior column, I believe the Raptors can win it if it reaches a game 7. Let’s see how coach Steve Kerr adjusts his game plan for this series.

The MBA Formula

A couple of decades ago, a fledgling regional basketball league aspired to become “THE” Basketball League in the Philippines. Regional or provincial government partners and businessmen banded together to form the Metropolitan Basketball Association, a league supposed to develop local talent from the grassroots of every corner of the Philippines in a provincial or city home and away format.

With the backing of media giant ABS-CBN, the league was able to convince PBA superstars to switch leagues with the likes of Vince Hizon, Peter Naron, Manny Victorino, Gilbert Castillo, Eugene Quilban, Biboy Simon, Ato Agustin, Bong Alvarez et al joining the fray. They were also able to lure upcoming and eventual PBA stars in the likes of Rommel Adducul, Eddie Laure, Rudy Hatfield, Rafi Reavis, Donbel Belano and others.

The combination of upcoming stars and transferees from the PBA and with pomp and pageantry supplied by channel 2 attracted fans from all over the country. The Cebu Gems even fielded an all Cebuano line up at one point driving regional pride.

Alas, player salaries skyrocketed as the league tried to match up with the PBA and when ABS – CBN pulled out its support 4 years after, the league fizzled out… but the proof of concept showed it worked.

Today we see the revival of such regional league in the form of the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League). I strongly believe this league mirrored the concept of the MBA but applied to learn from the latter’s past mistakes. Their team base easily doubled what the MBA had at its prime and if you watch their games on TV, it almost always shows a jam-packed gym full of basketball fans like us.

Are they a threat to the PBA? Maybe not. But the PBA can definitely learn how they can adapt some of the systems that make the MPBL work: more provincial games, lower gate tickets in the provinces, partner with the city mayors to drive the crowds, reach out to the communities while they are in the provinces. Let people see Scottie Thompson in the flesh rather than in posters in a rural store. Go grassroots. Reach out to the fan base. Play less in Araneta and the MOA arena. Play more in the Visayas and Mindanao. Rebrand the league. Make it a league for the people. Not just a metro manila league. Leverage the local TV providers so even if games are provincial, Manila fans can still watch the games live.

The MPBL may be smaller in terms of talent and spend, but they do know how to bring the crowd in. Let’s see how the PBA adopts some of the MPBL’s formulas of success.

(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)

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