Time flew by like a breeze and the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) has just turned a year older.
It was Jan. 25, 2018 when the MPBL first took off with its inaugural Rajah Cup. There were 10 pioneering teams on board in what appeared as a pilot season. It was more like testing the waters, but people from the metropolis who have that feverish passion for basketball came in droves. Games were packed almost every night, every folk on the area wanted to cheer on for their teams — be it Batangas City, Muntinlupa, Caloocan, Quezon City, Navotas, Parañaque, Bataan, Valenzuela, Imus or Bulacan.
Needless to say the league was able to finish off strong in the first season and Senator Manny Pacquiao, the founder and CEO of the MPBL as well as commissioner Kenneth Duremdes and operations manager Zaldy Realubit made sure that the take off of the fastest growing regional amateur basketball event in the country would be a successful one.
Then came the expansion.
The plan was to do it gradually and to manage the expectations, league officials were expecting 50% increase at the most when it comes to participation of new squads.
To their surprise, participating teams ballooned to 26, stretching as far as northern Luzon all the way to down south in the Visayas and Mindanao.
From the Visayas and Mindanao region, Cebu, a hotbed of basketball, joined as well as teams from the Mindanao region — Davao Occidental, General Santos City, Zamboanga and Basilan.
Up north, there’s Pampanga while another city from Cavite, Bacoor, and a team from southern Tagalog, Laguna, also joined in the fray. In the metropolis, there’s Makati, San Juan, Manila, Mandaluyong, Pasay, and Pasig. On the eastern side of the metropolis, there’s Rizal and Marikina, bannered by no less than celebrity baller Gerald Anderson.
In less than a year, the MPBL has become a one happy family and has been playing non-stop heading to its eighth month this season.
The rapid growth was phenomenal and the acceptance of the fans were far from imagination.
But for commissioner Duremdes, probably the best legacy the league has created was bringing hope to basketball players from all levels. In the MPBL, players who didn’t have a chance to shine playing on a bigger stage — the PBA, D-League, or even in elite leagues like the UAAP and NCAA — will have his opportunity showcasing his wares here.
“It’s bringing inspiration to all basketball players out there. Here, we see players, a local hero from their barangay, given an opportunity to shine,” added Duremdes. “It’s like making them realize that they can achieve their dream of giving that chance to play at a higher level. It’s like finding their own sanctuary in the MPBL.”
A kid who’s been out of school for many years has an opportunity to relive his dream and the MPBL would be a perfect stage. After all, this league lives up to its slogan — Liga Ng Bawat Pilipino — where ex-pros, college dropouts, local hero from every town or even those ex-commercial players trying to be given a second chance — can get a call up to play in a league people are going crazy about.
This is the MPBL and the league has just turned a year older and better.
Rey Joble has is a member of the PBA Press Corps and Philippine Sportswriters Association.