Dubai: They came to dazzle their kababayan in the UAE, and even haphazard organisation on behalf of the local promoter failed to stop them from succeeding.
Talk N' Text Tropang Texters, Barangay Ginebra Kings and B-Meg Derby Ace Lllamados treated their basketball-crazy compatriots to an unforgettable spectacle during the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA) Governors' Cup Middle East Swing at Al Shabab Sports Club last weekend.
Much of the pre-event talk had revolved around Talk N' Text, who had begun the Governors' Cup bidding to become only the fourth team to pull off the Grand Slam having already sealed the All-Filipino and Commissioner Cup.
They arrived in Dubai on the back of three straight wins and were eager to take that tally to five by the end of the two-day event. Coach Chot Reyes eventually had to be content with a compromise as his men showed tremendous spirit in bouncing back from a closely-fought 105-111 opening game defeat to a James Yap-inspired B-Meg to secure a brilliant 123-113 victory over the ever popular Barangay Ginebra on day two.
The drama did not end there for Talk N' Text at least, as their journey back home turned into a nightmare. Team members were left stranded at Dubai International Airport after an embarrassing goof-up by their hosts, the Filipino Basketball Centre (FBC) who fell short in paying the team's hotel bill and for the return flights. According to reports, the situation led to players having to dip into their own pocket to purchase return tickets that eventually saw them homeward bound on separate flights.
PBA commissioner Chito Salud expressed his hope in a statement that the fiasco would not overshadow the high-quality entertainment dished out by the three teams who all seem to relish the idea of returning to the UAE to compete in such events on a regular basis.
"Of course [referring to returning to the UAE], because there were so many fans who came," said pin-up boy Yap who easily scored the most points when it came to drawing applause from the fans. "So it's very important for us to see that [happening] and I love [being part of] it.
He added: "It is a memorable experience you know, because all our kababayan are here and they gave us support and we are thankful for that. I wanted to give them the enjoyment they were looking for and I'm so happy I was able to do that."
Sending their rivals to their first defeat of the preliminary rounds made the trip sweeter for the PBA's Most Valuable Player of 2010. "They are looking for the Grand Slam and we don't want that to happen," he said with a smile of contentment.
Talk N' Text point-guard Jimmy Alapag, a nine-time PBA All Star added: "It was definitely an honour to be here in Dubai. The crowd was incredible.
"I think it's great for the Filipinos, it's great for the PBA and again Dubai is an incredible place, hopefully we'll make it a habit to come here more often."
B-Meg's new recruit Darnell Hinson had only joined the team from Puerto Rico a week before his debut, but the former American pro has already understood what the sport means to the Filipinos. "I think it's a lot more passionate [among the Filipinos than the Puerto Ricans] because they actually love the game, they love the players and follow the players so it's great," he said.
Verna Moralita was one fan who travelled all the way from Abu Dhabi to follow B-Meg, and Yap in particular. "It's not a problem for me [to travel] as long as James is here," she said, revealing why getting a photo with her favourite player was never going to be a problem. "He knows me personally."
Sharjah resident Michelle Navarro said she endured an anxious wait till just before the Talk N' Text-B-Meg game to find out if her attempts to get a pass had been successful. "I was really excited," she said. "If I didn't get the pass I would have bought the ticket. I was told it was Dh150 but I didn't mind."
So there you are, let down by their host, but definitely not by their adoring fans.
The unsavoury episode involving Talk N'Text Tropang Texters only added impetus to PBA commissioner Chito Salud's words before the incident took place when XPRESS asked if Filipino expatriates here could expect to see more of their favourite teams and players in the UAE in the future.
"It's really a question of the affordability," Salud had said. "If we find more sponsors and more promoters willing to bring in the teams, the PBA will be open to negotiations to keep our costs down to enable the promoters to make money. That's our main goal, to allow them to make money, and to be able to bring the games here and to let the fans enjoy."