THE PBA is back.
Now on its 44th year, the PBA opens the new year with another Sunday extravaganza pitting two of the league’s most popular teams -- Barangay Ginebra and Talk N Text -- at the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Tip off is 6:30 p.m. after the colorful opening ceremony highlighted by the Leo Awards announcing the league’s Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Top Coach and the traditional parade of teams and their celebrity-muses.
“This is the first time that the Leo Awards will be given on opening day,” said PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial.
The three coaches who won a championship each last season -- Leo Austria of San Miguel Beer (Philippine Cup), Tim Cone of Barangay Ginebra (Commissioner’s Cup) and Chito Victolero of Magnolia Pambansang Manok (Governors’ Cup) -- are fighting it out for the prestigious “Coach of the Year” award.
All three San Miguel Corp. teams swept the PBA 43rd season with the Beermen winning the Philippine Cup, the Gin Kings topping the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup and Hotshots ruling the season-ending Governors’ Cup.
Joining the players and ccoahes of the 12 participating teams during the parade are their beautiful muses:
--2016 Miss International Kylie Verzosa (San Miguel Beermen).
-- Former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach (Barangay Ginebra Kings).
-- Actress Sharon Cuneta (Magnolia Hotshots).
-- Actress Sam Pinto (Talk N Text Tropang Texters).
-- Actress Yam Concepcion (Phoenix Fuel Masters).
-- Volleyball player-model Alyssa Valdez (NLEX Road Warriors).
-- Swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi and volleyball standout Myla Pablo (Blackwater Elite).
--Model Aya Fernandez (NorthPort Batang Pier)
-- Actress Klea Pineda (Alaska Aces).
-- Kelley Day (Columbian Dyip).
-- Anie Uson (Rain or Shine Elasto Painters).
-- Eva Patalinjug (Meralco Bolts).
To match the glitter of the ceremonies is the early battle between the GinKings and the Tropang Texters, two teams that are seeking their prestigious title considered by many as “crown jewel of the season.”
Interestingly, both the Gin Kings and the KaTropa were beaten by the Beermen in the playoff round in the last edition of the kickoff conference.
The Kings are building on their Commissioner’s Cup title run last season while the Texters look to relive glory years that saw them won four Philippine Cup titles over five seasons starting in 2009.
There’s no doubt, though, that the Kings are to unleash more firepower from their arsenal that can match up with reigning Philippine Cup four-time champion San Miguel Beer.
But the Kings have their anxiety against the Texters, at least at this very moment.
“We feel TNT is real motivated because they have something to prove. They let go of Terrence Romeo. I’m sure it was a tough management decision, and the players have got to prove moving Terrence is the right thing,” said Cone.
“They’re gonna be motivated to prove that they can win and be better without him. That’s our anxiety about them. They’re gonna be great,” Cone added. At the same time, the Kings ooze with confidence with all their major players ready to plunge into action.
“That’s the key, to be healthy. Generally, we’re healthy. Greg (Slaughter) is healthy, Japeth (Aguilar) is healthy and LA (Tenorio) who’s always healthy, is healthy. As long as those guys are healthy, we have enough to be good,” said Cone.
Out with health issues are Jeff Chan and Arthur dela Cruz.
With bigger health concern, though, is TNT, with starting big forward Troy Rosario nursing a badly shattered nose bridge. Also with an injury is second-string center Yousef Taha.
But Jayson Castro, RR Pogoy, Ryan Reyes, Jericho Cruz and Kelly Williams will be there to lead the Texters’ bid.