Holiday cheers

Magnolia’s Ian Sangalang (left) and Scottie Thompson of Barangay Ginebra headlined the last Christmas Day game at Philippine Arena in Bulacan in 2017. —TRISTAN TAMAYO

Barangay Ginebra, the PBA’s biggest draw and defending champion of the upcoming Governors’ Cup, will likely banner a Christmas Day twinbill as the league tries to bring added holiday cheers to the country still battling the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ginebra will most likely be playing,” commissioner Willie Marcial told a few reporters during a chance encounter at the league’s offices in Libis on Friday, as the PBA held its routine COVID-19 screening for delegates ahead of the season-ending tournament’s kickoff on Wednesday.


The Gin Kings have a rich Christmas Day history in the PBA, playing some of its most memorable games, and have a 10-1 record with its wins and its only loss witnessed by thousands whenever the PBA decides to play that day.

If the games push through this season, this will be just the second time, according to statistical chief Fidel Mangonon III, that the league will play with imports on Christmas after the Ginebra vs Alaska match pitting Chris Porter of the Gin Kings against Odell Bradley of the Aces.

There have been 14 Christmas Day playdates since 2002, with the last held in 2017. And the Kings have headlined 11 of those playdates with Mark Caguioa, the charismatic Ginebra gunslinger, still owning the record for most total points scored with 122.

Jimmy Alapag, the retired ex-Gilas star and TNT skipper, scored the most points in a single Christmas Day game with 39 built around eight triples in 2004, in a game the then-Tropang Texters lost to Ginebra.

Fans could be back

Marcial said that the league is also looking at playing games on Sunday, Dec. 26, in a bid to gift basketball fans continued entertainment and go back to its long tradition of playing during the yuletide season.

“Those are just some of the things on the table. We have a board meeting on Dec. 13 to get the team governors up to speed and lay down the final plans for the [Christmas weekend],” he added.

The league is currently waiting for the local governments’ go-signal to accommodate fans. The decision on this will determine whether the Christmas games and the contests slated for Dec. 26 will be played in the league’s long-time staging sites like the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao or Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.

“If we’re allowed to bring in fans, we’re looking at playing at MOA Arena [in Pasay City] and Araneta Coliseum [in Quezon City]. We’ll learn about the LGUs’ (local government unit) decision within this week.”

Marcial said the two venues will have varying setups for spectators. The PBA has set a cap of 1,200 people for MOA Arena, while 4,000 people can be accommodated at the Big Dome. Both will require fans to wear masks and provide proof that they have been inoculated before they could enjoy the games through distanced seating.


Discounted ticket prices

An approval will prompt the league to pilot test opening its games to the public as early as Dec. 15, according to the commissioner. Marcial said he is pushing for a 50-percent markdown for tickets.

In the event that the local governments nix the PBA’s bid, the special playdates will be held back at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig, where most of the regular games are set to be played.

The PBA last held Christmas Games in 2017, with NLEX beating GlobalPort, 115-104, and Barangay Ginebra prevailing fancied rival Magnolia, 89-78.

Alaska and NorthPort officially get the import-spiced showcase going at 3 p.m., before powerhouse San Miguel Beer plays NLEX at 6 p.m.

The Beermen, who traded away old hands Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos, will be playing three games in the first five days. INQ

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