As our major basketball leagues return to business this week after giving way to the Fiba Asia tourney, a small tournament of seven teams enters its fourth playing date this weekend.
The intriguing part is that none of the squads are big-league basketball teams but in the public domain, they’re virtual giants that all of us have to deal with at one point in our lives.
The UNTV Cup features the basketball teams of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Judiciary, the Department of Justice, Philhealth, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Congressional-Local Government Units.
UNTV is the television network of the Ang Dating Daan religious organization that has public service as one of its major advocacies. What better way to create a network of alliances that can help in that regard than through basketball?
The basketball tournament sprang out of two previous exhibition games at Smart Araneta Coliseum that featured teams of movie-TV personalities against a group of congressmen and other public officials. Organizers soon felt that a tournament featuring public servants was viable and thus the UNTV Cup was unveiled last July 29 at the Big Dome.
The tournament is a spirited one because one can never really go wrong with Filipinos playing their favorite sport. The league became a natural extension of what the different organizations were doing anyway.
The Congressional team, for example, has had a regular pickup game going after sessions while the AFP and PNP teams have been around playing in tournaments like the AFP Little Olympics.
There are players who have decent games, and when you combine them with former big-league players and movie stars who play regularly, you do get a lively and competitive league.
Among the former PBA and PBL players in the league are Gerry Esplana, Don Camaso, Ariel Capus, Ollan Omiping, Winston Sergio and Eugene Tan while the performers’ list includes Jao Mapa, Eric Fructoso, Kerr and Zoren Legaspi, Jay Manalo, Onyok Velasco, Jon Hall and Erick Vijandre among others.
If that isn’t star-studded enough, the league commissioner is PBA legend Atoy Co, who is joined by his current Mapua assistant coach Ed Cordero as deputy commissioner.
What’s more, the champion and the runner-up of the short tournament get to do their share for a charitable institution of their choice. The winner donates P1 million while the second placer gives P500,000. Not bad, if you think about it, since players get to play in a competitive league while chipping in for good causes.
The games are featured on a Sunday afternoon stretch on UNTV. Many of the amateur players initially admitted being anxious strutting their stuff on TV especially against the former pros and celebrities. Some of the former players still have it like Omiping and Sergio. But in time, the competitive drive took over and the initial jitters about playing on TV soon disappeared.
The UNTV Cup has no illusions about stealing the limelight from the more established leagues on TV on a Sunday afternoon. It’s quite content having its own tournament in season and getting players to help a cause.
What’s more, the friendships sealed in the games will surely translate into better alliances when the need to align for public service comes around.