MANILA, Philippines—Count Air21 as another franchise now with at least two Philippine Basketball Association teams.
The Bert Lina-owned company recently struck a deal to purchase the disbanded Barako Bull franchise to the tune of “more than P50 million,” a knowledgeable source who requested not to be identified told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Thursday.
“With this, the PBA will surely be back to its old 10-team roster next season,” the source said. “The deal has been signed more than a couple of weeks ago and it is for more than P50 million.”
With Air21 acquiring the Barako Bull franchise, businessman-sportsman Lina becomes the third owner—after Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corp. and Manny V. Pangilinan of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.—to control more than one PBA squad.
San Miguel has the Petron Blaze Boosters, the Derby Ace Llamados and the crowd-darling Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, while Pangilinan owns the Grand Slam-seeking Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and the Meralco B-Boys.
League commissioner Chito Salud denied any knowledge of the deal.
In a telephone interview with the Inquirer on Thursday, Salud said any supposed Air21 purchase would have to get the approval of the league’s board first.
Several companies were interested in acquiring the Barako Bull franchise, including Phoenix Petroleum, whose bid for PBA membership was shot down by the board in March after San Miguel Corp. decided to substitute Petron, which it controls, for San Miguel Beer.
If the amount of the purchase is true, Barako Bull made a killing out of it as Air21 practically inherited a very bare squad.
The Barako Bull franchise has had to “trade” its top players to the other financially stable teams in the past reportedly to make both ends meet.
Meanwhile, Meralco will also avail itself of the Talk ‘N Text clause on national team player-loans by fielding Asi Taulava for the duration of the Governors Cup that opens on Saturday in Tacloban City.
Coach Ryan Gregorio said the management and the coaching staff had no other recourse but to use Taulava after the team was hit by injuries to several key players, including star point guard Chris Ross who would be out for the duration of the tournament.
Kelly Williams and Jimmy Alapag will suit up for Talk ‘N Text, which will try to complete just the league’s fifth Grand Slam.
Although both players have also been loaned to the national team, they will play for Talk ‘N Text for the entire tournament.
The Governors Cup will end in late August, giving Taulava, Alapag and Williams enough time to join the Philippine team that will try to qualify for the London Olympics via the Fiba-Asia tournament in Wuhan, China, in the middle of September.