By JONAS TERRADO
PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial said he was surprised with the turnout of the first playdate held before a live crowd since the pandemic even as the league prepares for any eventualities following the first recorded cases of the Omicron variant in the country.
Marcial was pleased that expectations were exceeded Wednesday as 1,480 fans, half of the capacity allowed by the Quezon City government, attended the first set of games at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in almost two years.
“Nakakatuwa kung gaano sila kasabik at ganun din tayo kasabik na may fans kaya masarap,” Marcial told reporters in-between the two matches.
“Hindi ko aakalain na ganito kadami kaagad kasi siyempre natatakot pa sa COVID at siyempre magbabayad ka pa at gagastos ka pero nagrespond yung mga fans kaya nakakatuwa,” he added.
Despite the limited audience, the atmosphere evoked memories of the pre-pandemic times when the roar of the crowd would reverberate.
The first time loud cheers were heard was when Magnolia’s Calvin Abueva made a halfcourt heave at the buzzer to end the second quarter of his team’s 114-87 win over Terrafirma.
In the nightcap, TNT fans cheered the loudest, especially in the fourth quarter when their team tried to rally against NLEX, which ended up on the winning end with a 102-100 decision.
“Maririnig mo yung ingay, yung kantyawan, yung pinapagalitan mga referees. Yung hirap natin ito yung resulta,” the PBA commissioner said.
But the PBA’s return to one of its old stomping grounds came on the same day two imported Omicron cases, known to spread quickly compared to other variants, were recorded courtesy of two travelers from Japan and Nigeria.
Marcial acknowledged that the latest development could cause a setback for the league, especially with plans to hold games on Christmas around the corner.
He added that a decision on how the games can continue or possibly postponed in the event the situation gets worse will be made in conjunction with government guidelines.
“Kailangan pa rin natin mag-ingat,” said Marcial. “Pag dumating ang panahon na yun, kung ano ang utos sa atin ng gobyerno. Kung tigil, tigil tayo. Kung semi-bubble, bubble-type. Nakahanda tayo kung papayagan tayo.