The PBA commissioner’s office needed to hand down a quick decision to resolve the ugly incident involving ex-NBA player and Petron Blaze Boosters import Renaldo Balkman, who choked his own teammate, Arwind Santos, after charging at referees and shoving an assistant coach and other teammates during the dying seconds of their Friday night game against the Alaska Aces at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
On Monday morning after hearing out Balkman as well as his team’s plea, PBA commissioner Chito Salud issued a swift and firm verdict: "Lifetime ban plus a fine of PhP 250K" (see full statement at the bottom of page).
Despite a remorseful Balkman who apologized on national TV the night before, the former first round draft pick by the New York Knicks received his marching papers from the league together with a forthright message to never suit up in the PBA ever again.
Was the penalty too harsh? Some (mostly sympathetic Petron fans and players) say so. But whether you agree with Salud's decision or not, this scribe believes that all things considered, there is no other option but to banish Balkman.
The obvious is that the commissioner is protecting the PBA's integrity with its fans and around the world, as this incident sets a precedent for future indiscretions. The message is loud and clear: "You just can't do that here." Imagine if Balkman were to get away with a slap on the wrist, and a similar incident occurs involving a different import? Will they allow that import to stay as well? And if they don't, who can blame anyone from calling the league "biased".
Imagine the backlash the PBA will have to deal with if they took such an ugly and unusual incident sitting down?
Did the PBA save face? Perhaps. But at the end of the day, it's in the league's best interest that the embarrassing incident seen around the world, be met with strict disciplinary action. Balkman's apology may be, but his actions are definitely unacceptable no matter how you spin it.
The league needed to distance itself from the drama dubbed "Petronovela" by social media, and move on as quickly as possible. Not having to discuss the incident over and over again with Balkman gone, is vital in accomplishing that. Had Balkman stayed, every Petron game will remind fans of the ugly incident. And what if, in the heat of the moment, Balkman allows his temper to get the best of him again? Who's to say opposing teams won't try to use the incident to get under Balkman's skin in future games? I can really go on and on with this, but the cons simply outweigh the pros regarding Balkman staying in the league.
By closing the book on Balkman, we can all simply move on.
The judgment by no means is a diss on Balkman's character. The fact that he was man enough to face the consequences, apologize, and own up to his actions, says a lot about him as a person. It was an unfortunate incident; People are people. But unless you're name is Curt Hennig (RIP), none of us can be called "perfect". Balkman appeared sincere, and should take refuge in the fact that he was given the opportunity to show a different side of him and apologize on national TV.
Balkman will have plenty of opportunities elsewhere. He is a legit NBA talent, and should use this incident as a learning experience, which can only make him an even better basketball player and person. On the flip side, though they may be pressed for time, there are several other talented imports than can replace Balkman and still help Petron contend for a championship.
As fans, we can be quick with our protests when we see or feel we are wronged, but Salud did the right thing by sending Balkman home and slapping the lifetime ban. He was protecting the integrity of the league, the game, and fans as well; something a real commissioner should do. Salud deserves props for issuing a tough, but correct verdict.
The real question is, with Balkman already getting banished and barred from playing in the PBA in the future: "Who's paying the 250k fine?"
Salud's statement on Balkman:
For initiating threatening physical contact with a referee followed by a prolonged, offensive, belligerent if not aberrant on-court decorum directed toward game officials and his Petron teammates and superiors, including the head coach and assistant coaches, amounting to a blatant and utter disrespect for the game, his own ballclub, the League, the fans and his host country, import player Renaldo Balkman is hereby meted the following penalties :
Ban from playing in the Philippine Basketball Association; and,
A fine of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Pesos (PhP250,000.00).
In arriving at this decision, I took into consideration Balkman’s track record as a player, including the head-butting incident during a FIBA-Americas game between Puerto Rico and Venezuela and his altercation with the bench of the Alaska Aces during a pre-Season game in Cebu City. I also took into consideration Balkman’s evident disregard for local and the host country’s sensibilities highlighted by his choking act on-court in full public view of his own teammate who was trying to pacify him. Stiff as it maybe, this decision upholds the tenets of contextual accountability and the over-all interest of the League and the fans.
I do encourage passion for the game but I also want to firmly instill a culture of accountability among our players. If one does something that violates the rules and the norms of sportsmanship and decent behaviour, he will be made accountable.
The value of accountability is important for me to uphold at all times. I think it is key to this League’s continued success, the development of our players’ maturity and to their role as models to our fans, especially the youth.
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