Clark Freeport — Home of the Brave
Assuming that the Inter-Agency Task Force poses no objection, a 350-man Philippine Basketball Association entourage — from members of the 12 ball clubs, league officials, technical staff and medical personnel to a TV crew and a handful of sportswriters — will caravan by bus to Clark Freeport in Mabalacat, Pampanga — 1hr, 44min from Manila — on September 26 and stay cooped up there for the next two months or so in an attempt to recreate an NBA-type bubble with the goal of completing a one-conference 45th season starting October 9.
Home of the brave for 10 weeks max will be the Quest Hotel at Mimosa Plus leisure estate inside Clark Freeport. The estate is a luxurious 4-star tourist and business destination 7min from the Clark International Airport which features, among many amenities, a 36-hole golf course, swimming pool, on-site restaurant and conference center.
The PBA delegation will have the entire hotel, with single and double occupancy rooms, at its exclusive disposal for the duration of the Philippine Cup.
From there, 17 minutes away via Manuel A. Roxas Highway, is the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center, which hosted the wrestling events during the 30th Southeast Asian Games last year and which will be the main venue for full-contact PBA games when these restart next month.
AUF welcomed visiting NBA star Jordan Clarkson five years ago when he connected with hometown relatives of his Filipina mother in Angeles, and the house of the Great Danes will be sanitized to high medical standards before, during and after the bubble conference.
Inside Clark, the St. Paul American School will make available its hardwood playing court as practice facility of PBA teams, which will reportedly play doubleheaders on a daily basis.
Last Thursday, Clark got the nod after PBA commissioner Willie Marcial and team governors led by league chairman Ricky Vargas of TNT KaTropa and vice chair Bobby Rosales of Terra Firma (Columbian Dyip) met to finalize plans for the season restart.
“We looked at all those that were interested to host the PBA, and we thought it was the one that has the most complete offering from the safety standpoint, particularly from the protocol, from the control, the nearness to hospitals and our ability to take care of the mental health of our players during the bubble,” Vargas said in a Zoom press conference.
Vargas said the league had been working closely with Bases Conversion and Development Authority head Vince Dizon and Clark Development Corporation president and CEO Noel Manankil regarding arrangements for the planned bubble.
The only hurdle now is for the PBA to secure an approval from the Inter-Agency Task Force, which has only allowed the pro leagues to hold training sessions under strict health measures.
“Once we get an approval from the IATF, we’re ready to go,” said Vargas.
The plan is for teams to enter the bubble on Sept. 27 for a 15-day scrimmage followed by the season restart which is expected to last until the second week of December.
Marcial said a doubleheader will be held seven times a week under a compact schedule.
COVID-19 tests based on the protocols of the Department of Health will be observed while everyone inside won’t be allowed to leave the bubble during the duration of the season.
Meanwhile, Dizon welcomed the decision of the PBA to hold its bubble inside Clark.
During Friday’s Malacanang press briefing in Baguio City, Dizon said the planned bubble could serve as model for the country to get back on its feet under the so-called “new normal.”
“Tingin ko po ang PBA bubble ay napalaki na simbolo sa pagpunta natin sa new normal, dahil alam naman natin na ang greatest pastime ng ating mga kababayan at basketball,” he said.
Manankil said the bubble tourney is a welcome event as it would help stir local economy once again, particularly the hospitality industry.
Clark has been among the preferred destinations for numerous sports-related activities and has been recognized by the Philippine Sports Tourism Awards (PSTA) as the “Sports Destination of the Year” for 2015 and 2018.
It has also hosted various international and local events including Rugby 7s, archery, baseball and dancesports in the 2019 SEA Games. (With reports from Jonas Terrado)