The bubble chief: A day in the life of Willie Marcial

Published November 22, 2020, 1:55 PM

by Jeremiah Sevilla

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial (PBA Images)

SMART CLARK GIGA CITY–One can only imagine how busy PBA commissioner Willie Marcial is in running the show that is the historic Philippine Cup bubble. 

So, how does the league chief live through his tight day with a great responsibility on his shoulder?

Marcial starts the day with a prayer and a breakfast before proceeding to talk with deputy commissioner Eric Castro and other league staff about updates inside the self-contained zone and entertain questions from the members of the media. 

He then monitors the games at the Angeles University Foundation Arena, a 15 to 20-minute drive away from Quest Hotel, the official residence of the bubble delegation. Officiating is his main concern during games, making sure to discuss with the referees some contentious calls and offer his comments to them. 

The PBA chief admitted that his work schedule in the bubble is way more different than the one he used to have pre-pandemic. 

In this setup–the first of its kind in the Philippines–Marcial needs to oversee the mandatory swab testing of the whole delegation every two weeks, the schedule of activities particularly in the swimming pool and gym, and the readiness of the playing venue as well as the buses that will take the teams there. 

The 59-year-old commissioner said he already braced for this “new normal” in Asia’s first play-for-pay league. 

“Hinanda ko na sa sarili ko na ganito ang mangyayari sa’kin, wala ako sa pamilya ko at solo lang ako. Inaral ko na ‘yun days before pumunta para pagdating alam ko na ‘yung mga expectations ko,” he said. 

“Kailangan on top ako at hindi pwedeng ipakita na mahina o malungkot ako kahit kanino lalo na sa staff. Kailangan makita nila na okay ako dahil doon din sila huhugot ng lakas sa akin,” he added. 

However, a few incidents disrupted and even threatened to burst the bubble. 

Coming off a long layoff and a short preparation, some players suffered serious injuries in the early goings of the league restart, most notably Alaska’s Kevin Racal (ACL injury) and San Miguel’s Terrence Romeo (dislocated shoulder) who both needed to make an early exit. 

Clamor for the lifting of Calvin Abueva’s suspension grew louder, with the fans venting their frustration on Marcial. 

Read: Fans rejoice as Abueva returns

But the most earthshaking was the news of two “false positive” cases that put the safety and integrity of the bubble in question. 

A referee was the first reported positive case followed by a Blackwater player. Both turned out negative on antigen and confirmatory RT-PCR tests but still underwent strict isolation at the national quarantine facility in Capas, Tarlac. 

Uncertainties clouded over the staging of the bubble and there were even calls for its stoppage. But Marcial stood strong and steady, taking into consideration the sacrifices that he and all the other delegates made for this to happen. 

“Kailangan kong itaguyod itong bubble na sinimulan ko. Ang hirap nito simulan at buuin,” said the former media bureau chief. 

The league went on a four-day postponement to comply with the additional health protocols from the IATF and DOH, resulting in a highly compressed schedule of 30 games in just nine days. 

It was a survival of the fittest for all the 12 teams. Now, only four remain in the race to the league’s crown jewel–the all-Filipino championship. 

The playoffs also mean a lighter schedule for the PBA’s 10th commissioner. He now has more time to talk to his family back home and allot 45 minutes to an hour of brisk walking along with his staff. 

Marcial admitted shedding off some weight due to the healthy food served in the hotel and of course, the stress of handling such an enormous task of keeping the bubble intact.   

Read: The Herculean task of feeding hundreds of hungry grown men inside the PBA bubble

“Noong una, makapag-jumpball lang masaya na ‘ko or makatapos lang ng eliminations then maka-playoffs lang. Hinihingi ko lang talaga nang dahan-dahan. At ngayon nandito na tayo sa semis,” he said. 

“Mag-iisip ka talaga palagi. Kung hindi ka matibay or na-psych up ‘yung sarili mo, bibigay ka.” 

Fifty-six days have already passed and the bubble is nearing a successful conclusion but the work is not yet done for Marcial until he sees a team hoisting the Philippine Cup trophy.