MANILA -- "Mas mabuti 'yun kaysa wala."
This is the sentiment of NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao when it comes to playing games without fans in the venue, as the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) continues to deliberate on the best way to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the league.
The PBA suspended all of its activities on March 11, just three days after opening its 45th season when it became clear that the outbreak was affecting public health. Since then, Commissioner Willie Marcial has said that the league will either return for one conference, or they will cancel the season entirely.
A decision will be made in August.
Guiao, speaking during an online coaching webinar hosted by Blackwater, said that he would prefer a "gradual opening," mirroring the moves that other leagues are doing worldwide.
"The NBA, they're opening up their facilities already so the players can practice and get back in shape. Narinig ko kanina, sa Germany, 'yung Bundesliga mag-uumpisa na rin," Guiao noted. "'Yung baseball sa Korea, balik na rin."
"So ito, start na ito. Hindi lang practice, mag-uumpisa na sila," he said. "So maybe we can pick up from that, just to have a semblance of normalization, not only for the PBA, but also for the country. Na maramdaman ng bansa na umo-okay na rin tayo."
Guiao makes it clear that the league should still follow the government rules and protocols. As it stands, sports events are among the mass gatherings banned in the guidelines released by the government's Inter-Agency Task Force.
If this means playing in front of empty crowds, Guiao is just fine with it.
"Kung gusto nating manood, 'wag muna tayo doon sa venue. TV tayo, livestream tayo, kung wala, sa radyo tayo. I guess we can still all enjoy it that way. Mas mabuti 'yun kesa sa wala," he said.
Guiao has coached an empty arena game before: he called the shots for Gilas Pilipinas when they took on Qatar at the Araneta Coliseum in September 2018, in a World Cup qualifying contest. A total of 220 people watched as Gilas won, 92-81.
The Philippines had to host that game behind closed doors as part of FIBA's sanctions for the national team's infamous brawl against Australia in July 2018.
"Really weird," Guiao said of the experience. "It's so silent."
"When you talk to your players pagka-timeout, dati hindi kayo magkarinigan. Pero ito, pati 'yung sinasabi ng kabilang coach sa kabilang court, halos naririnig mo rin eh. That's really weird," he added.
But playing a closed-door game is preferable to not playing at all, at least for Guiao.
"We have to play with some limitations. Okay lang sa akin maglaro to empty stadium. Okay lang. Tutal, ang audience naman natin, nasa TV, nasa livestream," he pointed out. "And people are just excited and they're
His ace player in NLEX, point guard Kiefer Ravena, told ABS-CBN News in an earlier interview that he, too, would be more than willing to play closed-door games.
"Man, as long as we play," said Ravena. "As long as we play. Whether there's one person watching or 20,000."
"At least, we wouldn't get to deal with the 'never say die' fans when we play against Ginebra, 'di ba?" Ravena added.
As Guiao said, playing empty arena games will be the first step in the return to normalcy, after all sports were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Hindi naman permanente 'yun. After a month or so, baka pwede tayo maglagay ng three seats away," he said. "After that, maglagay tayo ng two seats away hangga't mapuno natin ang stadium."
Marcial has previously said that closed door games are not advisable as well, given that it will still draw hundreds of people -- from the teams to the game officials to the television crew working the game. Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Saturday that non-contact sports such as tennis and golf may soon be allowed to resume when the government eases COVID-19 restrictions.
But high-contact sports, including basketball, football, and contact sports, will still be prohibited.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.