Sunday, 03 March 2013. NBA First Round Draft pick, six-year NBA veteran, and highly-touted Petron import Renaldo Balkman leads his team’s destruction of Barako Bull, with 33 points in thirty-seven minutes, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block. He dominates on defense, flies high for spectacular dunks several times, flexes his muscles, encourages the crowd to cheer for him and his team, and even looks into the camera at the baseline after finishing a fast break, saying that nobody can stop him. The fans love it. They roar with approval. I am there at the venue with friends, and they are all impressed with him. After the game, his team has won its fifth game against just one loss, he is interviewed as the Best Player, and he declares shortly thereafter that he is “invincible.”
Friday, 08 March 2013. Petron is up against Alaska, there are only seconds to go in the game, and Alaska is on its way to victory. Balkman has only scored 6 points, but has grabbed 17 rebounds. He drives, thinks he’s fouled, but there is no call. Then all hell breaks loose. He questions the referees, bumps one, strikes the arm of another while demonstrating what he thinks was done to him on the play, pushes his Assistant Coach, shoves Ronald Tubid, hits Arwind Santos’ arm away, pushes him, and when Santos pushes back, grabs Santos by the throat.
The weekend comes, and everything goes by quickly. A PBA game happens in Legazpi City Saturday night. Then on Sunday, there is a regular doubleheader, but what most were focused on, despite the Manila Clasico encounter between San Mig Coffee and Barangay Ginebra in the second game, was the interview of Balkman and Santos at the AKTV Center in between games.
Apologies were issued. Forgiveness was sought. The tone was humble. The answers were frank, if not a bit clichéd. There was hand-shaking, hugging, and even preaching. But there was still a meeting with PBA Commissioner Chito Salud the next morning. Salud had said that Balkman better have a “persuasive explanation to justify his behavior before our fans and the sporting public.”
It is significant to point out that a video of a past demonstration by Balkman of aggressive behavior in a basketball game spreads on the Internet. That time, it was a head butt, not a choke.
ALSO READ: Balkman: I'm not a bad guy
Monday, 11 March 2013. In the morning, Balkman arrives at the PBA Office, complete with a whole entourage composed of all his teammates and coaches. They are showing support for him, manifesting to the world that all is well as far as they are concerned. They insist he is a nice person, and that in the (mere) two months they have been with him, he has been good and nothing like the man who threw an extreme fit of temper two days earlier. Balkman has a chat with the Commissioner. The PBA announces that the verdict will be issued at about 2:00 p.m.
Well, we all know what the verdict, which was promulgated at about 3:00 p.m, is. Balkman has been banished from the PBA and fined P250,000.00. His past acts were taken into consideration, including an encounter with Alaska players in a pre-conference exhibition game in Cebu.
Afterwards, obviously there were mixed reactions. I monitored the sentiments on the Internet, particularly on the social media sites, on my own mobile phone, and on television. Very many agreed wholeheartedly with the decision. Many praised Salud for laying down the law, as he should. Almost as many felt the penalty was too harsh. Everyone, however, agreed that Balkman deserved some sort of punishment for his dreadful acts last Friday.
How do I feel? As I told one of Balkman’s (former) Petron teammates last night, maybe it was a bit harsh. However, the decision to ban him is not unjustifiable under the circumstances. What, for me, is unjustifiable is how Balkman acted on that fateful Friday evening on the floor of the Araneta Coliseum when, in plain sight of the viewing public, he blatantly disregarded all kinds of authority, showed utter disrespect for one and all, and, had Tubid not been daring enough to embrace Balkman and pull him away despite being shoved hard just a few seconds earlier, could have resulted in even more mayhem.
Frankly, I am disgusted at what Balkman did. I was extremely upset when he hit the referee, when he pushed Biboy Ravanes (who helps him train before games), when he shoved Tubid (who is reportedly the one closest to him on the team) and, most especially when he repeatedly offended Santos, who was just trying to intervene, culminating in the neck-grab. The proverbial cooler heads had stepped in time and again to ease the situation, but he palpably disregarded, nay, humiliated, all of them, trying to assert his self-proclaimed invisibility in full view of everyone, women and children included.
Perhaps most of all, I am upset at the fact that Balkman, who was giving PBA fans a treat in the standout way only a six-year NBA veteran can, forgot how lucky he was to be able to do what he was doing. After being reduced into a benchwarmer in the NBA and eventually losing a roster spot, here he was, on top of the world as undoubtedly the most impressive import on one of the top teams in the league, poised for a championship run and an almost certain Best Import Award. But he let his demons get the best of him. After his huge performance against Barako, he transformed into a disgraceful character after Alaska seemed to have “controlled” him in the very next game and showed he was not invincible.
Unfortunately, while Petron management said it accepts the decision, it hinted at possibly exiting the league altogether, along with its “sister” teams Ginebra and San Mig, since this entire episode is disgracing the good name of the corporate entity behind all three, San Miguel Corporation. God forbid this from happening, but if it does, who really is to blame?
Well, anyone can play the blame game. There are those who choose to blame the referees for failing to control Balkman when he began to display his frustration. Perhaps they should be summoned and asked to explain why they did not throw Balkman out of the game the moment he made contact with them. Some will blame Salud for being too unkind and unforgiving, for not taking into consideration that the import already apologized seemingly sincerely. Still others say that what Salud did might affect Balkman’s possible future stints in other leagues. Poor Balkman. A closer look will show that the participation of all the other possible “suspects” either came before or after what has been referred to as "the meltdown."
An untainted perspective should show, however, that there is only one man really to blame. While the situation could, perhaps have been prevented, those who did try failed to stop it from happening and were even struck in the process. Clear vision will show that the man did not want to be stopped, that he would not stop. He was way out of control. He said it was “unintentional”, but clearly it was not. He was on a rampage. Then, when he finally got a grip of himself, too much had already happened. When Balkman choked Santos, he was actually applying the hold on his own neck, choking the life out of a short but sterling PBA career, leaving him gasping in the aftermath. What a waste.
Was it harsh? Maybe. Reality can really be harsh sometimes.
You can follow Charlie on Twitter @Charlie C.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.