Buddy Encarnado

On: 22 October 2008

Encarnado is the longest-serving governor and team manager in the PBA. He has a longstanding love affair with basketball dating back a decade before his association with Sta. Lucia or the PBA. His first foray into big-time basketball was during the formation of the Philippine Amateur Basketball League.

“Way back in 1983, when I was with American Standard, I started this team, the POW,” said Encarnado. “And we won all the tournaments in Pasig. So I thought that we already had a good team. We saw this ad in the paper stating that there will be a new league that will be formed and calling for interested parties to join. This was the PABL, the forerunner of the PBL.”

Encarnado attended that meeting so that his team could participate in the tournament without knowing that he was about to join big-time basketball.

“For the first time, I met the big names in amateur basketball, sila director Ding Panganiban, sila Elmer Yanga ng RFM. I was flabbergasted. I realized that I was in the wrong room. You know, I should never have been there.”

Discussions about the formation of the league followed including coming up with a seed money, which was P50,000, for each team. At the time P50,000 was a hefty sum of money.

“I was hoping that there would be a representative of the 16 teams who would object so that there would be two of us to object,” said Encarnado. “Unfortunately, no one said no. So I had to swallow hard and say yes also because kahiya-hiya naman kung ako lang ang hi-hindi. But after having said yes, my mind was wondering already. Where will I get the P50,000?”

Encarnado knew that his company, American Standard, wasn’t about to bankroll a big-time basketball team.

“So I thought of one of our commercial distributors, Eddie Que, the owner of the ESQ Marketing. That team eventually dominated the league winning, at one time, four consecutive PABL championships.”

The partnership with Que started Encarnado’s career into big-time basketball. It was an inauspicious start or in his own words, “a debacle and an eye-opener.” There were 16 teams and of 15 games, Encarnado’s team won only one game. And the team won by default.

“But it was a blessing in disguise because it made me realize that it wasn’t that easy to build a champion team,” said Encarnado. “I thought to myself: Dito ako nadapa. I will never leave this league until I become champion.”

After that first conference, Encarnado disbanded his and recruited varsity players like Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano and Glen Capacio as replacements.

“My participation in basketball was founded on the philosophy that you have to lose in order to win,” said Encarnado. “Natalo kami ng halos lahat ng teams. Instead of backing out, we took it as a challenge.”

The ESQ Merchants became successful, but eventually its mother corporation, ESQ Marketing, encountered some financial difficulties and could no longer afford a PBL franchise.

“At the time, I already wanted out of the team,” said Encarnado. “I just wanted to look after the welfare of the players. I looked for a company that will buy the franchise because nagiging mabigat na ang cost of operation.”

Encarnado made sales presentations to three companies including Sta. Lucia. He explained his idea of basketball as the medium of an advertising thrust and Sta. Lucia ownership immediately identified with what he was telling them.

“They said they agreed with the presentation and were willing to buy the franchise,” said Encarnado. “But they wanted me to manage the team and handle their corporate communications.”

All of a sudden, Encarnado had a problem—whether or not to leave his promising career at American Standard and join the then-fledgling corporation of Sta. Lucia Realty.

“By then, I had finished my studies at the Asian Institute of Management courtesy of American Standard and had gone to foreign training in our headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Now, all of a sudden, I am about to leave that position,” said Encarnado.

His wife wanted him to stay with American Standard but because of his passion for basketball, he went against the wishes of his wife and joined Sta. Lucia.

“I told her when you met me, I was merely a salesman,” said Encarnado. “But you believed in me. I can always find a better job. If I am really credible, I can easily get a job in the market. But basketball is where I am really happy.”

The following day, he went to the office of Sta. Lucia top honcho Exequiel Robles to accept the offer without even asking what his salary was going to be.

“My passion is really basketball,” Encarnado said. “I cannot see my life being devoid of basketball. Of being separated from the action of honing a team. This is my world. For one whole week, my wife did not talk to me. But after all these years, I have proven to my wife that my decision was correct.”

Sta. Lucia bought the franchise from ESQ in 1987. By that time, ESQ was already a dominant force in the league and Sta. Lucia continued this winning tradition. By 1992, the team was ready to join the PBA.

“I told Sta. Lucia management that it was OK to go to the PBA,” said Encarnado. “But you have to have a use for the PBA exposure, otherwise it will be a costly affair. If you’re thinking of 10 percent increase for your sales, for you to go to the PBA, it will be very expensive. But if you’re looking at an increase of 10 times your yearly sales, then the area for you really is the PBA.”

At the time, Sta. Lucia was known only in Metro Manila, but was already thinking of expanding into a nationwide brand.

“I told them that if we went into the PBA, we should not have high hopes of being successful as a team immediately,” said Encarnado. “But our advertising objectives will be met. So we joined the PBA and all of a sudden, almost overnight, people from all walks of life, from Aparri to Jolo, came to know of the existence of Sta. Lucia as a first-class real estate development company.”

Success on the basketball court also followed, but it came nine long years after the team joined the league. The Realtors won their first and only PBA title in the 2001 Governors’ Cup.

This year, after they finally relented on their policy of hiring only homegrown talent, they are again on top of the standings.

“Our philosophy is still there,” said Encarnado. “If you will look at the composition of the team, there is only one Fil-Am—Kelly Williams. Alex Cabagnot is practically homegrown. He was born in the Philippines and moved to the US when he was 10 years old. His folks both have Philippine passports and he talks in Tagalog. We consider him a Filipino.”

That leaves Williams as the Realtors’ only Fil-Am. Except for Air21, which has a 100 percent all homegrown team, Sta. Lucia has the least number of Fil-Ams in the lineup.

“Let me emphasize, the Filipinos—the local homegrown—cannot be a minority in their own country,” said Encarnado. “Can you imagine a situation where the NBA has more foreign-, rather than American-grown players? The public would not accept that.”

Encarnado points to the millions of migrant workers who are overseas bringing needed money into the country. He sees a similar situation in basketball, where Filipino basketball players can go abroad and earn dollars to be sent back to the Philippines.

“But for the foreigners to come here and earn money and bring it to America? Ang tingin ko parang economic sabotage yan. Hindi naman bagay. Let us allow the Fil-foreigners to play, but the majority of players should still be locals,” Encarnado said.

Through Encarnado’s personal pleas to the board, the PBA now has a maximum allowable number of Fil-foreigners per team. He also concedes that the Fil-Ams raise the level of the sport.

“Probably, we have better players right now, with all the Fil-Ams, malalaki, magagaling, they can jump. But I’m telling you, between you and me, where is the fervor? Hindi kagaya noon, magtatalo tayo. ‘Hindi. Mas magaling si Jaworski. Magaling si Fernandez.’ Pero ngayon wala. Sino iyong magaling na Fil-Am? People don’t know and don’t care.”

Encarnado insists that the public needs a homegrown hero to rally behind. Manny Pacquiao is immensely popular because he is homegrown. Compare him with another boxer, Brian Viloria. Who is supported by the people?

"Let us develop our homegrown instead of us trying to take the shortcut of getting the best from others," said Encarnado. "Nand’yan lang ang mga players. But we have to exert the effort to discover the young talented, obscure Filipino players. Let's go out and find them and give them exposure in the PBA."

In 2008, Encarnado was given the Danny Floro Executive of the Year Award in recognition of his work wherein he spearheaded a master plan that pieced together the materials in their championship run on March of that same year. He was also lauded by his fellow PBA officials for sacrificing a crack at a season sweep by sacking wayward import Lee Benson in a crucial game the team could not afford to lose in the Fiesta Conference quarterfinals.

(This was reprinted from the article by Reuel Vidal entitled "Championing the cause of homegrown players" published by the Manila Standard Today - MST Online on November 4-5, 2006)

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