Will Navarro SBP Controversy

Written by: Aarav

Edited by: Justin

Visual by: Owen

On September 18, The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) upheld a decision made by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, the governing body of Philippines basketball. The decision blocked Philippines national basketball team (Gilas) player and former Ateneo Blue Eagle William Navarro’s move to Korean Basketball League (KBL) team Seoul Samsung. This decision was made because Navarro was selected in the Gilas round of the PBA draft. As a result SBP decided to block the move to the KBL in an attempt to keep as much Filipino talent local as possible. This comes as a big decision with an effect on all potential moves abroad by Gilas Pilipinas players. 

Navarro was  a standout player throughout his collegiate career on Ateneo’s UAAP team and was seen as a prospect with the potential to be one of the Philippines best national team players.. However, due to the pandemic, he has played only 13 professional games since 2020, causing many to begin to worry about the star’s future career.  While many professionals played a smaller amount of games due to the pandemic, 13 games was alarming to fans, as by 2021 most professional basketball leagues including the PBA had found ways to play full seasons even without fan attendance. Because of this, the 6’7 forward’s potential move to the KBL was seen as a step in the right direction. 

Navarro is a player under contract for SBP to play for the Gilas Pilipinas national team, which made him eligible for the PBA draft. This is a round dedicated exclusively to drafting Gilas Pilipinas players into the PBA to provide these young stars with an opportunity to play professionally. However, this also meant Navarro needed the SBP clearance to play in Korea, which was ultimately denied in a clear attempt by the governing body to keep more Filipino prospects local. 

Three other Korea-bound imports SJ Belangel, RJ Abarrientos, and Justin Gutang all took to social media to voice support for Navarro, criticize SBP, and talk about the reasons for their own moves abroad. 

Abarrientos took to twitter to “Everyone should should spread love and possibility to all athletes playing abroad #FreeWill.” Fellow Blue Eagle Alumni SJ Belangel tweeted saying, “Always remember that we are repping the Filipino Flag no matter where we play.” Both players were very sympathetic for Navarro’s situation as they are both current Gilas contracted national team players themselves. However, unlike Navarro they did not face a roadblock in chasing their dreams due to not being drafted in the PBA draft like Navarro had been.

Amidst all this controversy the SBP has responded, claiming that they have the right to block moves such as Navarro’s one as he is a contracted Gilas player. Whilst this may be legally true, it has not stopped the outpouring of support from Filipino athletes for the player. Most notably, Gilas teammate, National Basketball League and former NBA G League player Kai Sotto took to twitter to voice his outrage with the news stating, “We got our own people stopping us from achieving greatness.” This bears extra significance, as the Philippines has been struggling for years to produce high level talent locally. With most successful Filipino basketball players being raised in the United States, like NBA stars Jordan Clarkson and Jalen Green. By blocking Navarro’s deal, SBP is only taking steps backwards in their goal of producing more talents locally. 

Indeed, SBP’s goals may be viewed as impractical given the current socioeconomic state of the Philippines. Countries such as Korea, Japan, and the US currently have better facilities and coaching to nurture and develop a player than the Philippines does. An example of a player maximising his potential after a UAAP career for Atento is Dwight Ramos. Dwight was one of Ateneo’s best players; however, he was not yet at the level of some of the Gilas players. Only after his move to Japan’s B.League did Dwight emerge as Gilas’ third most important player, behind only Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto.

When looking past Will Navarro’s case and at the bigger picture, there has also been similar controversy surrounding the PBA’s attempts to prevent Filipino athletes from going abroad, such as moves to the B.League with players such as Greg Slaughter claiming that the PBA is trying to slam the door on his dreams as a professional. 

Navarro is now seeking a release from his Gilas contract in order to have the freedom to pursue opportunities abroad in the future, a move that many young SBP contracted players like Dave Ildefonso may look to make in the future as well. 

Looking into the future, the hostility between SBP, the PBA, and Filipino basketball players shows no signs of ceasing. All this conflict between SBP and Navarro has set a dangerous precedent that could possibly lead to the hindrance of the careers of many aspiring Pinoy basketball players.