From 1998 to 2002, Cagayan de Oro City had its own professional basketball in a commercial national league called the Metropolitan Basketball Association, or MBA. The original team in 1998 was named Cagayan de Oro Nuggets, due to the city’s history of once being a gold panning center in the region. The team was owned by the Canoy family of Radio Mindanao Network and VIP Hotel fame.
In 1999, the team owners decide to rename the team Cagayan de Oro Amigos, a name closer to the city’s moniker of ‘City of Golden Friendship.’ All home games in Cagayan de Oro were played at the then Don Mariano Marcos Memorial Polytechnic State College Gymnasium.
Some of the original players on the team included:
- Ritchie Ticzon
- Harlan Yu
- Jean Alabanza
- Ruel Bravo
- Ruel Buenaventura
- Derrick Bughao
- Ricky Calimag
- Ariel Capus
- Nani Epondulan
- Malai Malabanan
- Sonny Manucat
- Dino Manuel
- Romar Menor
- Peter Naron
- Edwin Pimentel
- Francis Sanz
The coaches who went through the team included David Zamar, Arlene Rodriguez, Reonel “Nel” Parado, and Victor Ycasiano.
Video Courtesy of Youtube:
For its first year, the “Nuggets” name didn’t seem to strike any cord of pride with the Kagay-anons since many argued that the name seems to have been copied from the Denver Nuggets team in the U.S. NBA. In the following year, the team owners changed the name to “Amigos” and being nearer the city’s famous moniker. Again, many complained that this team name sounded like the Mexican drug cartel gang called ‘Amigos.’
Unfortunately, the Nuggets, and later the Amigos, never had a winning season. They either finished a season dead last or second to the last. The Don Mariano Gym was the only viable venue for professional basketball during this period because the Xavier University Gymnasium was still in its old wooden form then while the Corpus Christi Gym in Macasandig had a low seating capacity. Other MBA teams often disliked playing in Cagayan de Oro because the DMMMPSC Gym was hot to the rafters.
Cagayan de Oro became notorious for being one of the first venues to have audiences throwing things at opposing players, after this practice started in Cebu. Common items usually pelted by the audience were the old eight-sided two-peso coins, one-peso coins, cardboard fans, half-filled water bottles, plastic cups, paper airplanes, toilet paper, and even spark plugs. It became standard practice for some MBA teams to bring beach umbrellas and unfurl them inside the Don Mariano Gym. However, when the Manila Metrostars or Cebu Gems were playing in Cagayan de Oro, almost the whole Cagayanon audience would be cheering the Stars or Gems because of the handsome foreign and ‘mestizo’ players, and the Nuggets/Amigos players would be at the receiving end of the pelting.
Also called the Metroball, the MBA teams had to represent a particular city or province regardless of team ownership. This was the league’s idea to bring basketball closer to the people especially in the provinces and outside the traditional Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). ABS-CBN jumped at the chance to host and broadcast MBA games after continuously failing to get broadcast rights to the PBA.
Like the PBA, the MBA also had their stint of drafting players and trading, but the standard rule was that at least 50% of the team had to be from homegrown players. In 1999, foreign players were allowed to play for teams on the regular roster, with no requirement for Philippine passports or having Philippine bloodlines.
The MBA was owned and commissioned by Ramon Fernandez, Gregorio “Ogie” Narvasa II, Severino “Butch” Antonio, and Joaquin “Chito” Loyzaga. The league was divided into two conferences:
- Batangas Blades (1998–2002; team merged with Manila in 2001)
- Laguna Lakers (1998–2001; team abandoned the league after the FedEx owners joined the PBA in 2002)
- Manila Metrostars (1998–2001; team merged with Batangas and were gone in 2001)
- Nueva Ecija Patriots (1999–2001)
- Olongapo Volunteers (2002)
- Pampanga Dragons (1998–2000; later renamed Pampanga Stars in 2002)
- Pangasinan Presidents (1998–1999; later renamed Pangasinan Waves in 2002)
- Pasig-Rizal Blue Pirates (1998–2000)
- San Juan Knights (1999–2001)
- Cebu Gems (1998–2002; later renamed as the Cebuana Lhullier Gems in 2001)
- Davao Eagles (1998–2002)
- Cagayan de Oro Nuggets (1998–2002; later renamed Amigos in 1999)
- Iloilo Megavoltz (1998–2000; also known as Iloilo Volts)
- Negros Slashers (Bacolod City) (1998–2002; later renamed as the RCPI-Negros Slashers in 2002)
- SoCSarGen Marlins (1998–2001; later team renamed as the SoCSarGen Taguig Marlins in 2001 when the team played its home games in Taguig)
- Surigao Miners (1999–2000)
Two unique rules that made the MBA exciting was: 1) The shot clock is only 23 seconds, as opposed to the standard 24, and 2) There is an option for a player to trade his two free throws for a single three-point attempt at the three point arc above the free throw line.
MBA champions through its five-year existence are shown in bold versus the losing team in the championships:
- 1998 – Pampanga Dragons vs Negros Slashers (4-1)
- 1999 – Manila Metrostars vs Cebu Gems (4-2)
- 2000 – San Juan Knights vs Negros Slashers (4-2)
- 2001 – Batangas Blades vs Negros Slashers (3-1, by this year the championship format was changed to just 5 games from the usual 7)
- 2002 – Negros Slashers vs Batangas Blades (3-0)
The Negros Slashers earned the distinction to appear in the most championship games, finally gaining the champion’s trophy in 2002. John Ferriols became the first MVP of the MBA, while Alex Compton was the first foreign player to be named MVP in 1999.
The league folded up at the end of the 2002 season after ABS-CBN withdrew its hosting, as well as the soaring costs of maintaining a league that could not compete commercially with the PBA.
Notable players who started their careers in the MBA and ended up in the PBA include Willie Miller, Dondon Hontiveros, Rudy Hatfield, Reynel Hugnatan, PJ Simon, Romel Adducul, Rob Wainwright, and Dorian Peña.
Alex Compton is the only MBA player to gain the distinction of playing with the Alaska Aces as an import and later being named head coach.
Harlan Yu, a prominent Kagay-anon, first played for the UP Fighting Maroons in the UAAP before going to the MBA. He eventually got to play for Pop Cola, Red Bull, and Welcoat (Rain or Shine).