Some people have asked whether Chris Tiu is ready for the PBA. I think the better question is whether the PBA is prepared for a Chris Tiu.
The former Gilas and Ateneo star is a different breed of baller, one that the 37-year-old pro league has not seen before. Chris is one of a kind, a highly intellectual individual that's knowledgeable in the many facets of life — business, politics, show business, economics, world news, sports, history — you name it. His family has investments in several major business undertakings. Chris himself has his own business projects, including the very popular Happy Lemon brand. And he has countless product endorsements aside from various TV shows in two major networks. During his free time, which is rare, he reads books on different subjects. Who does that among PBA players today?
The truth is Chris does not really need to turn pro to earn his millions, unlike most basketball superstars. He has accomplished so much for a man his age. Like I said, he's one of a kind.
Unlike most aspirants for the PBA Draft, Chris' main selling point is not really his basketball prowess. Don't get me wrong. He is an excellent basketball player, one equipped with international experience. Some fans are worried the physicality in the PBA will ruin his baby face. But Chris thrives in physicality. He has angered so many Asian players twice his size and a lot heftier than the PBA giants. Even Jackson Vroman wanted a piece of him in Beirut during the Stankovic Cup in 2010, and so did a 6'10" Serbian in a tune-up game in Vallevo, Serbia in 2009. Chris is a very smart player with a remarkable shooting touch. So there is no question about what he can do on the court, even in a highly competitive arena like the PBA.
But he brings to the table something else. This time, PBA's most prominent son James Yap will have a serious challenger in marketability and popularity. More than half of Tiu's following are not even basketball fans. They've loved him in his TV shows and commercials. Of course, a good number of them were his worshippers from the UAAP days in Ateneo. Then his supporters nearly doubled when he was named team captain of the national team, Smart Gilas. Chris' fans come from all walks of life, from the "masa" to the very elite. Include to this list thousands of OFW's, who go gaga over him whenever Gilas played in cities like Dubai, Doha, Bahrain, Singapore, and even Taipei, Sydney and LA.
Chris loved the fans too. "Part of the reason I decided to enter the draft is the responsibility to the Filipino basketball fans and the youth. The PBA is a good platform for inspiring the young kids to follow their dreams. I've been receiving messages from fans to keep on playing, which contributed to the decision," said Tiu, who revealed that he consulted his family and close friends before he made the choice of applying for the PBA Draft. He actually sent his application during the last day of submission.
Chris would have wanted to continue playing for the national team but was dropped from the roster bound for the Jones Cup this month. He was the skipper of Gilas I under Serbian coach Rajko Toroman, which placed fourth in last year's FIBA-Asia Championships.
Upon Tiu's entry to Asia's first professional basketball league and the second-oldest in the world, the PBA will enjoy a new type of audience as well. Chris' fans in showbiz will want a glimpse of the 27-year old icon in action, which they rarely see live. Even the Filipino-Chinese community will probably throw its support, as the Tiu family is a distinguished member. Of course, the Ateneo community will welcome another former Blue Eagle in the PBA. Also, the Xavier community has something to get excited about after Joseph Yeo and TY Tang. And then there's the affluent Makati community where Chris served as Kabataang Baranggay official.
Another question is how his new team will handle a Chris Tiu. Being a popular player, he will have to see major minutes on the floor. The fans will ask for it. Will he fit the team's style of play? Chris is most effective in a highly systematic basketball environment, which was why he shone in Toroman's system. "I prefer a team with a structured system because I'm not a one-on-one player. I use screens and set-up teammates," explained Tiu, whose role model is Steve Nash. Chris will have difficulty making waves in teams with a freewheeling offensive system that relies mostly on individual skills. He will most likely be picked by Petron (1st and 3rd picks), Meralco (4th pick) or Barako Bull (5th pick).
"I can play for any team for as long as it has plans for me and is able to utilize my talents. It would be nice to play for a team with a significant following. It's added motivation to play when fans are cheering for you," added Tiu.
But I bet he is wishing the Blaze Boosters would select him so he can be reunited with Gilas teammates Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz, and team consultant Toroman. There were even reports that Toroman would take over as Petron head coach soon. Chris is very close to his former Gilas mentor, who admires him for his high basketball IQ and court leadership. "I'd like to see his (Toroman's) system be integrated in Philippine basketball. We've patterned our game to the Western style and the NBA. But his system allowed us to be competitive internationally where opponents are bigger. Moving and sharing the ball, that's the beauty of basketball. It will bring entertainment at a different level than just dunks and highlight plays. But coaches will have to be receptive to that, which is the hardest part in our culture."
So is Chris ready for the PBA? Talent-wise, he is more than ready. He won't be a high scorer like Lassiter or Lutz during their rookie years. But he can contribute significantly. When Gilas played in the PBA last year, Chris fared very well in scoring and assists, with some double-digit performances, and was the second best rebounder in the team after naturalized player Marcus Douthit. Gilas finished the elims at second-place in that import-laden conference and went on to play in the semis. As regards the PBA's physical game, Chris has prepared for it by working double time in the gym.
"There's a high risk of getting injured because of the physicality in the PBA. Definitely, it will be an adjustment since I'm used to the FIBA rules, even during my high school and college days. I'm used to defending without my hands. In the PBA, they tolerate a lot of the holding and grabbing. So I need to make adjustments. I'm working on that, lifting a lot of weights."
Chris appeared very excited about this coming Draft. The fans are definitely excited, too. His entry will offer a different brand of player, apart from the really talented ones and the role-player types. He is the thinking player with exceptional leadership, but can explode offensively at any given day. He will be an instant superstar the moment he steps on the PBA floor.
Is the PBA ready for Chris?
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.