MANILA, Philippines – Barangay Ginebra San Miguel held a practice session open to the fans on Sunday, September 4, and a rough estimate of over a thousand people came to watch, filling all but the general admission section of the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
As heavy rain poured down on the arena, the Gin Kings took practice seriously but at the same time set a number of breaks to accommodate as many photo and autograph opportunities as possible, going around the arena to meet fans.
Chris Ellis and Greg Slaughter granting selfies #RStream @barangayginebra pic.twitter.com/lhJ0MY5R5l — Jane Bracher (@janebracher) September 4, 2016
Such was the event's success that the team is eyeing more open practice sessions in the future.
"It's neat. We've been talking about doing this for a while but we were just trying to find the right time," said Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
"We can't do this all the time obviously but we'll try to do it on special occasions. Thinking at least once a conference or once every couple of months, whenever we have a break in the schedule, I've something like this to do. I think the fans had fun with it."
Scottie Thompson, Mark Caguioa, other @barangayginebra players & team manager Alfrancis Chua take selfies w/ fans pic.twitter.com/ewhw1D2uEa — Jane Bracher (@janebracher) September 4, 2016
The Gin Kings managed to set up an open practice this time due to a 12-day break in the PBA Governors' Cup. The idea came from Cone, who recalled the days of his youth watching Robert Jaworski and Ginebra practice in Makati.
"When I was in my 20s and I was young, before I was coaching, I used to go to all the Ginebra practices in San Agustin in Makati," he shared. "It was always open to the public and everybody had so much fun, and I became a big fan because I got to go to the practice. I just thought it would be fun to do it with the fans."
Coach @manilacone taking selfies too #rstream @barangayginebra pic.twitter.com/FKu5U8HLZy — Jane Bracher (@janebracher) September 4, 2016
The open practice came at just the right time as Ginebra is one of the league leaders this conference with a 6-2 record, good for second place. It was also an active effort to get back some of the fans lost with Ginebra having last won a championship in 2008.
"We wanted to do it on a Sunday to make sure the fans could come. We also wanted to do it in the morning because we didn't want to interfere with the PBA games," Cone said.
"This just turned out to be a really good time. It's something we've been wanting to do for a while, it was just difficult to find a right time to do it especially in season."
Veteran guards LA Tenorio and Sol Mercado were left humbled by the fan love they received at a practice session where the most they did were transition drills, halfcourt sets, and a short full-court scrimmage.
"I can't explain the feeling," said Tenorio. "It's only a regular practice but we feel we're in a game, they're all out support to us even on a Sunday, even though it's their rest day. We're very grateful and very blessed that Ginebra fans are there to support us."
"Speechless about that. This is amazing. I've never been a part of anything like that on any team, even in the States. Ginebra fans are really amazing and we do this for them," Mercado said.
"We were talking, me and LA, we were saying this makes us want to work hard to give them a championship. Imagine even more fans we would have. It motivates us to work hard to get the championship and be better every day."
Helterbrand celebrates making a halfcourt shot while Caguioa tosses a shirt to fans @barangayginebra pic.twitter.com/YHkYnCNMMp — Jane Bracher (@janebracher) September 4, 2016