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Philippine anger as NBA players' visit is cancelled

MANILA -- Organizers of a visit by NBA stars to the basketball-mad Philippines have apologized and offered refunds after an exhibition game was abruptly cancelled.

Tycoon Manny Pangilinan, whose company sponsored the scheduled match Tuesday night between a visiting NBA contingent and the national team, issued a profuse apology amid growing anger at the cancellation.

“We wish to apologize to our Filipino basketball fans for the sudden and disappointing turn of events ... we ourselves are extremely disappointed by this unexpected development,” he said in a statement.

The NBA team, including the Houston Rockets' James Harden, the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers and DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, were supposed to play “five on five” games with the national team, Gilas Pilipinas, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But on Tuesday night, before a large crowd — some of whom had paid as much as 23,300 pesos (US$530)— it was abruptly announced that the players would instead just engage in practice drills.

As boos and shouts of “Give us back our money!” echoed through the stadium, organizers told the crowd they would be offering refunds while reminding them that the event, co-sponsored by Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), was for charity.

PLDT, which is chaired by Pangilinan, said in a statement that “it was informed by the organizers a few hours before the event that “the five-on-five game was ... not allowed by the NBA.”

It was not stated why the NBA did not sanction the event, intended as a tune-up for Gilas Pilipinas before this year's FIBA World Cup.

PLDT later said a “meet-and-greet” event with the NBA players and another scheduled game on Wednesday had been cancelled.

The Philippines' professional league often brings in American players to spice up the game. NBA veteran Andray Blatche was speedily given citizenship in June to boost the national team's chances during the World Cup.

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