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MANILA — Petron Blaze tried to put up a united front for its embattled import Renaldo Balkman when he appeared before PBA commissioner Chito Salud last March 10.

Head coach Olsen Racela was even there, and so were the Petron players with whom he had altercation. They included Arwind Santos, whom he almost strangled in the dying moments of the Petron Blaze-Alaska game.

But in the end, no matter how much Balkman explained that his action was precipitated by the heat of the moment, the PBA commissioner handed him the severest and unprecedented sanction ever imposed on an import. Balkman was banned by the PBA for life, never again to play in the league. He was also fined P250,000.

This came after Balkman tried to appeal to the PBA for understanding, perhaps even mercy. He brought along some of his teammates to show everything was alright.

He admitted he messed up big time, but he said that was just because of his passion for the game of basketball. He repeatedly said he was not the type of person seen by thousands at the Smart Araneta Colisem and many thousands more on television trying to choke Santos.

But the PBA was apparently unmoved by his appeal, saying it was disappointed with the player and called his behavior “aberrant.”

Salud said this was the first time he had seen such conduct by an import, noting that he had fought with his teammates, team officials including the assistant and head coaches, and referees, in a weird sequence of events that left the crowd stunned.

In handing down the verdict, Salud issued the following statement:

“For initiating threatening physical contact with a referee followed by a prolonged, offensive, belligerent if not aberrant on-court decorum directed toward game officials and his Petron teammates and superiors, including the head coach and assistant coaches, amounting to a blatant and utter disrespect for the game, his own ballclub, the league, the fans and his host country, import-player Renaldo Balkman is herby meted the following penalties:

Ban from playing in the PBA, and a fine of P250,000

“In arriving at this decision, I took into consideration Balkman’s track record as a player, including the head-butting incident during the FIBA-Americas game between Puerto Rico and Venezuela and his altercation with the bench of the Alaska Aces during a pre-season game in Cebu City. I also took into consideration Balkman’s evident disregard of local and the host country’s sensibilities highlighted by his choking act on-court in full public view of his own teammate who was trying to pacify him. Stiff as it may be, this decision upholds the tenets of contextual accountability and the overall interest of the league and the fans.”

With 6-6 Belkman, Petron won five straight games. (Waylon Galvez, Manila Bulletin)