How Chito Salud intends to turn the Converge Fiber Xers into champions

Chito Salud is back in the PBA as team governor of the Converge Fiber Xers, the league’s newest member. Courtesy of PBA Media Bureau

Angelico "Chito" Salud has deep roots in the PBA beginning in the Jaworski, Fernandez, Patrimonio, and Paras era of the PBA. Salud's father, Rudy, served as the league's legal counsel in its inaugural season in 1975 before becoming deputy commissioner in 1986 and commissioner from 1988 to 1992. Chito would take over as commissioner in 2010, a position he held for five years before being elevated to president and CEO in March 2015.

Salud left the PBA late in 2015 to enter the corporate world. Now, he's back in the PBA as team governor of the league's newest member, the Converge Fiber Xers.

Jeff Cariaso and his Alaska Aces coaching staff are transitioning to the Converge Fiber Xers. Star forward Jeron Teng and rookie Ben Adamos were among the players who showed up at the official team launch in Mandaluyong City. Bryan Faundo, Allyn Bulanadi, Rey Publico and Jaycee Marcelino were also in attendance.

ESPN sat down with Salud on Tuesday at the team launch in Mandaluyong City. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Did you ever think that you would be back in any capacity in the PBA?

No, because as you remember, I really stepped down from the league as commissioner because I thought I had made a significant contribution to the league and I thought it needed a new face and a new set of fresh ideas. So no, I did not expect to be back in the league but I am thrilled to be part of Converge ICT Solutions in the capacity of governor.

How did all this come about and how long did it take to decide (to join)?

The first time we talked about this, (team owner Dennis Uy) had several questions about the PBA: how it worked, how it operated and how it would benefit Converge. That didn't take long to explain because he already knew that he wanted to join the PBA. And the only thing we had to determine at that time was how to make sure that there were no stumbling blocks in Converge's attempt to join the PBA.

Fortunately, the hierarchy - PBA team owners, Commissioner Willie Marcial and the Board of Governors - warmly welcomed us.

The Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve the sale of the Alaska franchise to Converge. Did you expect that (11-0 vote)?

No, we didn't. In fact, we were treading quite carefully. Because we know that there is already a very, very strong telco presence in the PBA (PLDT, the country's largest telco, owns the TNT Tropang Giga franchise). So we were really very grateful to the MVP group for showing that sporting gesture in accepting the application of Converge.

Was it an easy decision to retain the core of Alaska?

We didn't want to risk it. We want to make sure that we give a decent showing at least in the first conference. The marching order from Dennis is, "Chito, tweak this team, recalibrate, and then make sure you assess and re-evaluate the performance of our players and coaches."

Which players were on the the stage earlier?

Many are abroad. Most of them are, I think, onboard. We have not finished our negotiations so I cannot give you the complete line-up right now. But after our initial meeting, I will say the response is positive. They know that this is a very eager ownership and management team of Dennis and Grace (Uy). The players understand. They're very eager to join the PBA and win and compete at least at a very high level.

What are your expectations for your first conference?

We haven't had the chance to sit down with our staff and plot down the strategy. We will leave that to them, but we will sit down with them and see how we can move forward and also ask them what else they need to equip this team and give it a chance to succeed.

You've been out of the league for seven years. Have you continued following the PBA in your absence?

I have but mostly in the playoffs. This is a young Alaska team and I got to see them in the quarterfinals of the last Governors Cup. Unfortunately, they had to replace their import (Olu Ashaolu) although they won Game 1 in that twice-to-beat situation with NLEX. We see a lot of potential. Maybe just a few more pieces could really make this team highly competitive.

Speaking of which, you have three very coveted draft picks (in next month's draft): 3rd, 4th and 15th.

If this draft proves to be rich, those three will be worth gold, and we're planning to keep them unless a very, very good offer comes along. There are two ways to improve your team, through trades and draft. We will exercise both ways very, very cautiously and very, very seriously.

What is on the wish-list?

We need a big man and an outside shooter, and we're on the lookout for those.

Your being a former commissioner and now a team governor, is there an advantage to that?

I think the advantage would be, I would think also in terms of interest of the league. Not just the interest of Converge, but the larger interest of the league, realizing that the league is a platform for a member team to maximize its brand-building plans. And a stronger PBA with a lot more fans would really give a big sporting stage to an organization like Converge that has never joined a basketball league. Dennis Uy spotted that. He saw that the PBA was still unparalleled in terms of advertising and marketing.

Do you see any changes in the PBA from the time you left?

The timing is perfect for us. I was really worried from the time that Dennis gave me a call that the league might not be ready to open up. But now, having 100% fans already, it's perfect timing for Converge. And I really would like to commend the leadership of the PBA, Willie Marcial and the Board of Governors led by Ricky Vargas. They've done a tremendous job particularly during the height of the pandemic. Everything was on lockdown, but they managed to keep this league alive for every Filipino basketball fan.