By Ron Damasco, M.D.

The year was 1986. The dream and the desire to have a league of their own was conceived by 3 individuals in the persons of Gani Gregorio and Rudy Villa Diego of Toronto and Gil Panganiban of Windsor. The enthusiasm and intensity in the relentless pursuit of their dreams was such that it lead them to plan diligently. It was sometime in July of that same year when an invitation for a tournament was extended by Rudy Villadiego (Vice President of Phil-Can Basketball Club of Toronto) to the cites of Windsor, Detroit and another team from the greater Toronto area. The event was so successful that it inspired Gani Gregorio and Rudy Villa Diego to conduct another Invitational Tournament the following year.

Gani, (a former professional basketball player in the Philippines during the 70's) contacted his closest friends in the Fil-Am basketball crowd to join him in his quest to set-up an organization to promote basketball for the youth. Determined to make his dream a reality, Gani contacted legendary coach Larry Albano of Letran College and Philippine National Team fame and three of the most recognized, highly respected leaders in their respective communities (who incidentally were also basketball aficionados), namely Dr. Ron Damasco of Detroit, Dr. Sonny Albano of Staten Island NY and Mr. Rely Relation of Toronto so as to help him accomplish his goals. Gani went as far as Chicago and Montreal to encourage other leaders like Ben Libao and Ed Tupaz to join in the fray. The organizers, being Gani Gregorio and Gil Panganiban, named Ron Damasco to be the spokesperson and leader of the group.

In October of 1987 another Invitational Tournament in an all Men's Open division was played in Chicago with teams from Detroit, Windsor, Toronto, Staten Island, PBA of Chicago and another local Chicago team as participants. Staten Island went on to bag the Championship trophy. The tournament was a success and heralded bigger things of what was yet to come.

September of 1988 marked a defining moment in the eventual birth of NABA. Detroit was the host of the now defunct Phil-Am Intercity Tournament (now called PIBNA) with Dr Ron as the host Chairman. Of the 6 teams in the Invitational Tournaments of 1986-87 started by Gani, only Staten Island and Detroit (being the host) were invited by the PIBNA organization. As the host Chairman, Dr. Ron insisted that the other 4 teams also be included as guest teams in this tournament; however the PIBNA officers vehemently refused. After much debate and heated discussions and at the behest of Dr. Ron, the PIBNA organization eventually allowed these 4 teams to participate that year. The games in Detroit went smoothly without any set-backs.

October 7, 1989 marked the year NABA was officially organized. The 5 teams that formed the nucleus of NABA included: Detroit, Staten Island NY, PBA of Chicago, Windsor and Toronto. The election of officers was held at the Travel Lodge Hotel in Toronto presided by Rely Relacion. Dr. Ron was unanimously chosen as the Commissioner. To complete the task at hand, Dr. Ron then appointed the following officers: Dr. Sonny Albano, Ben Libao and Rudy Villadiego as Deputy Comissioners, Larry Albano as Executive Adviser, Carmen Asis (of Detriot) as Secretary, Rene David (of Toronto) as Liaison Officer, Joe Grospe (of Staten Island) as PRO, Gani Gregorio and Resty Galit as Technical Advisers and Rely Relacion as Invitational Games Advisor. The lineup of officers was further modified a few months later as Gani Gregorio and Etok Lobo of Chicago (former PBA player) were appointed as Executive Advisors as well. Gil Panganiban of Windsor was recognized for his contribution in providing the name NABA for the organization. Resty Galit was recognized for his artistic work in creating the official logo for NABA. Auxiliary Board of Directors (City Directors) were then appointed for the five founding City Delegations. Within that same year, 7 other cities joined in: Filcan of Ottawa, Washington DC, Mississauga, North York, Scarborough and Kapatiran of North Jersey.

Dr. Ron then went on to institute measures that would further solidify NABA's organizational structure. A Constitution and By-Laws was ratified, the official Tournament Rules and Regulations was drafted and ratified and the name NABA was made official. Invitations to other cities with potential for hosting future NABA tournaments were sent out. Emphasis was made that inclusion of other cities will be upon the endorsement of the Deputy Commissioners with final approval for admission being the sole responsibility of the NABA Commissioner. More age divisions were introduced, like the Seniors, Peewee, Girls, Bantam and Juniors.

In 1990, Staten Island hosted the first official NABA tournament. By this time, more member cities joined the fray. Dr. Sonny Albano and his brother Larry endorsed Central Jersey, Philadelphia and Westchester; likewise Rely Relacion and Rudy Villa Diego endorsed Mississauga and Winnipeg. The Staten Island Games marked the beginning of a more organized NABA tournament. The tournament was moved permanently in September during the Labor Day weekend. Meetings for the City Directors was scheduled on the Friday night before the tournament. Future NABA host cities for the next five (5) years were picked and named by the Commissioner during this meeting.

Over the following years, tournaments became more elaborate as Souvenir Programs were published as a means of fund raising for the host city, opening and awarding ceremonies became highlight events and the Miss NABA Beauty Contest was introduced. The success and growth of NABA was made possible by the orderly and stringent lines of communication between the Commissioner and his appointed officers. Because of this, NABA has become the largest Fil-Am basketball organization producing some of the finest athletes of Filipino heritage. In the late 90's NABA was invited to play in an Inter-League Tournament dominated by teams from the PBL (the "other" Fil-Am league). During this event, NABA gained the reputation of having many exceptional players, some of who went on to play College, Amateur and Professional level basketball in the Philippines. The NABA Tournament has improved tremendously since its inception in 1987, from a humble beginning of 4 teams to 42 teams during the Staten Island games in 1990. Over the years, as more cities joined, team numbers ballooned to the 70s, the 80s and most recently up to 115 teams from a record of 24 City delegations during NABA 2010 hosted by Jersey Shore. Like any other organization, NABA has had its share of sad memories of the bygone past. The passing away of two of the best leaders of NABA, Jerry Rabo of Staten Island and Rely Relacion of Toronto has been a huge loss. There were many controversies, intrigues, undermining and walk-outs that threatened the very existence of the organization. But life must go on and NABA has survived the test of time. With inspired leadership and cooperation by all, we can all look forward to a bright future in the years to come as NABA positions itself as the largest and most highly organized basketball organization serving the Fil-Am youth of North America. NABA is here to stay for our children and for their children to come!