This Is Still the Most Expensive Contract in PBA History
PBA players aren't exactly underpaid, but their salaries didn't skyrocket as team owners feared in the nineties - no thanks to salary-cap rules the league has since put in place that put limits on everything from the players' monthly pay to won-game bonuses to awards incentives.
That is also primarily the reason why the contract that Kenneth Duremdes signed with Alaska Milk back in 2001 off an offer sheet from Mobiline (now TNT) remains the single richest deal by a PBA player—at least on record. (We'll discuss later why we had to put that "at least on record" qualifier in the previous paragraph).
Most of these salary-cap rules were in fact triggered by the mega-deal of Duremdes, who rocked the pro league when he signed an offer sheet with a Mobiline side that was then in the process of rebuilding after a change in ownership. Mobiline initially put up a seven-year P42-million offer sheet.
When Alaska team owner Wilfred Uytengsu made it clear that the Milkmen would match the offer - and thereby keep the rights on Duremdes, the Phone Pals raised the ante by offering a P48M deal spread over eight years.
More than the sheer size of the base salary [the contract's P500,000 a month pay is still bigger than the current cap of P420,000/ month), what made that Duremdes contract enormous were the bonuses and other perks that were liberally put in, according to Danny Espiritu, who represented the Alaska high-flyer during the talks.
"Imagine how big the contract would be if Kenneth got all the bonuses," says Espiritu, who remains the most influential agent in the country today.
So how big were the bonuses?
Espiritu declined to go into specifics, but details that came out then about the won-game bonuses alone were already eye-popping: P50,000 for every won game in the eliminations, which climbed to P60,000 in the semis and P70,000 in the finals for Duremdes for the duration of that eight-year contract.
If you think that's big [especially if you consider that the current league maximum on won-game bonuses are P6,000/ P8,000 and P10,000), the won-game bonuses doubled in the games where Duremdes was named Best Player of the Game - and tripled in size when the team owner announced 'double bonus' for a win, as was often the case before important matches, then as now.
There were also staggering performance bonuses stipulated in the contract (incentives upon entering quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals and, of course for championships won). There, too, were lucrative incentives for individual awards like an MVP (P1 million) or a Best Player of the Conference plum (one top-of-the-line SUV or its equivalent in cash).
Looking back, Espiritu remembered that the lucrative incentives were crafted under a league rule that capped bonuses at 40 percent of a player's base salary, meaning Duremdes' bonuses were allowed to go as high as 40% of his annual salary of P6 million a year.
That rule has since been rescinded, Espiritu said, in favor of the maximum bonuses that stand until now, which you can read here.
Espiritu, however, admitted that Duremdes never got to maximize the full earning potential of the contract, primarily because he was traded by Alaska to Sta. Lucia two seasons after and later moved to Coca-Cola in the final years of the record deal.
To emphasize his point, Espiritu noted that the flamboyant forward from Marbel, South Cotabato won an MVP and two Best Player of the Conference awards as well as six championships with Alaska before signing the contract. He didn't win another one in the duration of the mega-deal.
But even though Duremdes failed to maximize the deal in terms of bonuses, Espiritu estimated the three-time Asian Games veteran got substantially more than most PBA stars who came before and after him - a huge sum which Duremdes, according to his longtime agent, has invested wisely.
So now, why the 'at least on record' qualifier?
Well, the PBA and its teams have never been transparent when it comes to the salaries and bonuses the players receive. The same goes for players, for obvious reasons (the dugout whispers go that most fear knocks on their front door from either the taxman or 'brand-new' relatives, whoever came first).
Of course, all Uniform Players Contracts (UPCs) are submitted to the Commissioner's Office, which makes sure that all figures from length of contract (maximum three years) to wages and bonuses conform to league rules. The league also makes sure all teams conform with the team salary cap.
But beyond what is submitted by the teams, the Commissioner's Office has little control and non-existent policing powers amid all the talk of under-the-table deals that, according to some sources, enable some current star players to receive twice and in some cases thrice the existing maximum salary of P420,000 a month.
All the Commissioner's Office has is one line in its by-laws that offers a reward of about P5 million to anyone with information or evidence of salary-cap violations.
If validated, the whistle-blower may end up richer by P5M. Or more. But that's for another story.
This story originally appeared on Spin.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.