The Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) is a men's professional basketball league in the Philippines consisting of 29 teams.

Founded in 2017 by eight-division boxing world champion Manny Pacquiao, the MPBL is not intended to be a competitor to the top-flight Philippine Basketball Association, but rather to provide a gateway for local, homegrown talents to showcase their skills. The league uses a home-and-away format, similar to the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association. The MPBL started a semi-professional league before being granted professional status in 2021 by the Games and Amusements Board.

Further developments include the youth-oriented Junior MPBL, which launched in July 2023, and a volleyball counterpart called the Maharlika Pilipinas Volleyball Association (MPVA), which launched in October 2023.

The Pampanga Giant Lanterns are the current defending champions, beating the Bacoor City Strikers in three games during the 2023 MPBL Finals.

History

Founding

Pacquiao formally launched the MPBL on August 29, 2017, with the intent to feature both the commercial and barangay-level side, with teams on the commercial side to have a home locality in addition to a corporate sponsor. The plan was for the league to begin with Luzon-based teams only and then expand to Visayas and Mindanao later on. The expanded league would have two divisions, North and South, where one team from both divisions face in a finals series similar to the format of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in North America. The league was planned to start as early as September 23, 2017 with at least six teams. A preseason tournament was held with the Bulacan Kuyas finishing as champions. Snow Badua was the league's inaugural commissioner, but he did not take on the role when the first season eventually began as six-time PBA champion Kenneth Duremdes succeeeded Badua as league commissioner on November 22, 2017.

Semi-professional era

The Smart Araneta Coliseum served as the venue for the league's inaugural gameday on January 25, 2018.

The MPBL began its inaugural season on January 25, 2018, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City. The inaugural season featured ten teams, all based in Luzon, with the requirement of each team having three homegrown players. In the opening game, the Parañaque Patriots scored a 70–60 victory over the Caloocan Supremos. The playoffs only had eight teams due to the small size, concluding with the Batangas City Athletics winning the inaugural title in the 2018 Finals against the Muntinlupa Cagers

In the 2018–19 season, the league added sixteen expansion teams, bringing the total to 26 teams. Five of the sixteen expansions are based in Visayas and Mindanao, thus marking the league's national expansion. The North and South Divisions were introduced and the playoff pool doubled to sixteen teams, eight per division. The league also placed roster restrictions on teams, only allowing one Filipino-foreigner and up to five ex-professional players, the former of which caused criticism from players and fans. This season also saw the inaugural edition of the MPBL All-Star Game, which was held at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay. The San Juan Knights would win the title that season against the Davao Occidental Tigers in the 2019 National Finals, which is to date, the only series to go the full length of five games.

The following 2019–20 season featured 31 teams participating in the league, the most the league had in its history, adding six expansion teams but also saw its first departing team, the Mandaluyong El Tigre. Roster restrictions were also relaxed, allowing more Filipino-foreigners and ex-professional players to play in the league. In December 2019, Chooks-to-Go of Bounty Agro Ventures became the title sponsor of the league under what was initially a five-year deal. This season also saw the debut of the International Invasion series, which saw games being played in the United Arab Emirates and in Canada.

COVID-19 disruption

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines, the league suspended play on March 12, 2020. Nearly a year later, on March 6, 2021, the league announced the resumption of its playoffs. The remainder of the league's 2020 playoffs was held at a bubble at the Subic Bay Gymnasium. In a rematch of the 2019 National Finals series, the Davao Occidental Tigers won the 2021 National Finals against the San Juan Knights.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the government due to the pandemic, the league's 2020–21 season would be cancelled. The league's fourth season would be postponed multiple times before it eventually began in 2022. In October 2021, Chooks-to-Go took over the league's basketball operations.

Professional era

On November 9, 2021, it was announced that the MPBL would turn into a professional league. A month later, on December 9, 2021, the MPBL was granted professional status by the Games and Amusements Board (GAB). This also allowed the league to feature collegiate players on team rosters, as long as the player itself is a Special Guest Licensee. The league's first professional event was the 2021 Invitational. During which, all roster restrictions were lifted.

The 2022 season would finally begin over a year after last season's conclusion, which featured 22 of the 31 teams from the previous season. The season marked a new sponsorship with sports betting platform OKBet, succeeding Chooks-to-Go as the title sponsor. The Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards became the first team to achieve a regular season sweep and subsequently won the 2022 National Finals against the Zamboanga Family's Brand Sardines. The succeeding 2023 season featured 29 teams, including two expansion teams and five returning teams. The season culminated with the homegrown-laden Pampanga Giant Lanterns sweeping the Bacoor City Strikers in the 2023 National Finals.

During this time, a trend began of teams participating in other leagues during the MPBL offseason. This first occurred in FilBasket during the Subic 2021 and Summer 2022 championships, which saw multiple teams participate due to the long gap between the 2019–20 and 2022 seasons. In recent years, teams that were eliminated for the season would compete in the Pilipinas Super League (PSL) during the offseason.

The upcoming 2024 season features 29 teams, which includes the arrival of two expansion teams but also the departure of three teams. The ex-professional player limit will also be removed, allowing teams to sign any number of professional players onto their rosters. In April 2024, the league began exploring the possibility of joining the East Asia Super League.

Further developments

Following the success of the MPBL, Pacquiao has made further developments in grassroots-based sports. On June 15, 2023, the Junior MPBL was unveiled in a press conference. The youth-oriented league's inaugural season began on July 9, 2023, with teams competing in 14-under, 16-under, and 18-under divisions. The junior league will soon feature a 21-under division, billed as the "Junior MPBL D-League", which will commence in May 2024. In the same press conference announcing the junior league, Pacquiao also shared intent to create a volleyball counterpart similar to the MPBL that will cater to female players. That league would be known as the Maharlika Pilipinas Volleyball Association (MPVA) and began on October 22, 2023, with eight teams.

On November 7, 2023, the league launched its social arm, the MPBL Kalinga, with the goal of providing medical assistance to MPBL players, former and current, as well as league officials and staff.

The Philippines MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) is a highly anticipated basketball tournament that showcases the immense talent and passion for the sport in the Philippines. Founded in 2017, the MPBL has quickly gained popularity and has become one of the most prestigious basketball leagues in the country.

The tournament features teams from various provinces and cities across the Philippines, providing a platform for local players to showcase their skills and compete at a high level. The MPBL aims to promote grassroots basketball and give opportunities to aspiring athletes who may not have had the chance to play in professional leagues before.

The tournament follows a format similar to other professional basketball leagues, with regular season games leading up to the playoffs. The teams compete fiercely, displaying their athleticism, teamwork, and strategic prowess on the court. The games are known for their intense atmosphere, with passionate fans filling the arenas and cheering for their respective teams.

The Philippines MPBL not only serves as a platform for basketball enthusiasts to witness thrilling games but also fosters a sense of community and pride among the participating provinces and cities. It brings people together, uniting them under the common love for the sport and their respective teams.

The tournament has also become a breeding ground for future basketball stars, with many players using the MPBL as a stepping stone to higher levels of competition, such as the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) or even international leagues. The league has produced several notable players who have gone on to achieve success in their basketball careers.

Overall, the Philippines MPBL is a celebration of basketball in the Philippines, showcasing the country's rich basketball culture and providing a platform for local talent to shine. It is a tournament that captivates fans, inspires young athletes, and contributes to the growth and development of basketball in the country.