World eight-division boxing champion Manny Pacquiao stunned many when he joined Philippine politics in 2007. But after two terms in Congress, his fans have already accepted that their boxing icon can still manage to fight and win in the ring while occasionally serving in government as legislator. This month, Pacquiao decided to once again reinvent his public image when he agreed to be drafted as playing coach in one of the teams competing in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Asia’s first professional basketball league.
There were those who thought it was a mere publicity stunt but Pacquiao actually appeared on his first game as playing coach for the Kia Sorento team last October 19. Wearing jersey No. 17, Pacquiao played a total of six minutes and 46 seconds in the first quarter, he didn’t score a single point, and he committed two turnovers. But his team won the game. At 35 years old, Pacquiao became the oldest rookie to play in the league.
Pacquiao claimed that playing basketball is his cross-training activity which helps his footwork and balancing. He is currently preparing for his next boxing fight against the undefeated American boxer Chris Algieri, which is scheduled next month in Macau.
Pacquiao’s fans are divided over whether the boxing champ made the right decision to join the basketball league in the middle of his training for the fight. His promoter certainly wanted him to refrain from playing basketball, fearing possible injury.
Basketball is the most popular sports in the Philippines but some writers advised Pacquiao that if he wanted to express support for Philippine basketball he should play an exhibition game rather than join the PBA. Jude Roque, for one, is not convinced that the idea of Pacquiao serving as basketball playing coach will benefit the boxing icon: “After pursuing careers as politician, TV host, recording artist and pastor among others, this new ambition of his is just absolutely ridiculous. For him to play in the PBA is surely preposterous. For him to coach in the PBA is just as ludicrous. And for him to do both? Outrageous!”
Roque warned that Pacquiao will not get VIP treatment on the basketball floor: “In an actual PBA game, he won’t be treated like an icon or legend. He will be treated like a PBA player. Our national hero deserves better than being the subject of ridicule and lampoon by the entire sporting world.”
Bob Guerrero is another sports analyst who is not happy that Pacquiao was able to enter the country’s premier basketball league ahead of other deserving players and coaches. “What Pacquiao has done is basically using his fame, wealth, connections, and star value to jump the line and get ahead of all of these players and coaches who have dedicated their lives to the game. I wonder what all those players undrafted by the PBA feel about him making it while they miss out.”
Then there’s the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the country’s leading newspaper, which published an editorial urging Pacquiao to acknowledge his limitations. After pointing out that Pacquiao’s performance as legislator is “hardly stellar,” the editorial also took the boxing champ to task for his controversial political choices. “Pacquiao’s rise to prominence has been largely marked by the worst in traditional politics. In the company of patrons, warlords and hangers-on, he took the trail blazed by those who invoke popularity as the sole qualification for public office.”
Indeed, Pacquiao should review his priorities. He is still a living hero to millions of Filipinos and fans around the world but he should question the wisdom of carrying too many identities and responsibilities. Pacquiao is not obliged to do everything his advisers and business consultants wanted him to accomplish. Right now, Pacquiao should concentrate on his coming bout with Algieri. And while he deals with his tax evasion case, his constituents also expect him to fulfill his duties as public servant.