With the Philippine national basketball team gearing up for the FIBA World Cup, basketball has taken the country front and center anew.
This weekend, however, an unlikely, yet familiar sports figure created a huge buzz in the basketball-crazy nation for being drafted in its premiere professional basketball league. Though the hype and publicity this rookie has brought can be compared to that of LeBron James stateside back when he entered the NBA in 2003, this aspirant has nowhere near the talent, skills, physical tools, nor potential to be considered a decent professional basketball prospect. He does have one thing going for him: his name is Manny Pacquiao.
As the crowd gathered to witness the 2014 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Rookie Draft cheered wildly upon the announcement of newcomer Kia Motors' first pick, a new chapter in Philippines sports history was made official this past weekend. Whether it's a good one or bad one depends on who you ask.
With the eleventh pick, Kia Motors drafted boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, 35, as the oldest rookie ever to join the league since its inaugural year back in 1975, paving the way for the current WBO welterweight champion to fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional basketball player.
Incidentally, the 8-division boxing world champion was also named head coach of Kia's Team Kamao (Team Fist) a month ago, placing him in the company of some of Philippine basketball's most revered figures like Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez and Norman Black as just one of the handful of playing coaches the league has ever had.
Pacquiao isn't a stranger to taking on new hats, as the Sarangani Province congressman, pastor, singer, actor and whatever else in between, has yet to allow criticisms, detractors, reason, nor a devastating knockout loss to prevent him from finding other things to do with his time other than galvanizing what once was a realistic goal to be the greatest boxer that has ever lived.
I won't even dare suggest that Pacquiao may have gone a little bit too far this time around (even for himself) because surely, he may very well find something more outrageous sooner than later, like say become an astronaut or the president of the Philippines.
"Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. -- from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes"
Pacquiao - who did not attend the draft and was in China to promote his November fight against Chris Algieri - confessed that basketball has always been his "first love", way before he even tried on a pair of boxing gloves. But at 5-foot-6 and hardly the talent and abilities to even realistically earn a spot on any professional team (watch the video to see for yourself), it's easy to say that Pacquiao's love affair with hoops is unrequited.
To be absolutely blunt and devoid of BS, Pacquiao wasn't drafted nor named Kia's head coach for his basketball aptitude and capabilities - even Stevie Wonder can see that. Suffice it to say, Kia is looking to benefit from the publicity the beloved Filipino sports icon has brought and will continue to bring to their company and new basketball franchise. But at what cost?
What message does this really send about the PBA and Philippine sports as a whole?
Kia can give Pacquiao all the titles they want in an effort to legitimize his stint in the PBA, but his only real purpose is to be the team's mascot. Yes, fans cheer for mascots too.
And though the masses cheered on, several other self-respecting Filipino basketball proponents who weren't at Robinson's Place Manila to be part of yet another historic moment in the astonishing life of the country's greatest sportsman, could only shake their heads and release a sigh of disbelief. If infamous boxing promoter Don King once made the phrase "only in America" notorious, Pacquiao is definitely making a run at promoting his version of "only in the Philippines" with his antics.
Though many Philippine basketball insiders, media members and sports personalities choose to hold their criticisms to avoid the risk of getting on Pacquiao's bad side (and everything else that comes with it) and strafe the undesirable potential backlash they could incur from Pacquiao's legions of blindly devoted followers, one has to wonder if there's anyone left that values the PBA's credibility after this stunt. Will the NBA allow the Toronto Raptors to draft Justin Bieber in the first round for the sake of generating publicity and selling tickets or should we just all accept that the powers that be in the Philippines have lost all shame and we should simply forget about standards and integrity?
Asked about the issue, Erik Spoelstra's reaction succinctly said it best without saying too much to shake up the hornet's nest: "Well, I'm not taking a boxing job," the Filipino-American head coach of the Miami Heat, who is a self-professed Pacquiao fan, told CBSSports.
I guess ultimately, professional basketball whether it be in the Philippines, Europe or the United States, is about entertainment just like other sports such as football, MMA and boxing. With that said, mascots are intended to be very entertaining. Maybe the PBA can start putting out trampolines for Pacquiao in-between timeouts as well or even a halftime boxing match while they're at it.
As far as basketball dreams in the Philippines and talk of hard work and all the sports cliches are concerned, forget about all of that. I guess the new message is that politics and power can make all your dreams come true - be as popular and powerful as Pacquiao and you can do anything you want. Talent and hard work can only get you so far. And if that fails, just make sure you're related to someone like Pacquiao. After all, Pacquiao's cousin Rene was drafted in the PBA that same night by who else? Yea, you guessed it. By Kia "Team Fist" in the third round.
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