Boxer, lawmaker, and now professional basketball player-coach.
Manny Pacquiao is already a sports icon in the Philippines. And he’s made inroads into politics as a congressman.
But he’s not done yet.
The pint-sized 35-year-old has announced that he will coach and at the same time play for Kia Motors, an expansion team in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
“Even when I was a kid, even before I learnt to box, basketball was my first love,” Pacquiao told reporters last week.
He is known for playing intense pick-up games during breaks in training for his boxing matches, and remains in top physical condition while enjoying a successful sunset to his career in the ring.
Pacquiao said he would rely chiefly on his experience from playing in the streets and town squares, and that his years in the ring would also help him on the basketball court, especially in coaching.
“You create strategies during the game. It is like boxing. When I am in a fight, my mind works and shifts faster. In a split second, I can decide on changing strategies,” he said.
But a fellow congressman, Dasmariñas’ Elpidio Barzaga, is worried that Pacquiao may not have the time for his three careers.
Barzaga, the chairman of the House Committee on Games and Amusements, said time is not on Pacquiao’s side because of two things: the contract he recently signed with Top Rank
Promotions under Bob Arum that is binding until 2016, and his looming Senate bid under the still-to-be-formed party of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Binay, who has declared his intention to run for president in 2016, has expressed interest in enlisting Pacquiao as one of his senatorial candidates.
Such an alliance is not farfetched, since Pacquiao’s People’s Champ Movement coalesced with Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance during the 2013 midterm polls.
“He is gifted. Those who have played basketball with him have told me that you can’t underestimate his game . . . that he shoots threes well and a real speedster. I would have encouraged him to pursue professional basketball, but he already has a lot on his plate. Time is really his problem here,” Barzaga told The Manila Times over the phone.
Pacquiao, already a shoo-in for the boxing Hall of Fame for being the only boxer with eight titles in eight different weight classes, first ventured into the political ring in 2007, when he ran for congressman in General Santos City.
He lost, but came back swinging in 2010, joining the House as Sarangani’s representative. He was reelected in 2013 despite his frequent absences in Congress.
“If he will continue boxing, pushes through with his Senate bid and be a playing coach in the PBA, I don’t think he would have the time and focus for all of that and his advocacies. If you want to be great at something, you would need time and concentration. You can’t do that if you are a world-class boxer, a politician and playing-coach at the same time,” Barzaga said.
He said he is not questioning Pacquiao’s ability to go up against taller and bulkier players in the PBA, Asia’s first pro league that was founded in 1975
At five-foot-six, Pacquiao is too small even for the point guard position.
“The professionals won’t back down against Pacquiao. This is basketball. Even in leagues outside the PBA, lowly employees are hardly intimidated by high-profile opponents,” Barzaga said.
Veteran Filipino sportswriter Recah Trinidad said a busy schedule would be the least of Pacquiao’s concerns, predicting he would be a flop if he steps on to the professional court.
“He has the passion but he doesn’t have the rhythm. He tends to be awkward,” said Trinidad, when asked to assess Pacquiao’s basketball prowess.
Other critics believe Pacquiao’s public basketball ambitions are just a marketing gimmick for the new team, and he will not even take to the court, accusations his business manager insist are false.