MANILA (AFP) – World boxing champion Manny Pacquiao launched his pro basketball career in the Philippines on Sunday in a scoreless debut spent mostly as a cheerleader.
The ring legend, the oldest and shortest player on the floor, had two turnovers and a foul as starting shooting guard for the Kia team, failing to get off a shot in his first Philippine Basketball Association game.
“It doesn’t matter. What is important is the team won,” said the 35-year-old basketball rookie, who has won world boxing titles in eight different weight divisions.
The 1.69-metre (5 foot 7inch) Pacquiao, the team’s player-coach, named himself a starter against a team called Blackwater, to the delight of a roaring crowd at the 50,000-seater Philippine Arena.
“Give the ball to Manny!” irate fans shouted from the stands as his team swiftly fell behind.
Pacquiao substituted himself after about seven minutes with his team trailing by nine points. He spent the rest of the game on the bench as his team rallied.
Chants of “Manny, Manny!” reverberated across the stands as Kia won, 80-66.
Pacquiao said he was preoccupied with his defence of his World Boxing Organisation welterweight title against undefeated American Chris Algieri in Macau in November.
Already in the thick of training, Pacquiao said he would not play basketball again until after the Macau bout.
“After the fight I should be able to play properly,” he told reporters.
Pacquiao, one of the world’s richest sportsmen and also an elected member of the Philippine parliament, controversially joined the professional basketball rookie draft earlier this year despite doubts that his ability on court measures up to the country’s best.
He was drafted 11th overall by Kia, owned by a business friend.
Filipino boxing fans also fretted he could injure himself playing ball against younger, much taller and heavier opponents and endanger his boxing career.
“God forbid that he should suffer a ligament or tendon tear,” Oliver Wendell Lozano, the head doctor of the league and a rabid basketball fan, told AFP as he watched the game.
He said such an injury would require a four-week treatment period.
A broken bone would be even worse, requiring up to 16 weeks of treatment and healing, he added.
However, Lozano was sure Pacquiao was made of sterner stuff.
“Boxers have a tougher bone structure. It has something to do with their training,” he added.
Pacquiao said he had no fear of serious injury. “God is taking care of me,” he added.