MANILA (AFP) – Being world boxing champ, a heavyweight politician, an actor and a preacher is not enough for the Philippines’ irrepressible Manny Pacquiao – now he wants to be a professional basketballer.
The pint-sized 35-year-old has caused shockwaves and much disbelief with his adoring fans at home by declaring his intention to become a playing coach for 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, who has won an unprecedented eight boxing world titles in different divisions, told reporters this week.
Pacquiao stands at 1.69 metres (five feet, seven inches) and has no history as a basketballer in competitive leagues, but intends to serve as playing coach for the newly created Kia Motors team when the next PBA conference starts in October.
He defended himself against critics who said he would be no match for the professionals of the league, which has produced players with enough quality to see the Philippines qualify for this year’s World Cup.
Pacquiao 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.
Pacquiao parlayed his boxing fame to get elected to the Philippines’ Congress and has stated he wants to be president when he eventually finishes his boxing career.
He has also earnt a fortune advertising products, flirted with acting and singing careers and worked as a TV gameshow host. Since embracing Christianity in recent years, Pacquiao has also tried his hand as a preacher.
If Pacquiao pushes through with his basketball career, he would have to do so while training for an upcoming fight in November and serving his constituents as a Congressman.
But 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, who has seen ‘Pac-Man’ play during breaks in his boxing training, 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.
“This is not a publicity stunt. He doesn’t do such things,” Eric Pineda told AFP.