Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Basketball and Pacman

I've got a long post that's been in the works for weeks now, and it will remain that way. It's hard to think about anything other than Manny Pacquiao today; that's the way it is in the Philippines every time he fights. This time, he made mincemeat of the extremely tough but fatally slow David Diaz in what was one of the most boring action-packed fights I've ever seen; there was no drama whatsoever because Pacquiao was never in any danger. It reminded me of the tattooing Arturo Gatti suffered at the hands of Floyd Mayweather a few years ago.

Every round Pacman seemed to land a dozen haymakers that should have knocked Diaz down, if not out, yet the big-boned Diaz just kept absorbing shots, even as his trunks changed colors from shiny white, to rose pink and, by the end, a deep burgundy from all the blood dripping down from his face. Moments before Diaz went down in a heap near the end of the ninth round, it started to look like Pacquiao was slowing down a touch, and that Diaz might be able to stage some kind of rally, like a real life victory by way of Homer Simpson disease. (In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer discovers he has a unique condition that allows him to absorb countless blows to the head, then enjoys a short but successful boxing career by allowing opponents to slug him in the head until they're so tired he can just push them over.) The fight also reminded me of the early rounds of a Rocky fight, the ones in which Stallone stands there and gets hammered while Adrian and Mick cringe and Pauly prepares to throw in the towel, until he miraculously summons the strength to knock out Apollo, Drago or Clubber Lang. After some of those rounds, I imagined Pacquiao sitting in his corner, exasperated, and exclaiming, "Pare! Hindi siya tao! Para siyang bakal!" (A reprise of Drago's famous line: "He's not human. He's like a piece of iron.") Alas, Diaz was neither Rocky Balboa nor Homer Simpson, and he took one of those rare beatings in a big-money fight that made you question if it was worth the $850,000 payday.

So that was the fight. I'm probably not going to add a ton of boxing insight that readers can't find elsewhere. So let me bring the discussion back to basketball. Since I moved to the Philippines, I've witnessed Pacquiao evincing the same passion for hoops that most Filipino men share, except that he has so much money and fame that his passion manifests itself in some particularly interesting and entertaining ways. Shortly after he pummeled Erik Morales in their second bout in the beginning of 2006, Pacquiao was the guest of honor at the Araneta Coliseum during game one of the PBA Fiesta Conference Finals. He showed up at halftime dressed in jack-o-lantern orange and badly missed a couple free throws. Then, after subsequent victories against Oscar Larios and Morales again, I noticed that news stories about his return to the Philippines and General Santos City, his hometown, usually showed clips of him eagerly getting back on the basketball court, playing on concrete floors in inter-barangay leagues. Then, in 2007 he became owner of his own team in the now-defunct National Basketball Conference, the MP Warriors of General Santos City. It's probable that Pacquiao formed the team not only because he loves the game, but also because he saw the basketball team as a way to curry favor with voters before his run for Congress in May 2007.

Today, Pacman added a few new footnotes to the story about his basketball connections. Several times during the fight, GMA's announcers Chino Trinidad and Quinito Henson mentioned that Manny's unbelievable stamina and energy, which allowed him to land hundreds of sledgehammer blows over the course of nine rounds, was due to a training regimen that included, among other things, daily basketball games, sometimes four each day. I doubt this really had much to do with his conditioning as a boxer, but I was still interested to learn that basketball remained a part of Pacquiao's routine throughout much of his training.

After the fight, after the ringside interviews with Pacquiao, Diaz and Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters, GMA covered a great moment in the locker room when Pacquiao posed for pictures with recently-crowned NBA champions Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Rajon Rondo. While Cassell, whose impending retirement could be followed by another great career as a hype man (Spliff Sam, anyone?), chanted "Pac-Man! Pac-Man!" and Pierce flexed a bicep, Garnett and Pacquiao had a vaudevillian tête-à-tête where Garnett, who is only a couple inches short of being a full two feet taller than Pacquiao, played the ventriloquist and Manny was the doll, and neither could understand the other. Garnett leaned down and said something into Pacquiao's ear, and the champ responded by nodding and beaming vacantly into space. A moment later, he said something to Garnett, and the same look of happy, complete bafflement washed over KG's face. Sportscaster Chino Trinidad stepped in to smooth the lines of communication by telling Garnett that this is the first time Pacquiao was starstruck enough to ask to have his picture taken with another celebrity. Garnett told Chino, "Well I'm his number one fan." Then Trinidad asked Pacquiao in Tagalog if the moment was like a dream, and Pacquiao yelled, "Yeah, yeah! My dream is come true!" Of course, he wasn't talking about joining and elite class of boxers who won belts in five separate weight classes. He was talking about standing with his arms around the NBA's former MVP, Garnett; its current Finals MVP, Pierce; and its one and only E.T., Cassell.

Addendum: Low and behold, big-time local sports columnist Quinito Henson, who was covering the Pacquiao fight as an analyst for the GMA network, devoted most of his write-up of the event to the dressing room encounter with the Celtics. Read it here, and do it fast because Philippine Star links tend to go dead fast.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pacquiao looked pretty comfortable at 135#, and quick enough to fight anyone. Either Diaz has a really good chin, or Manny lost a little bit of power, because he turned Diaz into a bloody mess until that left cross dropped him in the 9th.
Rumor that he'll fight Hatton in England, which is not good for Manny. The refs there let Hatton hold & punch, and Manny should beware. Let them fight on neutral ground somewhere.

1:26 AM  
Blogger macky said...

i think you meant manny's run for congress (not mayor) in 2007.

glad to see new articles. you do fascinating articles on the subculture of pinoy bball.

12:29 PM  
Blogger RafeBoogs said...

Oh man. There's an embarrassing Medill F for me. This is why I need to proofread. Consider it corrected.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

hey man. I just moved to Manila and am looking for somewhere to play basketball on a regular basis...can you help?


3:28 PM  

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