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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pacman in the Liga!

A real shit-eating grin spread across my face last weekend while I caught up on sports news in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star. It seems that boxing's pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao is taking a page from the book of MJ and playing minor league basketball in the Liga Pilipinas. I can tell that this news is hitting me about three weeks late, but I'm on the wrong side of the ocean, please cut me some slack. 

Thankfully, Pacquiao has not exactly mimicked Jordan's adventures in minor league baseball. Although Pacquiao is playing in the semi-pro Liga Pilipinas with the team he owns, the MP Gensan Warriors (in case you can't tell, MP stands for Manny Pacquiao), he's just doing it for fun and he hasn't retired from the ring to pursue his hoop dreams. Pacquiao owned the Warriors back in the National Basketball League days, so it's no surprise that he rolled the team over into the Liga along several other franchises from the dormant NBL.

Footage of Pacquiao playing in barangay ligas and shooting around for fun is pretty common on Philippine news programs when he's not training for a fight. His love for basketball is well-documented and in-tune with the baseline level of basketball fanatacism in the Philippines. I guess you could say he's a huge basketball fan and recreational player in way that's pretty unremarkable for the Philippines. 

But this latest chapter adds extra intrigue to the Pacman-loves-balling story. Not only does he own a team, but he suits up and plays for them. In a loss to Laguna last week, Manny scored two points, two rebounds and an assist in 11 minutes. One of Pacquiao's shots was swatted by Nigerian Sam Ekwe, a former collegiate MVP in Manila, which should come as little surprise since Ekwe is 6'8'' and Pacquiao about 5'5''. I know and played with a lot of guys on the Laguna, Pampanga, Quezon, Baguio and Taguig teams in the Liga, and I can't help chuckling when I think of them guarding Pacquiao at the top of the key. One Liga team even briefly asked me if I wanted to try out for them (I don't want to think about how they would have legally turned me into a Filipino), and although I wouldn't want to take the job from a local player (that's if I could, which isn't for certain), I would love the chance to say I played basketball against Manny. And, if like Ekwe, I threw his shot into the third row, I would hug him afterwards and say, "You're still my idol," just like he told Oscar de la Hoya after whipping him badly last December.

An interesting sidebar to this story is the effect Manny is having on attendance at Liga games. The league format has teams traveling to a host location for a series of games, almost like a round robin, at each host city or province, to keep the teams' travel expenses relatively low. Manny was playing in the leg that his team hosted in General Santos city, his hometown, and the crowds were deep, according to press reports. The good news for the Liga is that Manny said he plans on traveling with the team, and wherever he plays, expect surges in the box office. It's great for the Liga, which I've heard struggles for attendance in several locations, really everywhere except Cebu, where basketball always draws crowds. At the same time, it's a little bit sad that people won't come to the Liga for the basketball, but to cheer for Manny. But maybe they'll come for Manny, like what they see and continue to support the league. I do hope that the Liga builds on its initial successes, because it helps fill the basketball void left in the provinces by the Manila-centric PBA, and because it creates another couple hundred roster spots to soak up some of the glut of underemployed semi-pro ballers around the country.

Sidebar 2: The MP Gensan Warriors are yet another example of the way basketball seeps into Philippine politics. It's no coincidence that Manny revived his team and juiced its popularity by appearing in games now, a year before the 2009 elections, when he's expected to run for Congress. Likewise, it was no coincidence that the now-defunct rival league to the PBA, the MBA, launched in 1998, an election year, and the team owners included presidential candidates Joseph "Erap" Estrada and Jose de Venecia, as well as senatorial candidate Robert Barbers. JDV's team was named the "Pangasinan Presidents," and, to no one's surprise, they didn't last long after de Venecia failed to become president. 


Blogger coachj12 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:31 AM  
Blogger coachj12 said...

Hell if the Pacman wants to win and get attention for the coming elections, he should invite his "Celtic buddies" KG and Pierce. Hahaha

Happy New Year Manila Vanilla

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait for your book to come out. You need a book signing tour out here on the west coast with stops in L.A. and the Bay Area. Lot of Pinoys out here as I'm sure you know. Peace

7:17 AM  

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