PARRYING harsh criticism, eight-division world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao pushed through with his debut in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Pacquiao’s output in his pro debut with the KIA Sorento (0 point, 2 turnovers) did not even come close to matching his punch statistics for one round, but just the same hoop fans keenly followed his every move on the hardcourt.
It remains to be seen how long Pacquiao will stay glued to basketball, but if history will be used as a gauge, he does not figure to be in it for the long haul. Pacquiao is not the first boxer to make a foray into pro basketball, and the last one who did it, American Roy Jones Jr., went only as far as flirting with the game.
Jones was 28 years old and at the peak of his pro boxing career when he decided to join the United States Basketball League (USBL). On June 15, 1996, just six hours before he was to defend his International Boxing Federation super middleweight title against Canadian Eric Lucas, Jones spent 15 minutes playing for the Jacksonville Barracudas of the USBL. He scored six points in the game and later in the day entered the ring to defend his IBF boxing crown. Jones won every round before stopping Lucas in the 11th round.
Jones was earning millions of dollars in boxing at the time when he inked a deal with the USBL for a rookie salary of US$300 a week. So why did he bother to play ball? In his own words, Jones got bored being too good in boxing and wanted to try a new challenge. “Just because something’s going my way (in boxing), don’t stop at that,” he once told the Deseret News. “Keep reaching to get better. If you don’t get better, you’ve got a problem.”
It was the athlete in Jones, the insatiable thirst for competition, which drove him to basketball. When he finally got to scratch the itch, he immediately returned to boxing where he satisfied his hunger for competition by moving all the way up to the heavyweight division.
Unlike Jones, Pacquiao is being paid huge money to suit up for Kia in the PBA. Then again, the thirst for competition that led Jones to basketball is arguably the same thing fueling Pacquiao’s fascination with basketball. Pacquiao successfully recovered from the knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012 when he soundly whipped Timothy Bradley in April for the World Boxing Organization welterweight championship. As his career now stands, Pacquiao is just waiting for the mega fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. to happen. He has nothing much in his hands, boxing wise, and is in fact prepping for a showdown with Chris Algieri, a relatively untested opponent.
With no serious competition looming in the squared circle, Pacquiao took the time available to entertain the challenge of playing in the PBA. While many see it as a joke, the athlete in Pacquiao sees pro basketball as an imposing foe worth conquering. Of course, in addition to testing himself on the physical level, Pacquiao also sees basketball as a tool to expand his political fan base. The PBA attracts a huge following and for a boxer-politician like Pacquiao, the league is a veritable vote-mine. It is for this additional reason that Pacquiao’s basketball foray figures to be all the more brief. Pacquiao’s contract with Bob Arum will run until 2016, the year national elections will be held. Pacquiao, an incumbent congressman, is likely to seek a higher post in the government.
Within two years, it will be goodbye boxing and basketball for Pacquiao and hello to his toughest adversary - the political snake pit.