UNITED States President Barack Obama just can’t shed the basketball nut in him.
In the middle of the formal state dinner held in his honor by President Aquino at Malacanang on Monday night, the most powerful man in the world still managed to interject the sport he played with so much passion as one common interest he had with the Filipino people.
Obama also didn’t fail to bring up boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao as well as the major contributions by Filipino-Americans not only to the US and the Philippines but to the entire world.
“We feel our spirit, our kalooban in a friendship between our people that expresses itself in so many ways. There is our mutual obsession with basketball,” said Obama, a former member of his high school varsity team at the Punahou School in Honolulu and a Chicago Bulls fan.
Obama 'lookalike' and Rain or Shine Fil-Am guard Gabe Norwood was among the privileged athletes invited to the affair, never mind that he had to skip Game One of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinals between the Elasto Painters and Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters.
“Thankful for this once in a lifetime opportunity,” the Gilas Pilipinas mainstay tweeted on his account @GNorwood5 while posting on his Instagram account a picture of the formal invitation to him for the state dinner.
Norwood was a key player of the underdog George Mason Patriots team that reached the US NCAA Final Four in 2006.
“There is our shared pride in the millions of Filipino-Americans who contribute to our nation every single day,” continued Obama, the 44th president of the US, of how he values the impact Fil-Ams like Norwood have made around the world.
And then, there was Pacquiao.
The US president cited the fighting congressman out of Sarangani for his excellence inside the ring.
“There is our mutual admiration for Manny Pacquiao, even if sometimes, his fights against Americans do not turn out the way we’d like,” said Obama, who like Pacquiao, is also left-handed.
The 35-year-old Filipino boxing legend is currently in General Santos City attending to wife Jinkee, who just gave birth to their fifth child Israel Pacquiao on Sunday.
Pacquiao, incidentally, had an American for his last ring victim after scoring a unanimous decision over Tim Bradley two weeks ago to regain the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight title.
Although the two influential personalities failed to meet in Manila, Pacquiao once paid the US President a visit at the White House during his media tour to promote his title match against former world champion Sugar Shane Mosley three years ago.
With only a 24-hour window in his first ever visit to the country, Obama no longer had time to check out some games in this basketball-crazy nation.
A check with the PBA on the eve of the world leader’s arrival in the country showed no prior arrangement was made with the league on the possibility of Obama and his men enjoying VIP seats during the Commissioner’s Cup semifinals.
But league media bureau chief Willie Marcial said PBA commissioner Chito Salud and the entire board will most welcome the first African-American to hold office at the White House, no matter how tight security will be around the playing venue.
“Oo naman, security nightmare notwithstanding,” said Marcial. “It’s a big honor to have the US President in the house and watching a PBA game.”