ONE of the country's most successful businessmen also happens to be its biggest basketball patron. And while Manny V. Pangilinan approaches both with the same zeal and passion, one keeps breaking his heart more than the other.
So on this rare occasion when he opened up to a small group of sportswriters just days after Gilas Pilipinas' disappointing campaign at the Fiba World Cup, Pangilinan was inevitably asked, "Why do you continue to stick to basketball amid all the disappointment?"
"Well, the smart-alecky answer is, ‘Why not?’" said Pangilinan from across the table in the mancom room of the old PLDT building in Makati.
He was smiling, but there was also a tone of defiance in his voice, which was but right considering the mounting calls on social media which he was aware of, for the country's leaders to shift their focus and resources to other sports where Filipino athletes - dwarfed in basketball - have a bigger chance at excelling internationally.
But basketball's MVP was also quick to soften up, admitting that there was a point during the last World Cup, as he watched uneasily from the stands in Foshan, China while Gilas was beaten black and blue by teams from Italy and Serbia, when his faith in Philippine basketball was tested.
“Well, when we were in China, yes," he said candidly when asked if he ever came close to giving up on the country's basketball dream.
At what point?
"First game pa lang,” he laughed. "Nangamote tayo."
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio and executive director Sonny Barrios admitted Pangilinan was the most disappointed person in the team hotel after the 46-point loss to Italy and the 59-point drubbing at the hands of Serbia.
"We failed the Filipino people; we failed everybody," were the words Barrios remembered Pangilinan uttering after the twin massacres.
His faith was shaken, but it turned out the man is unbowed. Just days after apologizing to Filipino fans for the Fiba World Cup letdown, Pangilinan was back in the boardroom with his top lieutenants, plotting Philippine basketball's comeback.
To be fair, the sportsman, through his MVP Foundation which Panlilio heads, has poured support to other sports like badminton (which he plays), taekwondo, golf, and boxing, whose national association is headed by Pangilinan's top adviser, Ricky Vargas.
But his love for basketball is more personal, ingrained by his mother Soledad and father Dominador, a top banker who at one time was Philippine baseball's godfather.
"I grew up in a basketball family, especially my mom. She was a very keen fan of San Beda. She’d go to events, she’d go to the school first to prepare sandwiches [for the team] with the other mothers, ganoon s’ya ka-fanatic," he said.
"Tsaka she speaks Spanish, kasi mestiza ang mother ko, so she can converse with [Red Lions great] Caloy Loyzaga. Best friends sila,” he added. "My dad is also into sports, with baseball. He’s also a golfer, he plays tennis, basketball. Same with my kuya. So it’s in our blood."
And if there's one lesson he has learned amid all the ups and downs, the joys and heartaches he has experienced as basketball's godfather, it is that in sports, as in life, you can never dictate to anyone who or what to love.
"[Basketball is] the sport Filipinos love," MVP said, "[so] how can we turn our back on it."