Manny makes mark in hoops, too

MANILA, Philippines - If you ask seven-time world champion Manny Pacquiao what his favorite sport is, it wouldn’t be surprising if he ranked basketball up there with boxing.

Tzvi Twersky, writing in Slam Magazine (Feb. 2010), said Pacquiao is “arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter alive – if you ask the Filipino, he may be the best pound-for-pound on the hardwood, too.”

Pacquiao’s feature in the “Hype – Dimedrop” section of Slam Magazine is a recognition of his love for the game. He not only plays hoops but also owns the MP General Santos City Warriors in Liga Pilipinas. Additionally, Pacquiao watches basketball on TV as a serious and intelligent fan.

Pacquiao’s familiarity with the NBA is almost legendary. When the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title in 2008, Pacquiao whooped it up like any Beantown fanatic.

Pacquiao even arranged for the Celtics to watch his fight against David Diaz at ringside in Las Vegas last year. After Pacquiao demolished Diaz, the Celtics trooped to his dressing room to toast the champ who stood only up to Kevin Garnett’s chest or thereabouts. Believe it or not, the NBA players battled each other for the privileged position of posing beside Pacquiao for photos. Paul Pierce, Rajan Rondo, Ray Allen and Garnett crowded Pacquiao in the dressing room to celebrate their hero’s latest victory.

At the time, Pacquiao was an avowed Celtics fan and proclaimed himself a Garnett disciple. But things have changed. Pacquiao’s US base is Los Angeles where he recently bought a house and with Nike promoting him as a global phenom like Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, it wasn’t long before the icons got to meet face-to-face. Then, the Lakers won the NBA crown, at Orlando’s expense, last season and Pacquiao solidified his attachment to his “second” hometown.

One of Pacquiao’s friends from way back in General Santos City confirmed his affiliation.

“Yes, it’s true,” said Clem Asencio. “Manny’s now a Kobe and Lakers fan. Garnett and the rest of the Celtics are still his friends but he thinks Kobe is the best player today and a nice guy, too.”

As a baller, Pacquiao doesn’t exactly play Bryant’s position. Pacquiao prefers to play point guard, running the show from the backcourt, orchestrating, shooting from outside and penetrating. Bryant is the epitome of the two-guard although his versatility allows him to also play the No. 1 spot.

In a game against the PBA Legends at Fort Bonifacio last year, Pacquiao saw action for the Philippine Army and scored 14 points. He could’ve won it for the Army but missed a three-pointer at the buzzer as the Legends escaped with a 96-94 victory. The Legends paraded an all-star cast with the likes of Allan Caidic, Hector Calma and Alvin Patrimonio.

“Basketball helps my boxing,” said Pacquiao. “It sharpens my reflexes, keeps me in condition and improves my footwork.”

During Pacquiao’s training for Miguel Cotto in Baguio City last September, he enjoyed staying at the Cooyesan Hotel because the facilities included a gym for boxing and a full-court for basketball. Naturally, Pacquiao did some cross-training on the basketball floor.

In an interview conducted by Twersky, Pacquiao said he has friends with the Lakers, Celtics and other teams. He named Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest as some of his visitors at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles.

Pacquiao told Twersky that basketball, not boxing, is his first love.

“I’m going to play basketball ‘til I’m 50 or 60,” said Pacquiao. “It’s my first love – more than boxing – I’m just very, very short. I’m a point guard who scores a lot. I like to shoot three-pointers and drive to the hole. Except sometimes, they won’t let me (go to the basket) because I have an upcoming fight.”

Pacquiao said there are similarities between his favorite sports.

“I think there are a lot in the way you have to strategize and adjust to your opponent,” he continued. “Like, for me, if someone is bigger, faster or stronger, I have to employ a different style. And if a team is bigger than your team, you have to think faster.”

As for his kids, Pacquiao said he won’t want them to grow up to be fighters.

“They play soccer and basketball,” he said, referring to his sons Jimuel and Michael. “I don’t even keep anything boxing-related in the house – no equipment or anything – because I don’t want them to follow in my footsteps. They watch my fights on TV only. But sometimes, I don’t allow them because I don’t want them to get excited or used to it because it’s a very hard life.”

Asked what he thinks is more exciting – a knockout punch or hitting a game-winning shot, Pacquiao replied, “Because boxing is my profession, I think they’re equal – but even in pick-up games, I really love hitting game-winners.”

Pacquiao isn’t just a boxing champ, he’s also a hoops hero.

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