By now, the hype over Manny Pacquiao in the PBA has waned. After his debut in the Asia’s first and longest-running professional basketball league (in the world’s biggest indoor arena, no less!), the expected tirades against him have begun. By the time this sees print, his exploits would’ve probably been dissected ad nauseam.
“Where does he get the gall?!”, said one expert.
“Kapal naman ng mukha niya, di biro ang basketbol”, said another.
“He’s embarrassing the sport we love”, chimed chants from the bleachers.
“He should stick to boxing instead of dabbling in politics—and (gasp) basketball!”, screamed the interweb.
Like many, I also considered this a travesty, a cheap marketing gimmick by a global company that sought to push more product, shamelessly leveraging the immense popularity of the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer on the basketball-loving public.
I laughed when I first heard the news, then wondered with disbelief how this was going to even work. This is, after all, the PBA! The home of Jaworski and Fernandez; Cezar and Guidaben; of Patrimonio, Limpot, Lastimosa, Abarrientos, and Adornado; of the Skywalker, the Destroyer, the Flash, the Fast and the Furious, and Asi, and Jimmy!
How on earth would Pacquiao ever fit in? Should he even try?
So, along with millions of others, I made time to find out.
It didn’t take too long for reality to set in.
With each lost possession, each turnover, each bone-crushing pick, Pacquiao seemed bewildered and confused. Later on, he stayed mostly on the perimeter, as if realizing the sheer magnitude of his experiment.
After some 6 minutes of ineffectiveness, and obvious frustration, he walked back to the bench where he stayed the rest of the night.
His team rallied from some 15 points down to win the game, with Pacquiao cheering on his teammates. And although his fellow rookies whooped it up, and after the analysts weighed in, the consensus was that Pacquiao was in over his head.
But here’s the thing—it didn’t seem to matter. Not to Pacquiao, not to the 50,000-strong crowd in attendance, and –I suspect—some ten times more glued to their TV sets that night.
As the TV cameras projected his every move, emotion, and reaction the crowd absorbed every moment, as if riding that same bumpy journey with him. And every time he cracked his trademark sheepish grin, the audience lapped it up.
The basketball experts analyzed Pacquiao’s performance, calling it a ‘rude awakening’. His minutes in the first half did little to change the fortunes of the team. His bench strategy seemed to consist of deferring to Glen Capacio, while exhorting his team to ‘keep fighting’.
It seemed to matter little that he was obviously outclassed by the other players on the court. What mattered was the intensity on his face every time he stepped on the court, every time he led the cheers on the bench, every time he participated in the coaching huddle. He seemed to be living out his dream as a poor hungry kid from General Santos City, and he was relishing every moment-good and bad.
It mattered not that his team is considered one of the potential doormats of the league. With a ragtag bunch of players assembled; some from the rookie draft, some whose early careers were cut short by injury, mismanagement, or both, some were veterans dusted off to play for a couple more conferences—all hungry to make the most out of this new opportunity. The team seemed to have been assembled by Central Casting, and the main star was Manny Pacquiao.
He was on this stage, and he was going to make it count.
And, somewhere along the way, I realized, that it didn’t really matter how well he played, how often opponents shot over him, and how much shots he took—if at all. Pacquiao was much bigger than the PBA itself.
First, consider where he is today. He is on top of the boxing world, commands a record audience and commensurate off-the-chart fight purses. Superstars like Kobe Bryant and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson take selfies with him. And, despite the brutal knock-out against Marquez, Floyd Mayweather is still dodging him.
He has been on ESPN and Jimmy Kimmel, and partied with the best in Vegas, Miami, and LA—for free. Over here, he’s held his own concerts, religious gatherings, and funded his own variety game-show. He’s thrown world-class parties –and flown in his beaten opponents—in his hometown of General Santos City. General. Santos. City.
Also, he runs and wins a Congressional seat, tried his hand at acting, and buys a house in the most exclusive enclave in Metro Manila.
He’s also managed to put up buildings in his hometown, send his kids to exclusive schools, and made sure his family (and extended friends) are well cared for.
Now, consider where he came from to understand what he does, and why he does it.
From having literally nothing to eat, scrapping for every small morsel on the streets just to stave off the familiar and painful hunger pangs.
Boxing was his ticket, and he jumped on that train— with nothing guaranteed.
Anything was better than starvation and begging on the streets, he reasoned.
He does not know restraint—since he never could afford to hold back.
He knows that he has to give everything to win a fight—because he knows that there might not be another chance.
He goes all-in, when experts say he should fold.
He has nothing to lose, really, so he tries everything. Wouldn’t you?
He seems to be saying, “I’m here now, let’s have some fun.”
So he dabbles in Politics, sings off-tune with Will Ferrell on Jimmy Kimmel, awkwardly (and gamely) speaks English on ESPN, and likes using the hokey ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as his fight entrance songs, even as he smiles at the adoring crowd—somewhat still surprised at how people regard him.
He’s living out his dreams, but he’s also living out the dreams of millions.
A dream of virtually every Filipino kid wearing a fake Kobe Bryant jersey watching bootleg copies of games, or highlights on Youtube.
A dream that one day, God permitting, they would be able to fight for the world championship, in front of the largest audience in history, and get financially rewarded as well.
A dream that, one day, he would be able to change his fate, just as Manny did.
They will keep dreaming, hoping–despite the hunger pangs, despite having no electricity, despite having a drunkard, deadbeat for a father or a domestic helper for a mother.
They will refer to the example of Manny Pacquiao, especially when their lives seem worthless, when poverty and hopelessness are beating them down.
They will remember his story, when they’re made to choose between HOPING and SELLING OUT.
HOPE is a powerful thing, you see. And nobody doles it out in spades, as effortlessly and as generously, as Pacquiao does.
And in this current, crazy country we inhabit, HOPE is what keeps the human spirit alive and sane. HOPE is what will keep us going, despite the chaos around us.
HOPE of a better future is what awaits us, if were willing to fight for it.
Marketers with a dozen degrees and decades of experience craft ways to sell product. Pacquiao is just himself. He is the product. His story sells itself. No gimmicks, expensive PR campaigns, and slick ad budgets needed. People know this and are drawn to this.
Very few athletes transcend their sport. And history will eventually show that Manny Pacquiao’s genius would’ve surpassed us all. When all is said and done, he will be in Boxing’s Hall of Fame, regarded as one of BEST EVER. And he’s not done yet… Think about that for a moment.
Yes, Pacquiao has had his share of massive mistakes, both with personal relationships and business dealings. And, except for Buboy, he isn’t exactly the best judge of character, obviously. But, what of it? Do we doubt that he’d be able to get up after being knocked down? Men of lesser quality would’ve withdrawn instead of ante-ing up.
Sometimes, his bravado gets him into situations he has difficulty disentangling from. He has trust issues—he trusts too much. His English is funny—never mind that he never could afford formal schooling. He likes having a good time—sometimes too much. He is generous to a fault—but he finds ways of earning it back. HOPE is what keeps him going.
His is the ‘rags-to-riches’ story epitomized.
So, his basketball experiment may one day end soon, and in a less-than-glamorous manner. So what? If you were in his place, with the opportunities he created for himself, wouldn’t you grab the opportunity to play with best in the country? Does it really matter if you win or lose?
After all, there was also a pretty decent basketball player who tried his hand in another sport, and technically failed, but succeeded in many more ways than most.
For reference, watch these clips:
Starting about the 5:30 mark and continues on the next.
until the 1:25 mark
So, let them all dream, I say. And when the time comes that they create their own opportunities, by all means—LET THEM PLAY!
And when they capture success on any stage, Let Them Be! Whatever material or moral achievements they acquire or afforded them, they would have done so on their own terms, with their own efforts. Their failures and successes are theirs alone, and no ‘expert’ can take that away from them. And as long as they keep getting up after being knocked down, Manny Pacquiao would’ve done his job.
And so, to Manny, no matter what the ‘experts’ say, no matter who’s laughing at you, keep playing all the games you love, keep jawing with the fat crocodiles in Congress, keep singing until your throat hurts, keep answering questions in English, keep throwing punches until you can’t fight another round; and keep giving HOPE to millions of kids—from here and around the world.
And when you finally score your first points in Asia’s first professional basketball league, you are assured that millions will be celebrating those points with you.