Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao swapped the
ring for the court after making his professional basketball debut for
the Kia Sorentos in the Philippine Basketball Association. The
eight-division boxing world champion joined
the newly-formed franchise earlier this year in the somewhat
surprising role as player/coach despite never playing professional
basketball in his life. While Pacquiao is just weeks away from
defending his WBO welterweight belt against Chris Algieri in Macau on
Nov. 22, the 35-year old made his long-awaited debut for the team in
their opening game of the season, in front of a packed Philippine Arena
in Bocaue, Bulacan.
In his seven minutes on-court, Pacquiao managed to weigh in with two
assists while turning the ball over twice as the Sorentos kicked off
their PBA season with a comfortable win against fellow new franchise
Blackwater Elite. In what is the 40th season of the PBA, KIA Sorento
wasted little time in making their mark on the league with a big win in
their first game, securing an 80-66 victory as 52,000 fans turned up to
see their idol in unfamiliar surroundings.
Without some of the marquee names littered throughout the league, KIA
made it clear this would be a season of establishing themselves rather
than challenging for honours. Heading into the game after losing
to Blackwater in pre-season, the Sorentos had been underdogs with a lot of
betting before the clash. Those predictions looked spot on
after the first two quarters, with KIA looking every-bit the expansion
team as Elite went into halftime leading 34-25.
An LA Revilla-inspired revival saw KIA turn things
around in the third period, however, as the point guard racked up 14
points as the Sorentos dominate the quarter and ensure they went into
the final quarter leading 63-51 after a sensational period in which the
franchise scored a game-changing 38 points. While Revilla was Sorento’s
main man in the third quarter, Reil Cervantes
added nine points to KIA’s total as the tie flipped on its head.
The third quarter clearly rocked Blackwater and there was only ever
going to be one winner as KIA ran out comfortable victors, with Revilla
topping the scoring charts with 23 points, hitting 10 from 15 field
goal attempts. While top draft-pick and Rookie of the Year winner Rich
Alvarez could only muster four points, the KIA captain was key to his
side’s win, grabbing four rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
While Pacquiao’s presence played a key role in 52,000 spectators
turning up, it’s fair to say the boxer looked a little out of place on
the court as Blackwater flew out of the traps. After starting the game,
Pacquiao lasted just seven minutes before leaving the court and
retaking his place on the bench. With a world title fight just weeks
away, Pacquiao’s brief time on-court didn’t
go down well with many in the boxing world.
As well as the boxer’s promoter, Bob Arum, making it
clear he wasn’t happy about his fighter taking such a big risk with a
fight coming up, Pacquiao’s next opponent, Chris Algieri, was also
vocal in his displeasure at seeing the biggest bout of his career put
in jeopardy just because Pacquiao wanted to play a little ball.