by Tito S. Talao
Manila, Philippines – PBA commissioner Chito Salud walks back onstage after the 10th pick in the Annual Rookie Draft and speaks into the microphone as the packed Robinson’s Place turns silent: “With the 11th pick, the Kia Kamao select eight-division world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao!”
And with that, a first in Philippine sports passes into history.
Filipino fans came closer to witnessing this event on Aug. 24 after it was announced yesterday that Pacquiao will be attending the PBA Expansion Draft on Friday at the Commissioner’s Office in Libis, Quezon City.
PBA media bureau chief Willy Marcial said they have received confirmation from Eric Pineda, a close business associate of the ring icon, that Pacquiao himself will be filling up the roster of his Kia team from more than a dozen players released by their mother ballclubs to the dispersal pool.
“Yes, I was told Manny Pacquiao will be present,” said Marcial.
Joining Pacquiao, introduced as Kia’s head coach during a media launch weeks ago, is businessman Dioceldo Sy of Blackwater Sports, one of two other companies accepted as new members in the 39-year-old pro league.
The third corporate entity, North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), owned by telecommunications tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan, has purchased the Air21 Express franchise and inherited the Bert Lina ballclub’s existing privileges, including its first round position in the rookie draft.
With Pacquiao in attendance, the possibility of the reigning WBO welterweight champ joining the draft, a prerequisite to his being able to act as playing-coach of Kia in the tradition of his basketball idols Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez, has gained momentum.
Pacquiao, who is scheduled to fight Chris Algieri in November in Macau, bared to Sun-Star Cebu a few weeks ago that he will “definitely apply in the PBA rookie draft” because he wants to play alongside the country’s best.
Salud had told Pacquiao during the Kia press conference that no obstacle stands in the way of the Sarangani representative coaching Kia in the PBA.
“But if he wants to play, then he will have to apply for drafting,” Salud said.
August 13 has been set as deadline for application of homegrown players. The door had closed to Fil-foreign wannabes last week.
“It’s a possibility,” said Marcial. “Who knows? Manny might just apply for drafting. After all, nandoon na siya, di ba? But we’ll see.”
Which team will pick first from the dispersal pool has yet to be determined but that shouldn’t be a problem.
“They can talk between them (Kia and Blackwater) or they can probably toss a coin.” Marcial said.
With Pacquiao is his PBA version of Freddie Roach, former Far Eastern Tamaraw guard Glenn Capacio, while Blackwater will be handled by ex-Ginebra star Leo Isaac. San Beda Red Lions coach Boyet Fernandez will likely be handling NLEX.