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PBA: Kia stuns Blackwater

Manny Pacquiao against Sunday Salvacion of Blackwter.   Photo by Tony Pionilla

Games Tomorrow (Smart Araneta)
4:15 p.m. – Globalport vs NLEX
7 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs San Miguel Beer

BOCAUE, Bulacan – Manny Pacquiao finally realized his childhood dream to frolic in the sport his PBA idols Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez once ruled. And his legion of fans got a glimpse of their hero away from the ring where he conquered the world like no other Filipino athlete did.

Yesterday, Pacquiao showed there may be life for him, other than politics, after his boxing days are over.

An eight-division world champion, playing-coach Pacquiao celebrated his pro basketball debut by leading his Kia Sorento to a come-from-behind yet convincing 80-66 victory over fellow newcomer Blackwater Elite before a mind-boggling screaming crowd of 52,612 at the Philippine Arena.

So powerful was Pacquiao’s magnetism that the gate attendance far outstripped his most watched fight against Ghana’s Joshua Clottey for the WBO welterweight championship in 2010 which attracted 41,843 at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Pacquiao even one-upped both Jaworski and Fernandez, who lost their respective opening games as playing-coaches. Jaworski and Ginebra San Miguel bowed to Great Taste Coffee, 102-99, on March 3, 1985, while Fernandez and Purefoods lost to San Miguel Beer, 119-107, on March 22, 1988.

Clearly inspired by the leadership of the globe’s most popular prizefighter, the Sorento rallied from a nine-point first half deficit by outscoring the Elite, 38-17, in the third quarter.

LA Revilla, the former De La Salle player, led Kia with 23 points, 14 in the third quarter and was rewarded by joining Pacquiao and assistant coach Glenn Capacio in the team’s first post-game interview where foreign media was even present.

“Medyo sabog ang laro namin nong first half. Sabi ko lang sa mga players, huwag silang masyadong ma-pressure sa crowd. Ganoon lang talaga pag maraming tao ,” said Pacquiao, who knows a thing or two about handling overflow arenas and stadiums.

Kia plays Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next but Pacquaio isn’t likely to attend the game to focus on his light welterweight fight with American Chris Algieri in Macau late next month.

Pacquiao, who brimmed with joy from the PBA experience, had a good sweat in the first seven minutes of the game as a starter, but eventually took himself out when his team fell behind, 15-6.

While the roar from the mammoth crowd during the pre-game shoot-around, even when he was clanging jumpers more than he was making them, may have been music to his ears, the polite applause during the actual game was a little less than encouraging.

Pacquiao got fleet-footed Paul Artadi as a defensive assignment and found his quick hands shackled by Alex Nuyles, the former Rain or Shine defensive specialist.

Thrice Pacquiao got the ball and twice he turned it over, the first on prematurely making a move to the basket before he had control and the second when 6-foot-7 Blackwater center John Paul Eram blotted the airspace after switching on a pick-and-roll play.

The sight of the people filling the seats in the cavernous stadium owned by the Iglesia Ni Cristo set the head of PBA chairman Patrick Gregorio spinning.

Gregorio, the Talk ‘N Text board representative who envisioned the unprecedented opening rites, marvelled at the overwhelming sight from the playing court where two huge monitors flashed the action and a third imposing screen served as the electronic scoreboard.

“This what you call a sea of humanity. It’s unbelievable!” said Gregorio. “This is 40 years in the making. I had no idea it will look like this.”

A 60-minute ceremony preceded the opening the games, with the league governors escorting their ballclubs’ muses to start off the parade of teams.

San Miguel Beer Robert Non, the PBA vice chairman, was with actress Alice Dixson, Erica Adachi, a volleyball player from Brazil, and Alaina Bergsma, another volleyball player who became Miss Oregon 2012. Kia’s Ginia Domingo was with Jinky Pacquiao, Meralco’s Al Panlilio with Ritz Azul of Tropa Mo Ko Unli, NLEX’s Ramoncito Fernandez with Dianne Medina of Good Morning Boss, Blackwater’s Silliman Sy, with Sunshine Dizon and Binibining Pilipinas 2012 first-runner up Ali Forbes, Purefoods’ Rene Pardo with MJ Lastimosa, the 2014 Binibining Pilipinas winner, Rain or Shine’s Mert Mondragon with Mutya ng Pilipinas Tourism International Glennifer Perido, GlobalPort’s Erick Arejola with volleyball stars Rachelle Anne Daquis Cha Cruz, Alaska’s Dickie Bachmann with Michelle Gumabao of De La Salle, TNT’s Patrick Gregorio with Ms. World 2013 Megan Young, Barako Bull’s Manny Alvarez with Ms. International 2013 Natalike Dekkert, and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Alfrancis Chua with sultry actress Ellen Adarna.

Later in the evening, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel wore down undermanned Talk ‘N Text, 101-81, as Gilas Pilipinas mainstays Jimmy Alapag and Ranidel de Ocampo stayed on the bench recovering from exhaustion and minor aches. TNT missed 12 of 15 three-point shots and was outrebounded, 62-50, as Ginebra spoiled the debut of its former coach Jong Uichico on the Tropang Texters bench.

KIA 80 – Revilla 23, Thiele 13, Cervantes 13, Lingganay 11, Saldua 7, Alvarez 4, Sanga 3, Webb 2, Padilla 2, Buensuceso 1, Ighalo 1, Alonzo 0, Pacquiao 0, Raymundo 0.

BLACKWATER 66 – Tiongson 10, Erram 10, Faundo 6, Nuyles 6, Menor 6, Cawaling 6, Artadi 6, Salvacion 6, Ballesteros 4, Rodriguez 2, Laure 2, Austria 2, Timberlake 0, Gamalinda 0.

Quarters: 12-21, 25-34, 63-51, 80-66

GINEBRA 101 – Aguilar 18, Slaughter 16, Baracael 16, Caguioa 12, Helterbrand 10, Mamaril 8, Yeo 7, Ellis 6, Tenorio 4, Brondial 4, Monfort 0, Forrester 0, Urbiztondo 0, Reyes 0, Ababou 0.

TALK N’ TEXT 81 – Williams 20, Castro 19, Alas 10, Fonacier 9, Ganuelas 9, Carey 4, Seigle 4, Reyes Ryan 3, Reyes Rob 3, Washington 0, Aban 0, Labagala 0, Espiritu 0, De Ocampo 0.

Quarterscores: 19-18, 45-41, 70-62, 101-81