Villaflor: The Pacquiao Syndrome

Noel Villaflor

MANNY Pacquiao is a one in a billion athlete. Only a handful of still active phenoms who have defied adversity across decades comes to mind. (Actually, I can only think of Lionel Messi who overcame a growth hormone disorder to become the best footballer on the planet.)

Molded by abject poverty, Pacquiao jumped from one weight class to another, destroying foes—some much younger and bigger than him—along the way to make his case as the greatest boxer of all time.

Pacquiao, of course, remains a global icon, inspiring multitudes, especially Filipinos, to believe in themselves and to conquer adversity no matter how daunting.

Nothing wrong with that. There’s no argument about Pacquiao’s hugely positive impact on the Filipino people.

But irony is a bitch.

Pacquiao’s superhuman achievements have somewhat warped the psyche of many a Filipino sports fan. How so? The average Filipino sports fan now thinks Filipino athletes can beat anyone, regardless of size and skill, just like the Pacman. If they don’t, they’re no good.

Just look at Gilas Pilipinas and its “shocking” winless debacle in China. Many would argue—albeit correctly—that the basketball system in the country leaves much to be desired. And yet some would insist that the current team has the heft and height to match the European behemoths.

Oh please. I looked at the rosters and the Gilas players, on average, effectively yield at least four inches to their counterparts, who, not to mention, are far more disciplined and skilled individually and as a team.

Ah, but the Filipino basketball fan thinks that it can slay giants at will, because, you know, puso.

I agree with pundits that basketball needs an overhaul—again—but until every basketball fan acknowledges that the sport is a game of heft and height (speed, agility, accuracy and tactics all being equal), the disconnect between what Gilas can dream of and what it can achieve will remain.

Gilas can assemble the most freakishly talented team at its disposal, but the elephant in the room stays: size matters in basketball.

I mention the diminutive Pacquiao because he’s a freak of nature. The improbable that he’s achieved has inspired Filipino athletes, but that doesn’t mean most of them can be like him.

Simply put, Pacquiao has set the bar so high for everyone.

But to expect from our athletes like Gilas--or the Azkals—no less than success at the highest international level a la Pacquiao is simply unfair and irrational.

Hope and expectation are not synonymous. This is something fans need to understand.

As they pursue their passions risking life and limb, at the heart of every athlete is the desire to entertain fans and to not disappoint them.

Often our athletes fail. The least we could do is offer them a sincere applause with the promise to have their backs no matter what.