You don’t mess with Manny Pacquiao.
That appears to be the message that the Philippine Basketball Association was sending when it sanctioned former NBA player Daniel Orton after he criticized the celebrated Filipino boxer’s skills on the court.
“Professional boxer, okay. Congressman, all right. Professional basketball player? No. It’s a joke. Seriously, it’s a joke,” Mr. Orton said last week, according to Agence France Presse.
At the time, Orton’s team, the Purefoods Star Hotshots, had just lost to the Kia [Motors] Carnival, where Mr. Pacquiao, a third-term congressman in the Philippines, has been both player and head coach since the season began in August.
Purefoods Star top official Rene Pardo did not hesitate to cut Orton loose.
“We have no intention of letting him play, everyone is angry,” Mr. Pardo, speaking in Tagalog, told Philippine reporters. “It’s like he went to the US and insulted the name of Martin Luther King.”
Indeed, few athletes are as revered in their home countries as Pacquiao is in the Philippines.
His story – that of a man who clawed his way from obscurity and poverty to world renown as a champion boxer – is one that resonates with millions of underprivileged Filipinos who dream of success.
As CBS reported in 2010:
In the Philippines he's an obsession – everybody watches every fight. When he's in the ring, the insurgents call a ceasefire in their running battle with the Philippine army. They're not risking anything, as the soldiers are watching too.
A reputation as a man of faith in a country that is more than 90 percent Christian only serves to bolster his image. His decision to involve himself in three other industries that Filipinos hold dear – music, film, and basketball – didn’t hurt him much, either, despite what may be his disputable ability to hit high notes, cry on cue, or dunk balls. (During the game in question, the eight-division boxing champ scored exactly 1 point.)
In 2010, when he ran for a seat in the Philippine Congress to represent his home province, “[h]e dominated the voting like he dominates most opponents,” according to Bleacher Report.
Pacquiao also recently made headlines after his long-awaited fight with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was finally scheduled for May 2.
Does all – or any – of that mean the PBA’s decision against Orton was fair? Some think not.
“Who would want to play in a place where criticism of an opponent would be met with such a response?” wrote Jack Winter, hoops writer for Uproxx.com.
Orton, a former big man for the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Philadelphia 76ers, also reportedly accused PBA officials of making biased calls during the Purefoods-Kia game.
“The way the game was going, the refs, they made it into a mockery, seriously,” Philippine news outlet InterAksyon quoted Orton saying. “They took the game that I know and love and made it into a mockery.”
In addition to Orton's team cutting him loose, the league also slapped him with a $5,600 fine for “issuing comments that are disparaging, disrespectful of and offensive to his host league, the game officials, and a fellow player and head coach of a member-team,” PBA commissioner Chito Salud said.
“This insulting behavior will never be condoned by this league,” Mr. Salud added.
Orton has since issued an apology on Twitter.