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Pacquiao had hoop dreams

If Manny Pacquiao could have changed one thing in his life, it would have been for God to make him a foot taller.

With the extra height, the 5-foot-61/2-inch Pacquiao would have pursued a basketball career.

“Definitely,” Pacquiao said. “I love basketball. My dream was to be a basketball player.”

Few guys Pacquiao’s size make it to the NBA. So he uses the fists attached to his body to arguably be boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighter. Those fists will be on display Saturday when Pacquiao (46-3-2, 34 knockouts) faces David Diaz for Diaz’s WBC lightweight championship.

Once that business has been concluded, win or lose, Pacquiao will return to his home in General Santos City, Philippines, and play three to four hours of basketball with his friends and the team he owns.

“That’s my escape from boxing,” Pacquiao said. “When I’m playing basketball, I forget about everything else.

“It’s also good exercise. It helps me with my boxing. It sharpens my reflexes and helps me with my footwork.”

Pacquiao loves the game so much, he owns his own team, PacMan GenSan, which competes in the Mindanao Visayas Basketball Association. His team won the 2005 title and lost in the finals last season.

Pacquiao also played for the Philippine Army team (he’s a master sergeant in the reserves). Two weeks after he sustained a deep cut above his right eye in his 12-round split-decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez on March 15, he was on the court, playing point guard and nearly engineering an upset of a team of Philippine Basketball Association legends.

With his team trailing 96-94 in the final seconds, Pacquiao grabbed a rebound, dribbled past midcourt and let fly a desperation shot at the buzzer.

“I try and get to play with the guys on my team when I can,” Pacquiao said. “But they’re really big. My advantage is that I can run all day.”

Pacquiao said he enjoys being an owner.

“No, no, I stay low-key,” he said when it comes to decisions regarding his team and his league. “I’ve done OK financially. We’ve made money with the team.”

Like many fans his age, Pacquiao, 29, fell in love with basketball watching Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in their heyday in the 1990s.

“I wanted to be like Mike,” Pacquiao said with a laugh, playing off the old Jordan Gatorade commercial.

Pacquiao said basketball, not soccer or boxing, is the No. 1 sport in the Philippines.

“Everyone there loves basketball,” he said.

However, when Pacquiao climbs through the ropes Saturday at Mandalay Bay Events Center to fight Diaz, all eyes in his country will be on him. He is a national hero in the Philippines, and when he fights, basketball takes a backseat.

But after the fight, everyone, Pacquiao included, will revert their attention back to basketball. To break up the monotony of training for the Diaz fight, Pacquiao watched the NBA playoffs. And because his deal with trainer Freddie Roach is that he abstain from playing while training for a fight, Pacquiao’s interest in the playoffs was heightened.

“I was pulling for the Celtics,” he said. “Kevin Garnett is my favorite player. I love how he can play inside and outside.”

Pacquiao admits he used to be a Los Angeles Lakers fan and pulled for the San Antonio Spurs for a while. But Rob Peters, who heads Pacquiao’s security detail and is from Boston, converted him into a Celtics fan.

“I want to go to Boston someday and see the Celtics play,” Pacquiao said.

Too bad Pacquiao wasn’t a foot taller. Maybe he and Kevin Garnett could have been teammates.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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