Thousands flocked to see boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao take part in a basketball exhibition in Dubai on Friday.
The Filipino, boxing's current WBA welterweight champion, is the headline act for this weekend’s Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) event at Hamdan Sports Complex. The founder of the MPBL, the 40-year-old will also take part in matches on Saturday.
Pacquiao fired a game-high 35 points but it wasn’t enough to prevent his side losing 99-96 to Dubai All Stars-DJMC, a team comprising former pro and collegiate Filipino players, in overtime.
“It’s always a humbling experience to play in front of my Kababayans,” said Pacquiao, who gave a $3,000 (Dh11,000) reward to the winning team. “We came here to entertain them more than anything and I hope we were able to do so. I’m very thankful for their warm welcome and to the government of Dubai for their great hospitality.”
Dunstan Rozario, chairman of main organisers DJMC Events, said: “Earlier, I told them to just enjoy this special moment of playing against Senator Manny Pacquiao. But when the opportunity presented itself, the guys gladly took it. This victory made the hosting sweeter for us.”
Dubbed Dubai Invasion 2019, this is the first MPBL event in the Middle East. Pacquiao, boxing’s only eight-division champion and a sitting senator in his homeland, launched the MPBL in 2017, which has since grown from 10 teams to 31. Semi-professional, it is not yet as popular as the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA).
An avid basketball fan, Pacquiao features alongside three MPBL teams - inaugural champions Batangas City Athletics, Imus Bandera and Davao Occidental Tigers - contesting regular-season games across the two days. Other celebrities in action during the event include one-time PBA league MVP Jayjay Helterbrand, Filipino-American actor Gerald Anderson and Derek Ramsay, the British-born Filipino actor. Pacquiao’s brother, Bobby, will also be competing.
John McAuley also contributed to this report