LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant visited the Wild Card Boxing Club on Thursday to watch Manny Pacquiao train ahead of his Nov. 12 fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.
The Los Angeles Lakers guard arrived at the Hollywood gym just before 2 p.m., shortly after Pacquiao turned up for his afternoon workout.
“It’s a great honor to be here,” Bryant told Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer and the gym owner. “It’s a great honor to watch you guys work.”
Handlers for the 13-time NBA All-Star had called ahead and told gym officials to instruct the media — there were four of us in attendance — to neither approach nor talk to him. But Bryant happily posed for photos and gave autographs to the gym hands and sparring partners that gravitated his way, signing everything from boxing gloves to Lakers jerseys to cell phone sleeves.
When Pacquiao’s brother Bobby presented Bryant with a pair of gloves signed by Manny, the five-time NBA champion quipped about the ongoing lockout: “I’m unemployed, I might need them.”
Bryant observed from ringside with three friends as Pacquiao stretched with strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, then sparred seven rounds and worked six rounds on the mitts with Roach. The 33-year-old Bryant said he was impressed by Pacquiao’s blinding hand speed.
“I wasn’t even sure how many punches he was throwing, I just heard them,” he said.
Bryant left the Wild Card at 3:30, before Pacquiao had finished his pad work.
“It was very nice that Kobe came,” remarked Roach, a lifelong Boston Celtics fan. “He seemed like a very nice man. Very polite. I enjoyed meeting him.”
Although the two superstar athletes had already met on several occasions — they’re two of Nike’s highest-profile endorsers — Pacquaio said Thursday’s visit was news to him.
“I was surprised that he came,” he said.
– Bryan Armen Graham