(Photo credit: Richard Esguarra/ Sports Gateway PH)
Kobe Bryant didn’t play, but he lit up the Araneta Coliseum.
For 20 years, the Los Angeles Lakers guard has been lighting up arenas all around the world. He lit up the Staples Center in Los Angeles against the Toronto Raptors for 81 points, he lit up Madison Square Garden– the mecca of basketball– as he set the arena scoring record with 61 points against the Knicks and has even lit up arenas outside America as he lit up the Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing in the 2008 Olympics Finals game against a gritty Spanish team wherein he took over in the fourth quarter for a USA squad filled with Hall of Famers and scored 13 points to seal the Gold medal.
In Manila, Kobe didn’t play but he lit up the arena– literally and figuratively.
“I love it here. From the first time I came here, everybody embraced me with open arms and I vowed to always come back to Manila.” said the NBA legend after he was introduced, prompting ‘Ko-be’ chants from a packed crowd clad with Bryant purple and gold Lakers and blue USA jerseys.
Bryant then conducted drills for the country’s top amateur stars. Among them were DLSU’s Jeron Teng, Andrei Caracut and Ricci Rivero along with Ateneo’s Thirdy Ravena, Aaron Black, Tyler Tio, Jolo Mendoza and Anton Asistio. Gilas Cadets Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia and RR Pogoy also took part.
“Thank you Kobe for inspiring people like me to strive to become the best we can be,” Teng said in his Instagram post.
“Your legacy will remain with us forever.” he added.
After the drills, the amateur stars were then matched up against PBA stars Jared Dillinger, Cliff Hodge, Chris Newsome and Baser Amer of the Meralco Bolts and Barangay Ginebra Kings highflyer Chris Ellis– but there was a catch. The UAAP team, coached by Kobe, was put in a situation wherein they were required to channel their inner-Kobe as they were down by eight points, 78-70, at the start of a 10-minute fourth quarter.
“That’s were the mentality kicks in,” the 20-year NBA veteran said.
The UAAP selection were dominated by the PBA stars for most of the exhibition, and, with Kobe on the UAAP side, the crowd started a ‘Ko-be’ chant to urge Bryant into the game.
Kobe replied with a laugh saying: “No way. Not a chance.”
“I stopped at 60.” referring to his final NBA game against the Utah Jazz where he scored 60 at home at Staples Center.
After the game finishing at 110-95, with the PBA standouts manhandling the UAAP side, the coliseum crowd were asked to put their flashlights up as something big was hinted about to happen.
“For everything Kobe’s done for us, I need everyone who’s ever cheered for Kobe to take out your phone and turn on their flashlights,” urged event host Aaron Atayde.
“Kobe, on one side of this Coliseum, there’s a banner that reads ‘Thrilla in Manila’ and that banner cemented legend status for something in Philippine history,”
“Mr. Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba. Legends are forever.” Atayde said as the ‘Kobe Mentality Tour’ banner was dropped from the rafters and unveiled.
Bryant, turning emotional, said: “I’m deeply honored. I’m speechless.”
“If I can leave anything with you guys in my retirement, it’s that dreams do come true. Make your dreams come true,” as the night came to a close.
Bryant, on his eighth visit to Manila, assured this would not be the last time the Philippines see the Black Mamba: “I retired professionally as a basketball player but I haven’t retired coming to Manila.”
“I just want to say thank you so much for inspiring me on this journey.” Bryant said as his face– like Manila and the Araneta Coliseum– lit up.