MANILA—Kobe Bryant spun left, turned to his right, pump-faked, then faked again to finally create separation against his defenders before calmly knocking down a soft lay-in.
The Black Mamba struck again, but it wasn’t under the bright lights of the Staples Center in Los Angeles–it was at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila Wedneday.
Bryant trooped back to Manila in a trip arranged by Nike Philippines as part of his five-city Asia Take Every Advantage tour.
“I love Manila. This is one of my favorite cities in the world,” said Byrant, the five-time NBA champion with the LA Lakers.
“(I have seen other fans from other countries) but not as passionate as this. This is unbelievable,” added Bryant, pointing to the crowd, packed to the rafters.
Can one blame Bryant for wanting to go back three times?
Hoops junkies of all sorts went into a thunderous frenzy that had the Araneta Coliseum rocking like when it hosted the Thrilla in Manila just as Bryant nailed his first basket of the night.
The fans, donning a variety of Kobe apparel—from shirts, jerseys to eye-catching Air Zoom Kobe’s, came in thinking that it was just going to be an exhibition match between a UAAP selection squad and Smart Gilas Pilipinas, with Bryant overseeing it at courtside.
The national team handily defeated the top college players after 10 minutes, but Byrant decided the show’s not over yet. Not until he stepped on the court.
The two-time Finals MVP picked up a Far Eastern U Tamaraws jersey and suited up for the eager UAAP side with La Salle’s LA Revilla and Joshua Webb and Ateneo’s Greg Slaughter and Kirk Long.
“It was surreal,” said Tamaraws’ starting guard RR Garcia, who admits to be a big fan of Bryant since he was little, in Filipino. “Too bad I didn’t get to play with him since I was in the first group.”
Bryant wasted little time and gamely put on a show for his Filipino fans, topped with two dazzling dunks–with the last, a fancy, two-handed slam off a steal from Smart Gilas’ Mark Barroca.
But clearly, it wasn’t just about the game as all the players mobbed one of the best players in the world at center court snd relished the rare experience.
Bella Suansing, 16, and Denise David, 15, were among those who went out of their way just to see their basketball icon in the flesh from the stands.
“We’ve been fans for the last four years. We love him so much,” said the smiley Suansing, who was wearing a black Kobe Bryant tee from Nike.
“Kobe’s moves are awesome and we love his dedication,” added David, who was sporting a Lakers’ jersey shirt.
After another warm reception, we can expect that this won’t be the last this basketball-crazy country will see of Kobe Bryant.
“The fans are great, the people are great. There’s so much love for basketball (here in the Philippines),” Bryant said. “I’ll keep coming back here.”