Remembering Kobe’s first visit
TIME really flies. It has actually been almost two decades ago in 1998 when the NBA cager who would be known as “The Black Mamba” blew into town at dusk to make a special appearance at an Adidas 3-on-3 basketball competition held at SM Megamall in Mandaluyong.
Kobe Bryant, who just turned 20 that August, came to Manila for the first time.
Two years earlier, he was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team he ever played for in his 20-season career.
Bryant was not yet a superstar that time but he already showed all signs of being one in the future.
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There wasn’t much fanfare that somber morning Bryant arrived at the old Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Only a handful of media people and the executive staff of Adidas, which included president-CEO Philip Uy, marketing man Sonny Nebres and Willie Ortiz (now president of Accel), welcomed him .
Friendly and accommodating, he delighted basketball fans, especially the youth, wherever he went.
He played with the students of Don Bosco, taught them a thing or two about basketball and had lunch with them after. He had a tight and tiring schedule the few days he was here, including appearances in the PBA.
Bryant showed his fans all the exciting moves he had to show, and as he did, they wanted more of him.
Bryant also paid a courtesy call on President Ramos in Malacañang and had one-on-one interviews with the press.
One of the highlights of these series of activities was a dinner in his honor, done barrio fiesta-style, hosted by his sponsors at Manila Peninsula Hotel.
Bryant looked very good in Barong Tagalog. I still have pictures of him that night with scribe Tessa Jazmines and the PBA’s Linda Vergara.
Bryant was a hands-down sensation and when he left for home, his Filipino fans all prayed that he would return soon.
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Years later, he did but none of the successive visits were the same as the first. For one, Bryant had metamorphosed into a superstar and it became very difficult for the fans to get anywhere near him.
After a couple of Manila stops, five NBA championships and a Most Valuable Player award, Bryant is hanging his purple and yellow No. 24 jersey.
Has it been that long? I will always remember that day in August when I had to wake up very early to catalogue the arrival of The Black Mamba in Manila and the entirety of his visit.
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