At times, he shouted his faith from the highest steeple.
But then, little did his millions of fans and other sports diehards knew that the late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was a practicing Catholic.
Did you know?
As the world mourns his death and that of his daughter Gianna and seven other people in a helicopter crash in the hills outside Los Angeles Sunday morning, Kobe’s legacy as a doting dad and Catholic churchgoer after his retirement from the NBA endures in Newport Beach of California’s Orange County and beyond.
It was in that coastal city also called home by the late Western movie immortal John Wayne where Kobe lived a surprisingly public life with his family.
From their house in Newport Coast, a gated community with million-dollar views of the Pacific Ocean, Bryant usually worshipped with his brood at Our Lady of Queen of Angels Catholic Church about five miles away.
It was there, less than three hours before their ill-fated Sunday morning flight, that Bryant and his daughter prayed.
Parish priest Steve Sallot told CBS News he chatted with Bryant before the 7 a.m. mass as the superstar slipped in at the back of the service and left to avoid attracting attention.
Sallot confirmed Kobe and the rest of the Bryant family were frequent parishioners at Queen of Angels.
“We shook hands, and I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” Sallot said. “So I knew that he’d gone into the chapel to pray and came out and blessed himself.”
“He was quite a man of faith,” Sallot said.
Kobe was a frequent visitor to the Philippines. The last time he was here was in 2016 after his retirement from the Lakers where he spent his entire 20-year career, winning five NBA championship rings with the Southland’s premier professional sports team, including a three-peat from 2000 to 2002.
Shaquille O’Neal, the Laker center during the three-peat, said he was in denial when news of Bryant’s death first started hitting social media.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” he said on TNT’s “Remembering Kobe” tribute. “I lost a little brother.”
Perhaps it was his religious attachment with the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism, that had inspired Bryant to come back to Manila over and over.
He did not think twice each time the NBA sent him for business and basketball in a place where the game is treated like religion by the populace.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.