Kobe Bryant’s frequent Manila visits leave lasting impression
By Jonas Terrado
The local basketball scene was left heartbroken Monday after waking up to the news of basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s death.
Kobe Bryant, in this photo taken in July 2011 by Bulletin lensman Ali Vicoy, wraps the ball around Arwind Santos during the Ultimate All-Star Weekend at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Bryant left a lasting impression among Filipino hoop fans after leaving no dull moment during his seven trips to Manila in 1998, 2007, 2009, twice in 2011, 2013 and 2016.
All visits showed Bryant’s ability of being charismatic, a trait which adored him to many basketball followers in this part of the globe.
While all visits were nothing short of memorable, many still recall the time when Bryant got a chance to showcase his talents on full display in front of a packed crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in July 2011.
He was part of a group of NBA cagers who faced a PBA selection and the original Gilas Pilipinas in a two-day event dubbed as the Ultimate All-Star Weekend.
“His handful of trips to the Philippines has made him one of the most beloved NBA players among Filipino fans and we all remember these moments fondly, especially the Smart Ultimate All-Star Weekend where he amazed us with his authentic personality,” said Manny V. Pangilinan, whose company bankrolled and organized the two-day exhibition.
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel coach Tim Cone was able to see Bryant in 1998 when the then-19-year-old made his first trip to the Philippines.
Bryant was on hand for Game 6 of the 1998 Commissioner’s Cup between Cone’s Alaska Milkmen and the San Miguel Beermen at the Big Dome where he later showcased his dunking skills during halftime.
Cone and the Milkmen would later win the game and the title, 85-74.
While Cone no longer had vivid memories of seeing Bryant, he was quick to reflect on his greatness.
“I watched endless videos of Kobe as I studied the Triangle. Transcendent talent,” said Cone, who is known for implementing the Triangle Offense which Bryant had mastered during his time under coach Phil Jackson.
Cone also felt that many were robbed of the possibilities Bryant can do in his post-basketball life.
“We will all miss what he would have done in the second part of his life,” he said. “It would have been spectacular like the first part.”
A banner commemorating Bryant’s last visit in 2016 still hangs in the rafters of the Big Dome, a tribute to the Los Angeles Lakers legend’s impact on this hoops-crazy nation.
The Big Dome later allowed fans to pay tribute to Bryant at the green gate lobby, drawing hundreds of fans who brought flowers, candles and memorabilia. (With a report from Waylon Galvez)
Tags: Kobe Bryant, Manny V. Pangilinan, Smart Araneta Coliseum, Tim Cone