To a Filipino, basketball is almost mandatory. The Filipino love affair with the game knows no bounds. Makeshift courts in all shapes and sizes are put up, with no proper sporting gear required except a ball and flip-flops. Sometimes the latter is even optional.
For many of us who grew up watching the NBA during the late ‘90s, Kobe Bryant was our childhood hero. Not just for his swagger on the court but his relatability to the everyday Filipino, an underdog, someone who achieved greatness through the sheer amount of hard work and perseverance. Something that many young Filipinos connected with ease.
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant gifted basketball fans an illustrious career for 20 years with the same team, which includes timeless highlight plays, spine-tingling dunks, and buzzer-beaters that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Fuelled by his “Mamba Mentality,” a legendary work ethic that enabled his push for greatness, it taught us, like him, if we put in the work, we can all be champions in our chosen field.
His legacy will soon be etched permanently in the annals of the sports as Kobe gets enshrined posthumously in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 15.
The world mourned when basketball legend and Lakers great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant died in a helicopter crash along with seven other passengers in Calabasas, California on January 26, 2020. On that day across the world, anyone who follows the sport of basketball had their lives rattled and utterly confused.
A generation’s childhood hero
For the generation who grew up with him, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Los Angeles Lakers gained wider popularity because of Kobe. The posters, videogames, and the numbers we had sewn to our school’s intramural sports uniforms are a reflection of our admiration and desire to play like him on the court.
You connected with him during his rookie year when he wasn’t the main option of a team that featured NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. You felt for him when he chucked two air balls during a vital playoff game against the Utah Jazz. At the same time, you held your fist up high when the Lakers won multiple titles back in the early 2000s.
While many will have their own treasured memories of Kobe, it seems like people collectively know the ones that best showcase how he became to be known as the Black Mamba.
He gave this nickname to himself after watching the film Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003). An assassin in the movie used a black mamba snake to kill another character. Bryant saw the precision of the snake, its temperament to strike fear in its prey and was quick to adopt the nickname as his alter ego on the court.
He once scored 81 points in a game, the second most scored ever in a single NBA game. Many have heard the stories of Wilt Chamberlain when he went for a hundred, but none had ever witnessed anything remotely close to such feat except Bryant’s performance.
He embodied the purple and gold tradition of hanging more championship banners when he led the Lakers to capture back-to-back titles once again in 2009 and 2010, coming from an MVP season in ’08 and as an integral part of the USA Basketball team that won the gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.
While the numbers and accolades speak for themselves, the moments also define his legacy. Fans collectively held their breath when a determined Bryant swished two free throws after falling down due to a torn Achilles tendon during a game in 2013 against Golden State.
The appreciation developed as Kobe journeyed to the latter part of his career. As he grew older, so did his fans. More than basketball, fans were inspired and moved by his greatness off the court as a family man—a devoted father to his daughters and a great advocate for women in sports.
Honoring a legend
Some artists in the Philippines in the aftermath of Bryant’s passing created a huge mural of Kobe and his daughter Gigi Bryant on the basketball court’s entire floor at the Taguig Tenement.
It shows the father-daughter sharing a warm embrace from a picture taken during the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto. The image, done by the group called the Tenement Visual Artists, went viral almost instantaneously.
Among the artists who helped make the Kobe-Gigi mural, another group of visual artists known as Painted World decided to create another mural this time at the Tenement in Punta, Sta Ana. It features Kobe wearing the familiar golden Laker armor with his number 24 along with angel wings and a halo. A backdrop of blue also showcases the incredible moments in Bryant’s 20 years in the NBA all with the same team.
Elsewhere, almost like a cruel play on fate, just hours before the untimely death of the basketball legend, the opening of a basketball community center in Valenzuela City, Manila named “House of Kobe” in honor of Bryant had just taken place.
This was how Filipinos showed their love to the future hall of famer who had visited the Philippines seven times over the years, naturally winning the affection of a country who is innately passionate about the game of basketball.
In one of his tours in the country, he expressed his admiration and love to his Filipino fans for the support over the years and even after retirement from the basketball world.
“I retired professionally as a basketball player, but I haven’t retired coming here to Manila,” he said during his Mamba Mentality Tour stop in the Philippines in 2016.
The legacy of the Mamba Mentality
There is much to be said about the death of someone’s role model. All the young Filipinos who idolized the afro sporting 18-year-old fresh out of high school framed to be Michael Jordan’s successor got way more than they initially invested in.
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While his virtuoso-like performance on the court can never be duplicated, it was his overall demeanor off it that resonated the most with a basketball-crazed country such as the Philippines.
Kobe was the epitome of how hard work can pave the way to a dream. One’s fortune, a lucky opportunity, or natural-born talent can only contribute little if not paired with the grind. The unwavering spirit, discipline, and the tenacity to be the best version of yourself are the qualities Kobe showed and influenced anyone who followed his career all these years.