By Jonas Terrado
There were plenty of long pauses at the other end of the line as Kat Tan tried to gather thoughts on the sudden passing of her idol Kobe Bryant.
“We just all wish that it’s a bad dream right now,” Tan told the Bulletin Monday afternoon from Bacolod City where she was scheduled to make a speaking engagement.
For Tan, Bryant was more than just a basketball idol. Bryant was an inspiration at a time when she had to deal with adversity at an early age.
It was 1996 when Tan, then a nine-year-old student, lost her left arm during an accident at a school fair in La Salle-Zobel. While recovering, she began to watch NBA games of Bryant, who at the time was a wide-eyed 17-year-old rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The year the accident happened, it was his rookie year,” she recalled. “I was in the hospital and that was the first time I started watching him. He’s still not the Kobe Bryant that he was, but you know there’s something in him that I saw something special.”
Motivated, Tan was able to defy the odds, earning a spot on La Salle-Zobel’s varsity team. She also got a chance to meet Bryant two years after the accident when the latter made his first Manila visit.
Tan would play varsity until high school before shifting focus on her collegiate studies at College of St. Benilde, Now 33, Tan works as a junior graphic designer at Zobel while continuing to follow Bryant’s record feats and winning moments.
“He is a part of who I am today, of my story,” said Tan, who met Bryant two more times, including a moment where the NBA great signed a framed newspaper article of their 1998 encounter.
“I know we’re not that close, but can you imagine the impact that he had in my life,” said Tan. “It’s hard.”
By the time this article is posted, Tan has probably concluded her motivational speech. Before hanging up, she admitted that it would difficult to “keep it together” in order to tell her story.
But Tan knows Bryant will be there to guide her.
“I don’t know how will I do it but bahala na si Kobe sa akin,” she said.
The risk was worth the reward
Kevin Alas had one goal in mind during Kobe Bryant’s visit in 2013.
That year marked Bryant’s sixth trip to the country, this time to promote an android smartphone. Alas, then a member of the Gilas Pilipinas Cadets squad, not only came to the event wearing a pair of Kobe 8s but also brought along a pen with hopes of having Bryant sign his footwear.
Meeting Bryant was the easy part. Making him sign the shoes was the hard part.
“I remember the bouncer saying na bawal daw magpapirma,” said Alas, who now plays for NLEX in the PBA. “But going into the event, may dala na talaga ako na pen.
When it was his chance to meet Bryant, Alas pulled out his pen despite the risk of being scolded by security, or worse, being turned down by his idol.
“When it was my turn to meet, I handed him the pen and said ‘Hey Kobe, can you sign my shoe? Sabi niya ‘Sure’ and ‘Wow, you’re wearing the Mambacurial (colorway).’”
Alas left the event with a wide grin, glad to have broken protocol.
“One of my happiest days as a basketball player because I got to meet my ultimate idol,” Alas said. “I didn’t listen to the security people because meeting Kobe was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I would’ve regretted it if I listened to them.”
News of Bryant’s death stunned Alas as he woke up Monday morning, prompting him to post a tribute along with the photo of that memorable day.
“A very sad day,” he said. “To my childhood idol, thank you for being an inspiration to me and to the whole basketball world. You are the GOAT in my book. Rest in peace, Mamba.”
For one night, Kobe was ‘King Tamaraw’
Bert Flores had a simple wish when Kobe Bryant returned to Manila in 2011.
“Ang balak ko sana papapirmahin sa kanya yung jersey,” said Flores, who at the time was coach of the Far Eastern University men’s basketball team.
Flores went to the Smart Araneta Coliseum for the big event with a gold FEU jersey. His hope was to have the jersey put on display at the school’s athletic office in Morayta once Bryant puts an ink on it.
It turned out that Flores and FEU got more than what they bargained for.
The Big Dome event featured a game between stars from the UAAP and Gilas Pilipinas and Bryant, who watched from the sidelines, decided to join the fun.
The problem, though, the NBA great had no jersey to wear. So, Flores handed the FEU jersey, which Bryant gladly took.
FEU had previously gifted past NBA visitors like Vince Carter and Paul Pierce with Tamaraw jerseys. But this one was different.
For one night, Bryant was “King Tamaraw” as he showcased his skills much to the amazement of the crowd, leading the UAAP team to victory over Gilas in the exhibition game.
Photos of Bryant in an FEU jersey came out in newspapers and tabloids the following day, much to the delight of Flores and school officials.
“Swerte din,” said Flores. “Suot-suot niya talaga. Kala niya Lakers.”
Flores, who now serves as the school’s women’s basketball coach, joked that Bryant’s appearance in an FEU uniform brought a lot of attention to the university.
“Maraming nagtatanong kung saan siya nag-college,” he said. “Sabi ko sa FEU yan nag-college.”