Posted by: theboyfromsmallville | September 5, 2007

Today on the Inquirer

Lifting a story I wrote for the September 6 issue of the Inquirer. Dedicated to Kobe fans and haters alike.

But first, a moment of silence for a sportswriter who wrote his final story way too early before deadline time. For those who knew him, a touching testimonial can be found here. 

 

Nine years later, Kobe goes from star to super
By Francis T. J. Ochoa

TOWARD THE END OF A PRESS conference that had the feel of a monthly fan club general assembly, Kobe Bryant cocked his head slightly to the right to ponder a question: How different was the Kobe Bryant who visited the country nine years ago from the Kobe Bryant who was fielding questions inside a posh Makati hotel ballroom yesterday?

A well-timed, split-second, PR-polished pause followed, just enough for the whir of video recorders and the chorus of exploding flashbulbs to capture the profile of the 6-foot-6 basketball superstar in serious contemplation.

“I had facial hair [then],” he said. The predictable round of laughter followed.

Actually, it was more than just follicle growth on the face that separated the Kobe of 1998 from the Kobe of 2007.

The Kobe of 1998 was the genial, trying-to-please-everyone sophomore who stole out of his room past his busload of bodyguards for a walk in a Makati mall and spent more than an hour engaging the press in a question-and-answer portion.

Three championships, a handful of scoring titles, several All-Star appearances, a legal controversy heard around the world and a Team USA stint later, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar had but 20-plus minutes to spare with journalists—a consequence of being more than two-and-a-half hours late for the press conference.

Had he been a player of lesser stature, the crowd at the Makati Shangri-La ballroom would have morphed into a mob. But this was Kobe Bryant, the one-time hoop wunderkind-turned-franchise player.

He was part-Michael Jordan: “The thing that drives me most is the will to win.”

He was part Charles Barkley: “The important thing to remember is that when people talk about role models, we assume that these role models must be perfect. But nobody is perfect. The definition of a role model should be someone we learn from. We look at the mistakes those role models make and learn from them, not duplicate them.”

And he was part-Oprah: “I think that we should live every day like it’s the last and enjoy the moment. As a kid, it seems like you’ll live forever. But I think kids should learn to enjoy every moment.”

And he was also a little of Drew Carey. When asked what constituted a diet program that has seen him lose 20 pounds, he quipped: “Grass.” And asked by a journalist, whose son skipped school to see him, what part of him was worthy of emulation by young children all over the world, he said: “Apart from ditching school?” a self-depreciating comment that winged his decision to skip college and jump to the pros from the high school playgrounds.

And when asked which players he would surround himself with if he was the LA Lakers owner, he replied: “You mean assuming I was Bill Gates? The whole of Team USA.”

But most of all, he was all Kobe Bryant. The flamboyant, high-leaping, silky-shooting, shoot-first-ask-questions-later superstar who wrangled himself out of a legal mess by embracing basketball until he breathed it, until he became the ultra-talented swingman who could carry an entire storied franchise on his shoulders.

A lot of the player he has become started out by plunging into a merciless killer regimen he refers to as the “Blackout.”

“Because if you go through it, there’s a chance you will black out,” he explained.

It’s a regimen he was set to share with young cagers yesterday at the PhilSports Arena, right after doing charity work at The Fort.

“Basketball is such a fun sport and to get the most out of it, the key is working hard,” he said.

Next up for Bryant is a continued stint with Team USA, where he leads a bunch of pride-pricked cagers out to reinstall the United States as the Olympic champion in Beijing in 2008.

“We put a lot of emphasis on winning the Olympic gold,” he said. “We’re preparing like we’re playing for the NBA finals. Right now, that’s the important thing. When we go back to our teams, winning the NBA title is the most important thing.”

This year’s Kobe—who hopes to go by the moniker Black Mamba someday—is one of the leaders of that team. A far cry from the hang-loose, carefree type of guy who slapped hands with the press on his way out of a press conference nine years ago.

“When I first came here, I was 19,” Bryant said. “Now I’m 29 and all grown up and I’ve won three championships and played for Team USA. It feels like I’ve come full circle.”

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Responses

  1. Thanks, Kuya. Ace is such a good friend, and life would never be the same now that he’s gone.


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