No. 24 is here! Kobe Bean Bryant returns today. On his heels, he’ll be wearing Nike’s latest footwear, “Kobe 9.” Like the man called “Black Mamba,” it’s color black stitched with plenty of neon orange and yellow. No ballplayer has more flair than Kobe. He hails from the Land of Hollywood. It’s Los Angeles, where human stars glitter. It’s the movie and entertainment capital of Earth and, among sweaty earthlings, Kobe is the Master Entertainer.
Shortly after reading this article, I’d like you to do something: On your Android or iPad, log-in to YouTube and type “Kobe Seasons of Legend.” You’ll be treated to a 2:08-minute Hollywood movie. Starring? Obviously, number “24.” The video about Kobe’s return is simple yet dramatic; it teems with bravado. Watch it. I did. And I’ll watch his return, too. After 19 missed games with the Lakers (10-9), they’re playing at home. What better homecoming for one of basketball’s all-time best?
Kobe’s not young. At 35, he’s about three months older than his fellow Nike endorser… this Pinoy boxer who’s being charged by the BIR. We don’t know how long Kobe will last. (For comparison, Michael Jordan retired at 40.) Injuries have a way of shortening careers. And this latest injury was lengthy. It started on April 12 when Kobe tore his left Achilles tendon. Days ensued. Weeks passed. Months flew. It’s taken eight months before his return on Dec. 8.
Questions arise: While Kobe’s numbers last year were impressive (27.3 PPG, 6.0 APG and 5.6 RPG), can he match those statistics this season? I doubt it. He didn’t pass through the Pre-Season; those are the games when you warm-up and hone your rusty skills. He’s coming off a long break. Can he do a Rafa Nadal, who was out due to injury for seven months and returned to win 75 of 82 matches for 2013?
To the Kobe fans, this is their Hope. To the Kobe haters (and there are plenty; those who’d prefer LeBron or despise his “buaya” style), they’d love for Superman to tumble. What’s undeniable is this: Kobe is super-competitive. No one strives harder. No one gives 1,000 percent more than KB24. No one is more experienced; he’s played in the league since 1996 and has amassed phenomenal numbers: 15-time All-Stars. The league MVP in 2008. Twice a scoring champion (2006 and 2007). Two-time NBA Finals MVP. Five-time NBA champion with Phil Jackson. Two golds at the Olympics. And, the youngest-ever NBA Slam Dunk champion at 18.
To us here in the Philippines, Kobe is one of the most popular of Americans. He’s been to Manila at least six times, the last one when he did a PR stint for Lenovo in August.
Quinito Henson, our nation’s top sports journalist, wrote an article yesterday in The Phil. Star, “Kobe moved by Pinoy spirit.” Two Sundays ago, we were with Quinito in Macau during Pacquiao’s fight. He’s now in the U.S. and recently interviewed Kobe. Quinito wrote that when Kobe was shown a photo of Typhoon Yolanda victims playing basketball in Tacloban amidst the destruction, Kobe said: “They’re playing, competing and enjoying themselves in the worst of times. Look at us, sometimes we can afford to even say we’re having a bad day. Hey, are we really having a bad day? Those kids out there are smiling, playing basketball in the absolute worst of times. I was very, very moved.”
Mr. Bryant then talked about life: “It’s not success, it’s not about being great, it’s perseverance,” he said. “It’s having a goal, you get knocked down then you get up, you get knocked down and you try again. Eventually, you will get to where you want to go but you’ve got to have the perseverance and determination to get there.”
Finally, speaking about Pinoys, he said, “I don’t know why it is (the bond with Filipinos). The first time I came over to Manila, I played in a 3-on-3 tournament in a mall. It was a great response. Every time I visit, I feel the energy and passion of the fans. They push me to continue to be better to inspire them. I’m very thankful I have that response.”
Salamat, Kobe. Welcome back.