(UPDATE) For a full eight minutes, Kobe Bryant showed Filipino fans what could have happened if he were playing in the country.
The former NBA MVP and five-time champion gave almost 10, 000 fans who trooped to the Araneta Coliseum a glimpse of his otherworldly talent. He lead the UAAP All-Stars to a comeback before falling short against a Smart Gilas national basketball team side, 41–45 on Wednesday.
Bryant who was in town for his Take Every Advantage Tour for Nike scored six points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists in a scintillating performance. The collegiate stars climbed out of a 13-point hole and almost took the game away from Gilas.
The Los Angeles Lakers guard was cheered by a wild crowd at every possession and he did not disappoint, throwing down two dunks, including a breakaway jam that rocked the Big Dome to the rafters.
Filipino players were in awe when asked to describe the feeling of playing with the man they call the "Black Mamba."
“I’m shaking,” La Salle guard Simon Atkins told Yahoo! Southeast Asia. “I can’t believe that I played with him here in the Philippines. It’s really, really amazing.”
The Green Archers captain, a recipient of a couple of Bryant passes, said that no one could equal Bryant as a player.
“It’s an unbelievable experience. I will never forget it,” Ateneo skipper Kirk Long said. “He sure put on a show. He makes the game look so easy.”
The UAAP All-Stars had a chance to tie the game at 43 but Blue Eagles giant Greg Slaughter missed a dunk that gave the national team breathing room that they would never relinquish.
Bryant missed a three from the half-court as time expired.
“Ang sarap. Parang napakadali ng basketball,” Far Eastern University coach Bert Flores shared. “Parang katumbas niya apat na Pilipino.”
The man tasked to guard him for the most part, Gilas standout Chris Lutz, is in seventh heaven.
“He’s been my favorite player all time and just being able to step on the same court with him is amazing,” Lutz quipped. “When I was guarding him, I don’t know if I was thinking anything. I was just starstruck that I was actually guarding him.”
Bryant was in Manila as part of his five-city tour for sports brand Nike. He'll spend one day in Manila.
His schedule included time with the Charity Outreach for Gawad Kalinga( a mini basketball clinic for underprivileged kids); a visit of the Nike Park, The Fort at 3 p.m.; and the basketball game with players of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines at the Araneta Coliseum.
This is Bryant's third time to visit the country. He made similar stops in Manila in 2007 and 2009.
In the press conference at the Manila Peninsula today, Bryant urged the Filipino youth to take advantage of opportunities to improve and succeed in their lives. “There is no secret formula. I just did it more,” he said. “The more you do it, the better you get.”
He also talked about the plight of the homeless. He felt that it's his responsibility “to help and bring the issue to the forefront.” “It’s a huge issue that is always swept under the rug,” he said. “But it’s fixable, it’s solvable.”