The day Kobe died, tears flow in hoops-crazy Philippines

‘I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic,’ says Bryant on how his Faith has helped him in dark times. Facebook photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

For basketball fans in the Philippines, the news is an absolute nightmare. The world seems a little darker because of his passing. The man they called the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant, perished in a helicopter crash January 26 near Los Angeles with his 13-year old daughter Gianna.

“Woke up to this devastating news. Not ashamed to say that I literally cried. Both were so young. Can’t believe this is all true,” my brother-in-law, John Pastor, who grew up cheering for the Lakers, said in a post on Facebook.

Bryant has literally millions of fans in the Philippines. He visited the country at least four times, the last in 2016 two months after retiring from the NBA. He packed Araneta Coliseum with fans celebrating a career that was likely second only to Michael Jordan for its impact on the game of basketball in modern times.

“I just want to say thank you so much for inspiring me on this journey,” Bryant told adoring Filipino fans. Basketball is the only sport that matters in the Philippines, played on dirt backyards up and down the archipelago.

Bryant trying out the Tinikling in a 1998 visit to Manila.

In a partnership with Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers won three NBA championships. Bryant then won two more titles on his own. Armed with a wide, charming smile and a fierce competitive nature, Bryant played for the Lakers his entire 20-year career. Aside from the NBA titles, he is also a two-time Olympic champion, 18-time All-Star and the third leading scorer in NBA history.

Bryant was born and raised a Catholic in Philadelphia.  He was drafted at the age of 17 and rapidly became a star. The darkest time came in 2003, when he was accused of rape. The charges were eventually dropped. His wife filed for divorce in 2011. He turned to his faith and told GQ magazine in 2015:

“The one thing that really helped me during that process – I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic – was talking to a priest. It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”

He eventually reconciled with Vanessa.

The death of Bryant recalled all the young icons who died unexpectedly, such as John Lennon who was murdered at age 40 and Buddy Holly who died in a plane crash at 23.

With his wife, Bryant founded the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation  dedicated to helping the homeless and young people in need, encouraging the development of their physical and social skills through sports.

A person is the sum of his life. Bryant faltered, but like all good Catholics, he redeemed himself. He did not only become a superstar basketball player, but his legacy is that he was an all-around good guy.

They are crying in the Philippines and around the world. He left too soon.

© The FilAm 2020

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