Kobe Bryant in Manila


NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers admires a passenger jeepney (modified jeep) which is decorated with his new ad for a popular sports apparel Nike during his one-day visit to Manila, Philippines Wednesday Sept. 5, 2007 to interact with school children and conduct basketball clinic as he launches his ‘Supernatural Asia Tour 2007.’ Bryant, one of the NBA’s basketball icons, will also visit Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)


Kobe Bryant of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers sits in a jeep during a basketball exhibit at the Manila Coliseum September 5, 2007. Bryant arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a one-day visit as part of his Supernatural Asia Tour 2007, which is an opportunity for Kobe to work with young Filipino athletes, in order to inspire, energize and improve their basketball game. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES)


NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after throwing basketballs to fans during his visit at suburban Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines to interact with school children and conduct basketball clinic as part of the popular sports apparel Nike’s ‘Supernatural Asia Tour 2007’ Wednesday Sept. 5, 2007. Bryant, one of the NBA’s basketball icons, will also visit Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)


Kobe Bryant of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers shows his skills to a group of players during a basketball exhibit at the Manila Coliseum September 5, 2007. Bryant arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a one-day visit as part of his Supernatural Asia Tour 2007, which is an opportunity for Kobe to work with young Filipino athletes, in order to inspire, energize and improve their basketball game. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES)


Kobe Bryant of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers catches a ball at a sports arena in Manila September 5, 2007. Bryant arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a one-day visit as part of his Supernatural Asia Tour 2007, which is an opportunity for Kobe to work with young Filipino athletes, in order to inspire, energize and improve their basketball game. REUTERS/John Javellana (PHILIPPINES)


Kobe Bryant of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers looks up as he conducts a basketball clinic at a sports arena in Manila September 5, 2007. Bryant arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a one-day visit as part of his Supernatural Asia Tour 2007, which is an opportunity for Kobe to work with young Filipino athletes, in order to inspire, energize and improve their basketball game. REUTERS/John Javellana (PHILIPPINES)


Kobe Bryant of NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers points to the audience at a sports arena in Manila September 5, 2007. Bryant arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a one-day visit as part of his Supernatural Asia Tour 2007, which is an opportunity for Kobe to work with young Filipino athletes, in order to inspire, energize and improve their basketball game. REUTERS/John Javellana (PHILIPPINES)


NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers applauds school children during his visit at suburban Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines to interact with them and conduct basketball clinic as part of the popular sports apparel Nike’s ‘Supernatural Asia Tour 2007’ Wednesday Sept. 5, 2007. Bryant, one of the NBA’s basketball icons, will also visit Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)


NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers rubs his forehead during a news conference at the financial district of Makati city east of Manila, Philippines Wednesday Sept. 5, 2007. Bryant, one of the NBA’s basketball icons, is on a one-day visit to interact with school children and conduct basketball clinic as part of the popular sports apparel Nike’s ‘Supernatural Asia Tour 2007.’ Bryant is also visiting Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)


NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers listens to a question during a news conference at the financial district of Makati city east of Manila, Philippines Wednesday Sept. 5, 2007. Bryant, one of the NBA’s basketball icons, is on a one-day visit to interact with school children and conduct basketball clinic as part of the popular sports apparel Nike’s ‘Supernatural Asia Tour 2007.’ He is also visiting Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)


Kobe Bryant of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers kneels next to young fans in Manila September 5, 2007. Bryant arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a one-day visit as part of his Supernatural Asia Tour 2007, which is an opportunity for Kobe to work with young Filipino athletes, in order to inspire, energize and improve their basketball game. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES)


NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers throws basketballs to fans during his visit at suburban Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines to interact with school children and conduct basketball clinic as part of the popular sports apparel Nike’s ‘Supernatural Asia Tour 2007’ Wednesday Sept. 5, 2007. Bryant, one of the NBA’s basketball icons, will also visit Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Kobe Bryant takes Manila by storm

By JOAQUIN HENSON
The Philippine Star

Like the blur that he is on the court, basketball star Kobe Bryant was all over town Wednesday to kick off the five-stop Nike Supernatural Asian Tour and enthralled his legion of fans in the wake of a one-day whirlwind visit.

Bryant arrived in a 10-seat Nike Lear jet from Las Vegas, where he just played for the champion US team in the FIBA-Americas Olympic qualifiers, Tuesday night. He was accompanied by a personal bodyguard and Nike executives. The plane touched down in Honolulu for refueling before heading for Manila.

He leaves this morning for Taipei then proceeds to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

It was unlike his first visit as a 19-year-old, wide-eyed NBA sophomore in 1998 when he stayed for four days with mother Pamela. This time, Bryant zipped in and out. But the trip was just as eventful.

“I was 19 then, now I’m 29,” said Bryant at an early afternoon press conference in the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. “I’m all grown up now, with more facial hair. I’ve got three (NBA) championships. I’ve come full circle and it’s fulfilling.”

From the hotel, Bryant motored to Nike Park at Bonifacio High Street to meet 20 students of the Eliseo-Belen Elementary School. Nike is donating a basketball court to the Pampanga school that was buried by lahar during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. Bryant autographed the backboards that will be put up on the court.

Then, Bryant supervised a workout with coaches Eric Altamirano and Alex Compton for a select group of graduates from the Nike Elite Camp at the PhilSports Arena. Now in its second year, the Nike Elite Camp is a by-invitation-only, all-expenses-paid program for outstanding high school cagers. Among the campers drilled by Bryant were La Salle Zobel’s David Webb, Benedictine International School’s Clark Bautista, San Beda Taytay’s L. A. Revilla and Nicolas Salva, University of Perpetual Help System Delta’s Franz Dysam, University of the Philippines’ Michael Gamboa and Ateneo’s Kirk Long.

Bryant’s trip also set the stage for the launch of his P7,495 Nike Zoom Kobe II shoe in Asia Thursday.

Heng Yee Shan, regional PR/energy manager of Nike Southeast Asia, said Manila was chosen as the first leg of the Asian tour because of the popularity of the game here. The Philippines is the only Southeast Asian country in Bryant’s itinerary, causing reporters from Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia to fly in for Wednesday’s jampacked press conference.

Bryant was in his elements as he fielded questions from media for about 15 minutes. Sitting in a chair on a makeshift stage, he took off his overshirt and looked comfortable in a muscle tee. Photographers and TV camera crews shot away with Bryant basking in the limelight.

What a change from 1998 when his NBA future was still being shaped. Now, Bryant is assured of his place in NBA history – the proud owner of three championship rings, the NBA scoring leader the last two seasons, the MVP of the 2002 All-Star Game and the holder of the record for the second highest single-game score with 81 points (behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100).

To top it all, he earns over $1 million a month on the seven-year, $136.4 million contract extension he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004. That’s not counting what he earns from endorsements, roughly $12 million a year including a five-year $40 million deal with Nike.

Bryant said this summer, he lost 20 pounds to anticipate defending against smaller and quicker guards in the FIBA-Americas qualifiers. He worked hard in the gym and ate healthy to regain the agility that was a trademark of his game in 2000.

“The biggest part of my diet was not eating junk food,” he said. “I love apple pie, ice cream, chocolate cake and fast food but I had to give them all up. It was a combination of diet and working out. I balanced it out with a weightlifting program so I didn’t lose my power and I got faster and stronger.”

Bryant said playing for the US team in Las Vegas was special. “The NBA is a regional game where you have Lakers fans, Pistons fans and Spurs fans,” he went on. “When you play for your country, the entire nation is behind one team. There’s a great sense of pride in playing for your country.”

Bryant said in the Asian tour, he’s forward to sharing his knowledge of the game with future stars.

“It’s a blessing to be able to play,” he said. “Basketball is a fun sport. You get the most out of it by working hard. I call my workout the ‘blackout’ because I push myself until I almost black out. I’m here to spread the message of the game which is to enjoy yourself, love what you do, work hard and appreciate that it’s a fun game.”

Bryant said playing for an NBA title or the Olympic gold medal is equally important.

“I focus on my goals one at a time,” he said. “I don’t have to decide one or the other. We give a lot of emphasis to both. We practice with the US team like we practice for the NBA Finals.”

On being a role model, Bryant said the key is to learn from mistakes because nobody is perfect.

“Perfect role models don’t exist,” he said. “Everyone makes mistakes. If you’ve got a role model, try to learn from his mistakes and don’t duplicate those mistakes. My philosophy is live everyday like your last day. Enjoy the moment. Live life to the fullest. It’s difficult for kids to grasp because they think you can live forever.”

Bryant said what drives him to overachieve is his will to win, not critics or those who applaud his exploits. “That’s what it’s all about,” said Bryant. “You do whatever it takes to win games and if you don’t win, you bounce back.”

With the Lakers, Bryant said he’ll train hard to get ready for next season and stay healthy. He declined to comment on the team’s player movements which include reacquiring Derek Fisher, reactivating Chris Mihm, signing up Coby Karl and drafting 7-1 Spanish center Marc Gasol and 6-9 Chinese point guard Sue Yue.

“Assuming I’m Bill Gates, I’ll start with the entire USA team to rebuild the Lakers,” he quipped.

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