This could be the farewell season of one of the sport’s greatest of all time – Kobe Bryant. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears recently, Bryant said, “We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last (season)? Absolutely.” On Friday, the two-time NBA scoring leader shot 7-of-15 from the field for 19 points when his Los Angeles Lakers’ bowed to Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks, 82-90.
Bryant and Nowitzki, both 37 years old, came to the league almost at the same time (Kobe in 1996, Dirk in 1998). Friday’s game could be the last time the two superstars faced each other in an NBA arena. After the game, both admitted in an interview that they had fun playing against each other. “Just two old guys having fun,” said Bryant.
Kobe was a high school phenom who went straight to the NBA in 1996. In all his 20 seasons with the NBA, the 17-time All-Star never suited up for any team other than the L.A. Lakers. This made Bryant one of the most popular sporting heroes the City of Angels ever had.
Los Angeles, of course, is home to thousands of Filipinos. And the Lakers team is probably the most followed by Pinoys worldwide, ever since the Magic Johnson days. So Kobe possibly leaving the sport at the end of this season would surely make many hearts sink, especially in the Philippines.
But as Bryant’s storied career nears its end, another Kobe is about to start his own promising journey in the beautiful sport of basketball. But this Kobe is home¬grown in the Philippines.
Kobe Paras recently signed a four-year deal with the UCLA Bruins, making him the second known Pinoy-bred cager to be recruited by an NCAA Division 1 school after Japeth Aguilar. The 18-year old former Batang Gilas forward has impressed so many scouts in the U.S. after a notable stint with Cathedral High in L.A. At 6’5”, the young Paras is highly athletic and possesses guard skills in ball-handling and outside shooting, much like his namesake from the L.A. Lakers. And like Bryant, the former La Salle Greenhills hotshot also has numerous breathtaking moves. He is, after all, a two-time FIBA 3×3 Under-18 World Championship slam-dunk king!
The two Kobes have other things in common apart from being high school phenoms. Bryant’s father Joe was a former NBA campaigner, while Paras’ dad Benjie remains the only PBA player to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards on the same season. Both also have almost identical heights. And of course, although they grew up in another city (Bryant in Philadelphia and Italy, Paras in Pasig), they are both embraced by Los Angeles.
Benjie, who was also once a high school standout, was thrilled upon learning of Kobe’s deal with the Bruins. UCLA, after all, is a renowned college basketball team that produced legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. “I’m a proud dad. And I’m so happy that our sacrifices are starting to pay off. It’s been really tough on my family having to be away from Kobe for almost three years now,” said the two-time PBA MVP. Kobe is also very close to elder brother Andre, who momentarily took a break from playing with the San Beda Red Lions to give way to a blossoming movie career.
Kobe Paras knows too well about his popularity as wherever he goes, even in the U.S., he is swarmed by adoring fans, both Pinoys and non-Pinoys. Once, he accompanied his dad in conducting a tryout for San Beda in Moreno Valley, CA. Kobe immediately stole the attention of some 100-plus throngs at the arena and gladly posed for pics with them.
Paras will most likely don the Bruins jersey in 2016. If he continues to work hard like he does, Kobe could very well make an impression in the U.S. NCAA. Who knows, someday he might just be the first homegrown Filipino in the NBA.
Or he can always help Gilas bring home the Asian title in international jousts. Better yet, he can someday match his dad’s lone record of being PBA Rookie MVP.