With Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant already playing his farewell NBA game on Thursday (Manila time) against the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center, some PBA players looked back with fondness after playing against the “Black Mamba” in 2011.
Star’s James Yap and Mark Barroca, Alaska’s deadly gunner Dondon Hontiveros and Barangay Ginebra young slotman Greg Slaughter shared the basketball court with 5-time NBA champion when Bryant came back to Manila, nearly 5 years ago.
A story worth telling
On July 23, 2011, the rechristened Smart Araneta Coliseum was filled to the rafters with basketball-crazy Filipino fans who came in droves to watch a star-studded NBA squad go up against the PBA Selection in an exhibition match.
The Kobe Bryant-led NBA Selection also included Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, JaVale McGee, Derrick WIlliams, Chris Paul, Tyreke Evans and James Harden. With their combined athleticism and vast experience, the NBA Selection clobbered the PBA stars, 131-105.
But the one-sided affair hardly mattered for Filipino fans, who still got their money’s worth. The NBA stars treated the fans with numerous rim-rattling dunks, three-point shooting, no-look passes, breathtaking alley-oop plays and a whole lot more.
Yap, nicknamed “Big Game James” in the PBA, recalled getting a taste of Bryant’s wrath on the court after managing to knock the ball out of the Laker star’s hand during one play in the exhibition game.
No, Bryant wasn’t pissed off by Yap’s scrappy defense, but it was simply the future basketball Hall of Famer’s way of intimidating and warning the 2-time PBA MVP of what he intends to do in the next play.
“Kami yung nagba-bantayan nun, so yung ginawa ko, siyempre nasa isip ko, umiiskor ito ng trenta or otsenta sa NBA, try ko talagang depensahan,” Yap told FOX Sports.
“So nung pumoste siya sa akin, tinigasan ko talaga. Kailangan depensa talaga so natapik ko yung bola and siguro kumpiyansa lang siya kaya na-out yung bola,” he added.
But when Bryant got the ball back from an inbound pass, the 2-time Olympic gold medallist put on his Mamba-like approach to the game, according to Yap.
“Sinabi niya sa akin nung natapik ko yung bola, ‘You got me there, but you can’t do it again.’ Nachambahan ko na natapik ko yung bola, pero magaling talaga kaya nung nag-low post siya sa akin, nag-fadeaway siya, yung trademark niya na galaw,” recalled the long-time face of the Star franchise.
In his storied PBA career, Yap can’t just allow an opposing player to score on him. But on that Saturday night sharing the floor with some of the world’s greatest players, the former University of the East Red Warrior was reduced to a fan.
“Sobrang blessed din dahil kahit paano, yung no.1 player sa buong mundo nakalaro ko. Iyun ang di ko makakalimutan.”
A dose of his own medicine
Yap’s long-time Star teammate Mark Barroca also had a story to tell after playing against Bryant when the 5-10 playmaker was still a member of the Smart-Gilas national team in 2011.
A pesky defender since his college days at Far Eastern University, Barroca flashed his mean defensive form that saw him switch to defend Bryant.
But the NBA legend simply scored over Barroca with relative ease. Bryant even stole the ball from Barroca in one sequence that led to an easy layup on the other end for the NBA Selection.
“Grabe sila maglaro, Pukpok talaga,” Barroca said, referring to the NBA stars. “Si Kobe ang laki niya saka yun yung kalakasan niya. Mabigat siya saka malapad.”
Sharing the same court with Bryant was a surreal moment, according to Barroca, but it also made him realized how blessed he was to complete with 1 of the NBA’s ultimate competitors.
Before Bryant and his team of NBA players left Manila, the Black Mamba gave Barroca his pair of Nike shoes.
Dondon Hontiveros has won multiple PBA championships during his time at San Miguel Beer.
Then reinforcing the Smart-Gilas team, the 6-2 Hontiveros recalled an instance when he gave all he had to stop his long-time NBA idol Kobe Bryant.
“Kalakasan niya yun nung time na nandito siya,” the Cebuano hotshot said.
“Mabilis siya kumilos for his size and very shifty din siya so nung binabantayan ko siya, natapik ko yung bola sa kamay niya. Pero sa next play, ni-lock niya yung arm ko tapos tumira siya, pero na-miss niya,” he shared.
“At least, kahit paano, masasabi ko sa mga friends ko na na-stop ko si Kobe,” said a smiling Hontiveros.
Given the rare opportunity to see and play against Bryant, the former University of Cebu superstar said he boldly asked the LA Lakers guard for his basketball jersey.
When the buzzer sounded at the end of the exhibition game, Hontiveros said Bryant came to him, took his jersey off and gave it to him as a little memento.
For one moment, Greg Slaughter sure felt like he was Pau Gasol, Bryant’s All-Star teammate at the Los Angeles Lakers back then.
Slaughter, Ginebra’s towering big man, was then playing for the Ateneo Blue Eagles when he had a chance to be with Bryant in Manila during the Black Mamba’s visit as part of his 5-city Nike Asia Take Every Advantage tour on July 13, 2011.
Slaughter recalled being part of the UAAP selection that Bryant coached, which went up against Smart-Gilas in an exhibition match at the historic Big Dome.
“Playing with Kobe, he was just so in control with the whatever he wanted to do on the court,” shared Slaughter, nicknamed Gregzilla.
Bryant actually had no plans to play in the exhibition match. But when Smart-Gilas running over the college stars, the Laker star just can’t resist the urge to play and lend a hand to his team.
Putting on an FEU jersey, Bryant engineered the UAAP Selection’s plays, including a nifty drop pass to Slaughter in transition, setting up the 6-foot-11 Cebuano giant for an easy, 2-handed dunk.
The crowd at the Big Dome went nuts.
“He played the whole quarter for us and I was just so happy because when he penetrated to the basket, he gave a drop pass to me and I just went there for the dunk,” recalled the former PBA Rookie of the Year.
As a Kobe Bryant fan, Slaughter said he had his shoes signed by the 19-time NBA All-Star guard. The shoes signed by the Black Mamba is now kept safe in a glass-encased box in Virginia, USA, he added. – By Richard Dy
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