Mamba Day: How Kobe Bryant inspired Kiefer Ravena

At 22, Kiefer Ravena can already be considered an accomplished individual—on and off the court.

He is a two-time league MVP in the UAAP, having reached the Promised Land 5 times, thrice with the Blue Eaglets and twice with the Blue Eagles. He has also a proven winner in the international stage, having led the Philippines to 5 gold medal finishes, 3 of them in the Southeast Asian Games.

Outside the court, Ravena remains remains a big hit, including in social media with more than 460,000 followers on Twitters and 330,000 on Instagram. Aside from appearing in numerous commercials and print ads, he has also starred in his own reality show and even tried his comical act in a television sitcom last year.

But Kiefer can not help but be an instant fan on his own, once he starts hearing the name of a certified basketball superstar: Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant.

“I’m a big Kobe fan,” admitted Ravena after one of their Gilas Pilipinas’ practice sessions at the Meralco Gym in Ortigas, Pasig City. “Hindi ko itatago na isa siya sa mga main reasons sa paglalaro ko ng basketball. Isa siya sa mga heroes ko.”

First encounter with ‘Black Mamba’

Then an enthusiastic 4-year-old kid, Kiefer had his first glimpse of Kobe back in 1997 when Bryant visited the Philippines and took part in a basketball event in SM Megamall as part of his global tour for a popular shoe brand.

“Naglaro sila ng Tatay ko at teammates pa sila,” said Kiefer, referring to his dad Bong, then still playing in the pro ranks, before recalling what turned out to be an unexpected meet-up with his childhood hero.

“Nasa backstage kami nu’n tapos binuhat pa niya ako. Malas lang hindi ako nakatingin sa camera. Nakatingin ako sa buhok niya kasi parang ‘Uy pucha, si Kobe Bryant!’” he shared, his eyes glowing.

That proved to be the first of their many meet-ups as Ravena and Bryant became endorsers of a global sports apparel. “I was lucky enough to be part of Nike. Every time where he was here, I was there playing with him,” said the former Ateneo standout.

“And one time, I was able to get my Kobe 6 Mambacurial shoes na mapapirmahan. ‘Yun ang pinaka-swerte,” added Kiefer, who has his own big collection of Kobe shoes.

Kiefer’s ‘Kobe moment’

In Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinals battle against the Karl Malone-led Utah Jazz on May, 1997, Bryant, then an 18-year-old rookie, tried hard to extend the Lakers’ season but failed as he made 4 air-ball attempts, leading to a 93-98 overtime defeat and an second-round exit from the playoffs.

That low moment in Bryant’s career could also be compared to Ravena’s debut game in the collegiate ranks in the UAAP Season 74 men’s basketball tourney at the Araneta Coliseum in July, 2011.

Ranged against a plethora of taller and quicker Adamson defenders like Alex Nuyles, Janus Lozada and Roider Cabrera, Ravena struggled all-game long with an ‘un-phenomenal’ performance, missing his lone attempt from the field while coming up with just 2 rebounds and an assist in 14 minutes of play during a 55-51 victory.

But instead of being disheartened, Ravena used that as a big motivation from then on as he eventually helped Ateneo complete an impressive ‘five-peat’ run before earning for himself a pair of MVP crowns.

“‘Yung first-ever game ko sa UAAP (men’s cage division), ‘yun na ‘yung mako-consider ko na Kobe moment ko talaga,” said Ravena. “It’s not about those game winners or anything. Pero after that, naging strong rin (Bryant) siya. Hindi siya natakot tumira.”
“Katulad niya (Kobe), pinatapang rin ako ng pangyayari na ‘yun. ‘Yun na siguro ‘yung closest na mako-compare kong moment to Kobe’s,” he added. “Pero mahirap kasi talaga i-compare ‘yung ginagawa niya sa NBA sa mga nagagawa ko lang. Kung ano man, ‘yun na ‘yung something positive that came out (from such experience).”

On which Kobe’s number should be retired

Before hanging up his sneakers at the end of this season, the 6-foot-6 Bryant has already garnered five championship rings during an illustrious 20-season stint since being acquired by the Lakers from the Charlotte Hornets via a 1-on-1 trade for Vlade Divac after being picked 13th overall in the 1996 NBA Rookie Draft.

With the help of a dominating inside presence in the mold of soon-to-named Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant stood tall in the Lakers’ dynasty, winning three straight titles from 2000 to 2002.

After his infamous fallout with O’Neal two years after, Bryant reached the Promised Land anew in 2009 and in 2010 behind an equally solid supporting cast that includes Spanish center Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace.

Asked what Bryant’s jersey number between ‘8’ and ‘24’ should be retired by the Lakers, Ravena answered with conviction: “8 ako. Kobe 8 ako.

“Gusto ko ‘yun ang i-retire ng Lakers kasi ‘yung ang story niya: From a 17-year-old kid from Lower Merion High School tapos pagpasok niya traded agad. And he’s been through different issues on and off the court,” he added.

“‘Pag palit niya ng ’24′ nag-change na rin ng maturity sa laro niya. After ng pagpalit ng (jersey) number, nakita naman natin ‘yung transformation niya as a player. Pero ‘yung ‘8’ pa rin ang (mas) nakatatak talaga. Although he won numerous championships with ’24’ I think ‘8’ should be the one to be retired.”

NBA won’t be the same without Kobe’

With Bryant’s long and colorful journey now coming to a close, Ravena admitted the NBA, from its current crop of superstars to the long-time officials, will surely miss the presence of one of the greatest cagers to ever play the game.

“It’s really saddening that it’s the last days of his career. Nakakalungkot talaga,” said Ravena. “It will definitely change the NBA for quite some time. Probably the first couple of years na wala si Kobe, hahanap-hanapin mo rin siya di ba? Maninibago ka pa.” – By Jerome Lagunzad

Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports

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