|Kobe Bryant makes a slam dunk during a game with the Nike sponsored basketball team against Smart Gilas Pilipinas at the Araneta Coliseum. Photo by Rem Zamora for abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – NBA superstar Kobe Bryant gave the Nike-UAAP All-Stars the thrill of their lives when the 5-time NBA champion decided to team with the collegiate players against the Smart Gilas Pilipinas National Team.
JV Casio, Chris Lutz, Japeth Aguilar, Jason Ballesteros and Dylan Ababou of Gilas initially played a 10-minute exhibition game against Nico Salva, Kiefer Ravena, Arnold Van Opstal, RR Garcia and Aldrech Ramos of the UAAP.
The Gilas players triumphed, 33-24.
But Bryant decided that he wanted to play as well, and asked that 8 minutes be added to the game clock.
The sold-out Araneta Center crowd went wild as the NBA star put on a Far Eastern University (FEU) jersey and warmed up before the game.
Bryant teamed up with Kirk Long, Greg Slaughter, LA Revilla and Joshua Webb, while Gilas again fielded Ballesteros, Lutz and Aguilar, along with Mark Barroca and Mac Baracael.
Despite Bryant’s presence on the other team, the Gilas players refused to back down. A lay-up from Ballesteros and a thunderous slam from Aguilar increased the Gilas lead to 37-24.
But Bryant quickly went to work. He fed Long and Slaughter on back-to-back possessions for lay-ups, and then got the crowd on their feet once again with a slam dunk.
With Bryant seemingly inspiring them, the UAAP players were able to cut the lead to 2, 41-39.
A jumper by Barroca gave Gilas some breathing room, but Bryant quickly stole the ball and rose up for a dunk that once again cut the lead to 2, 43-41.
Despite Bryant’s efforts, however, Gilas managed to hold on for the win, with Baracael sealing the victory with a lay-up.
The scoring ended at 45-41 for Smart Gilas.
After the game, both the players from Gilas and the UAAP expressed their amazement about their experience.
Lutz, who was the primary defender on Kobe Bryant, said that defending the “Black Mamba” was “useless.”
“I felt helpless out there,” he said.
“To be honest, I haven’t completely processed the experience yet,” said Slaughter.
FEU players Cawaling and Garcia expressed their happiness over Kobe’s decision to put on their school jersey.
“Nagulat nga ako nung bigla n’yang sinuot yung jersey,” said Garcia.
Cawaling said that he was proud that Bryant had put on their school colors.
But all players were in agreement that Bryant was an inspiration to them.
“His work ethic, he is one of the hardest working people in the world and in the sport,” Lutz said.
Garcia said that it was Kobe’s competitiveness that truly inspired him.
“Talagang ayaw n’yang magpatalo,” he said.
Bryant left quickly after the game, but the NBA superstar had earlier inspired the Araneta crowd with his words.
“This is one of my favorite cities in the world,” Bryant said. “The people are great, the fans are great.”
Bryant said that he appreciated the great love for basketball that the Filipinos showed.
“I’ll keep coming back here, I love it here,” the NBA legend promised.