On the day that the world lost a basketball legend a house was opened in Metro Manila bearing his name.
That legend was Kobe Bryant who, along with his daughter Gigi, passed away on January 26 in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California. That same day, congressman Eric Martinez was inaugurating the sixth basketball court he is putting up in his district in Valenzuela—a court that is inspired by the Black Mamba and his team, the LA Lakers.
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“I don’t know what to make of it,” Martinez says, during a short tour of the court that is now known as the House of Kobe.
At 5 PM of that fateful day, Martinez, known as the “court-gressman” by his constituents, opened the House of Kobe to the public through an exhibition game and pocket tournament that lasted well into the evening. Athletes like PBA player Paul Lee even graced the proceedings.
Martinez ended the day by calling on Bryant himself to grace this special court dedicated to him. “To the greatest Laker of all-time, when you come back to the Philippines please make time for the city of Valenzuela because we made this house for you,” he said during the event. Mere hours later, the Mamba was gone.
Building a home
Located in the heart of Barangay Karuhatan, the House of Kobe began development last March and was slated to be ready before 2019 ended.
But upon inspecting it himself, the congressman saw gaps in between the new hardwood floor. For a basketball addict like him—he can name all NBA champions from 1980 onward—that simply won’t cut it. So they chose to delay the ribbon cutting to January. Now the first-class hardwood court sports purple and gold all throughout.
A huge 20-foot portrait of Kobe will welcome you once you step inside, followed by a photo gallery of Laker greats along a hallway leading to the locker rooms. The doors of the locker room show 8 and 24, which were two jersey numbers that Bryant wore during his NBA career.
Martinez and his team did their best to imitate the Lakers’ home arenas in the Great Western Forum and the Staples Center. The Lakers’ 16 championship banners and a huge portrait of all the team’s greats hung by the rafters, including Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Apart from these, the court’s other design elements pay more tribute to Bryant.
A huge hand painted art wall outside depicts Bryant’s face in a roar, together with one of his famous lines: “Heroes come and go, but legends are forever.” The center court circle sports a gigantic basketball image adorned with a crown, similar to the one tattooed on the legend’s shooting arm, and clad in Lakers purple and gold. On one end of the court, 12-foot hand painted portraits of Bryant are on the wall behind the basket, with a famous line from his Oscar-winning short film Dear Basketball written below: “You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart.”
The congressman chose this court in Barangay Karuhatan because its name is derived from the word Kaduhatan, which means plums, a signature shade of the Lakers. The area used to be filled with these fruits, so its only fitting for them to pick this location.
Savior for the youth
This is the first time that Martinez has named a court after a player. In the five previous courts he had built, he would take to social media, and ask people for suggestions. But this recent court was different.
When the court was finished, Martinez was admiring it in its completeness. “I said this has to be the best court built in this district. I looked at Kobe’s portrait, took a photo and posted it on Instagram with the hashtag #HouseofKobe,” he says, sealing its name. “I could have easily named the Chicago Bulls inspired One Center here as House of MJ. But I did not.”
The Valenzuela representative, who also heads the Committee of Sports and Youth Development in the lower house, sees basketball as a savior for the youth. It can help budding athletes build their talents for the future. That’s why he continues to remake courts and centers to make them available for free to the public.
“Courts like these help the less fortunate build their games. A lot of them will never have the chance to play in places like these unless they spend a ton of money. What I want is for them to experience something that the higher-ups in society can afford. Kahit sa basketball court man lang,” the 47 year-old says.
“The world is big. But there is not one House of Kobe before this. Why does the first ever happen to be in Valenzuela? In a country far away from the USA in the Philippines? And the coincidence that it happened on the same day? Now I have an answer to that: God’s favorite game is basketball. And his favorite player is Kobe Bryant,” he says. “On that Sunday we inaugurated a basketball court. The Monday after it became a shrine, an altar for greatness. Kobe did not arrive in the flesh but his spirit will live on here on this court for the years to come.”