MANILA, Philippines -- Matthew Wright made sure that the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters would open their PBA Philippine Cup campaign on a good note as he led the way in their demolition of the Meralco Bolts on Monday.
Wright put up 36 points in 38 minutes, making 11 of his 23 shots in the game. He also had six assists and four rebounds in the Fuel Masters' 116-98 victory.
Afterward, Wright revealed that he was dedicating his performance to his childhood hero, the late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.
"Honestly, this is the first game that I played professionally since Kobe Bryant passed away," said Wright in a post-game interview with Selina Dagdag-Alas of One Sports. "I know it's been a long time, over eight months."
"But not a day goes by where I don't think about him. That was my hero, my childhood hero," he said.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, passed away in a helicopter crash in California last January. The NBA icon was just 41 at the time of his death, and his passing triggered a wave of tributes from all corners of the globe.
Wright had to wait for eight months before he could offer his own tribute to Bryant, as the Fuel Masters did not get to play in March when the PBA opened its season. The league was then forced to suspend all of its activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It wasn't until October 11 that the All-Filipino Cup restarted in a bubble in Clark, Pampanga, with all games to be played at the Angeles University Foundation Gym.
"I just knew that when it was time to come on the court, I was gonna dedicate that performance to Kobe," said Wright. "I'm gonna wear his shoes for the entire conference, and I just try to channel my inner Mamba today."
Aside from wanting to honor Bryant, Wright also wanted to fulfill a promise that he made to Phoenix interim head coach Topex Robinson.
Robinson had taken over the head coaching duties on short notice, after Louie Alas was sacked by the team shortly before the season restarted.
"I just want to get Coach Topex his first career win as head coach," said Wright. "I told him before the game (that) I wasn't gonna let him down."
Robinson said afterward that he greatly appreciated how Wright stayed true to his word.
"Matt told me that he's gonna give me this win. And that's what he just reminded me," said Robinson, a first time head coach in the PBA. "I just love the way he competes, he's a winner, he hates to lose."
"He's a winner, he knows that, and we just have to keep on learning together," he added.