Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant kicks off his six-city Asian tour in Manila today and is expected to mesmerize his legion of Filipino fans during two events where he will meet young ballers from Gawad Kalinga communities and conduct a clinic for promising elite youth cagers.
Bryant, 30, is no stranger to Asia, a destination of choice the last four years. This is his third Manila visit after 1998 and 2007. Bryant knows how popular the game is here and how passionate Filipino fans are in embracing their favorite sport.
What makes Bryant’s trip more significant is it comes on the heels of his spectacular MVP performance in the NBA Finals this past season. Bryant won his fourth NBA title with the Lakers and established his dominance on the court by averaging 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists against Orlando.
Now a veteran of 13 NBA seasons, Bryant has two years left in his Lakers contract which expires in 2010-11. He inked a seven-year deal in 2004 and earned a salary of $21.3 million last season.
A highlight of his one-day visit is the introduction of the new Nike Dream Season shoe, a first-of-its-kind lightweight and durable basketball model for outdoors. The shoe retails for P6,995 and is available at all Nike stores nationwide.
Bryant himself had inputs in the shoe design. The shoe has his signature on the heel and the tongue shows his sheath logo. Small “81s” are etched in the outsoles to commemorate his 81-point game against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006, at the Staples Center. In that explosion, Bryant shot 28-of-46 from the field, including 7-of-13 triples, and 18-of-20 free throws in 42 minutes as the Lakers won, 122-104.
Bryant is one of only five NBA players ever to score at least 70 in a game. The others are Wilt Chamberlain (who holds the all-time record high of 100 – he also netted at least 70 in four other games), David Thompson (73), Elgin Baylor (71) and David Robinson (71). Michael Jordan’s career-high was 69 points. Bryant’s eruption was the highest in NBA history since Chamberlain’s century feat in 1962.
The Dream Season features an upper that is constructed of spacer mesh and is similar to the Nike Zoom Kobe IV with a heel that is scooped low for more ankle movement. It is engineered with Nike Zoom and LunarLite foam in the forefoot. An outsole made of XDR (Xtra Durable Rubber) has a life that is two to three times longer than conventional rubber.
Bryant will be introduced to the press in an exclusive by-invitation-only conference at the Rigodon Ballroom of the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati at noon today. Then, he will visit Nike Park, The Fort, at 2 p.m. Bryant will meet with kids from Gawad Kalinga as an expression of his continuing support for deserving institutions in every tour, setting aside quality time to be with children who are interested in basketball “to encourage them to keep dreaming big.” The Nike Park event will be broadcast live over W.N.I.K.E. radio on 89.9 DWTM.
The main event of Bryant’s visit will be his personally-supervised workout session with the Nike Elite Campers, a group of up-and-coming youth players, at the PhilSports Arena. Some 3,000 tickets are to be distributed free to the public to witness the camp where Bryant will showcase his skills and share his basketball prowess with his “students.” The camp will start at 4 p.m. and the gates will be open an hour earlier. The camp will allow Bryant to work with young players to help them upgrade their level of play.
From Manila, Bryant will proceed to Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chengdu.
Bryant was invited to play in Singapore tomorrow but a source said he was not permitted by the Lakers to reinforce an Asean Basketball League (ABL) selection coached by Filipino Louie Alas in a 20-minute exhibition game against the Singapore Slingers. Bryant will reportedly watch the game. The ABL selection will include local players Jerwin Gaco, Al Vergara, Rico Maierhofer and Benedict Fernandez.
“Nike Philippines is proud to welcome Kobe back to Manila and we are excited to be the first stop of his Asia tour,” said country marketing manager Mae Dichupa. “Since his last visit, Kobe has further cemented his status as a basketball powerhouse, having been awarded the NBA’s 2007-08 MVP trophy. The Lakers’ clinching the NBA championship and Kobe being named the Finals MVP in the recently concluded season makes the timing of his visit doubly exciting and though brief, we know he will again touch many young lives, inspiring them to reach for their hoop dreams.”