Standing in the middle of the PBA Press Room with a microphone in hand, I was giddy with excitement as Talk N Text head coach Chot Reyes answered my question on who was to be his counterpart on the opposing bench on Ultimate All-Star Weekend.
“It will be the coaching debut,” Reyes began, “of their player-coach, Kobe Bryant.”
Now, I’m not a big fan of Bryant. But I’m a big enough basketball nut to know this was a crucial piece of information. The NBA Selection coming to Manila this weekend isn’t just going to be a team with Kobe; it was going to be Team Kobe. In the same way that Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics and, heck, the Ginebra teams of Robert Jaworski took on the personalities of their player-coaches, we can expect at least a little bit of the Black Mamba to rub off on this team. And that’s huge, because of one particular detail.
Kobe Bryant is crazy.
There’s plenty of documentation about how Mamba is perfectionist, to the point of it being maniacally so. After a regular season loss to the Miami Heat, Bryant spent over an hour in a nearly empty (the media types stayed behind, of course) American Airlines Arena going through his entire shooting routine as the Heat ballboys passed him the ball.
The guy obsesses about genius, studying the lives of the likes of Da Vinci and Daniel Day-Lewis. He considers Michael Jackson as his mentor, especially when it comes to the preparation, the breaking apart of every little miniscule detail that sets them apart from the rest of us. Bryant’s own words describe it best. “Because what (Jackson) did – and how he did it,” Kobe told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, “was psychotic.”
Oh, and let’s not forget about how his game, his mannerisms and even the way he talks in press conferences, is all textbook Michael Jordan. In fact, basketball has not seen a player as insanely competitive – as obsessed with winning – since Jordan himself.
And now, this. After posting on a social networking site that the representatives of the NBA players were requesting full scouting reports and videos on the players they would be facing here this weekend, Talk N Text assistant coach Josh Reyes confirmed that the visiting team is now asking for a practice session – one that their understandably busy touring schedule originally had no time for.
Really, Kobe? Full scouting reports and videos, and a practice session, for a pair of exhibition games in the Philippines?
The PBA Selection that Kobe and Co will be facing is a guard-heavy 16-man team with only two guys – Sonny Thoss and Rabeh Al-Hussaini – who are listed as taller than Bryant. I doubt either of them will see much of Bryant on them.
Smart Gilas Pilipinas, the National Team that the NBA players are also tasked to face, should be a greater challenge. It’s a team that has played together almost exclusively for the past few years now, and is backstopped by a 6’11 American that has been naturalized as a Filipino in Marcus Douthit. And while it has high hopes in the upcoming FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, this is still a country that has not won a medal in either the Asian Games or the FIBA Asia Championship since 1998.
And when it was initially announced during the presscon that the NBA players would not have a chance to hold a practice session, even Coach Chot admitted that that was a good thing, because staying competitive with the NBA squad would be tough enough as it is.
This is not to deride the Filipino teams. They have some of the best players in this country; some have even had the chance to play Division I ball in the US NCAA. But Kobe has 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose and four-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul on his side. I’m just saying, Mamba might be taking this trip a little too serious.
But that’s good for the fans here. Instead of an exhibition with little-to-no defense, sloppy turnovers off of fancy passes and too many dunks for any of them to seem memorable, we have a chance to see a real, honest-to-goodness basketball game.
One against a team led and coached by a guy competitive enough to want to spend the next few days poring over game tape of a league that an NBA D-Leaguer could dominate. But, hey, we expect nothing less from a consummate pro like Bryant.
That’s just Kobe being Kobe. Crazy and all.