The sudden and tragic death of one of the NBA greats Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in a horrific helicopter crash on Jan. 26 in Calabasas, California shocked the whole world and millions of basketball lovers everywhere.
Bryant who won five NBA championships and multiple awards, including being the top four leading scorers in the NBA, was travelling with his daughter and seven other people for a basketball workshop on the day their helicopter crashed on a mountain.
For many Filipinos, Kobe Bryant. who famously wore numbers eight and 24 as a Laker, was an inspiration for the "mamba mentality" he showed on the basketball court. His unmatched perseverance, work ethic and determination to win was what endeared him to his legions of fans.
Many Filipinos in Calgary were in utter disbelief when they heard the news about his death.
Marvelous Ocenar has been a die-hard fan ever since Kobe Bryant became the youngest person to play in the NBA at 18 years and 158 days old in January 1997. Like many of Kobe's fans, he cried when he learned the news of his death and at first thought it was simply fake news.
"I was very sad when Kobe announced his retirement, to the point that I almost cried watching his last game, so you can just imagine how I felt when I found out that he died?” Ocenar says. “I just woke up and saw a Facebook post from TMZ confirming that Kobe Bryant was killed in helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. I was really shocked and I still couldn't believe it since it was just TMZ who reported it. So I searched on Google and saw that Fox News and ABC News already confirmed it. And of course, just like all the Kobe fans around the world, I really cried because I was so devastated by that bad news and I was also shocked to find out that his 13-year-old daughter Gianna who was supposed to be his legacy in the WNBA was also with him and seven other people.
The loss hit him hard, but in the end Ocenar says it was basketball that helped him with his grief.
“We had a game in our Filipino Basketball League that day, but I chose not to play and coach,” he says. “My teammates already knew why I didn't show up since they already know who's the biggest Kobe Fan in our team, but I still ended up playing a basketball pickup game that night since I really needed to release all the sadness I was experiencing by shooting the ball like Kobe.
Since 2010, he has started collecting Kobe Bryant Nike shoes and now has 41 pairs, which he uses on and off the court.
Ocenar has always believed in Kobe's mamba mentality, which is about never giving up and always try to win.
"Mamba mentality is not just about basketball, but it is also about our daily lives,” he says. “Though we experience hardships in life, we must always look up and get up to face all the challenges ahead of us. Know that God doesn't give us trials that we cannot overcome."
Ocenar adds that with the mamba mentality, he was able to get a job in Best Buy even after failing the job application on the first try.
"I actually had two interviews with Best Buy and the first one was a failure even though I knew that I did good,” he says. “I was so down after finding out that I didn't pass the interview with the department manager, but since I'm a Kobe Fan with mamba mentality, I went back and applied again during the Best Buy's national hiring day for the holidays and got the job.”
Christian Dela Cruz, another big Kobe fan said that he was a huge influence on him and to many generations of players.
Like any Kobe fan, Dela Cruz was devastated when he heard the news about Kobe and Gigi’s passing.
"I was in a state of unbelief (sic),” he says. “I was leaving church with friends and we just stopped and checked every app of social media and kept refreshing news feeds. After the same story popped up on more and more news outlets as the day went on, it started to sink in, that one of the world’s most beloved legends, his daughter, and each of the lives of those on the helicopter, were lost. Heartbreaking, to say the least."
Jerome Dizon, who plays with Christian every Saturday at the IamTeam Basketball League in Balzac, said he was torn when he heard the news because he didn't want to believe it.
“It still hurts up to today, but I am glad that I watched him play and grow as a player and a father," he says.
Dizon looks up to Kobe as a motivational and inspirational person who prioritized his family and his passion.
"He thought about hard work and dedication when playing ball,” says Dizon. “He had that mamba mentality that outworked everyone in the gym. I'm impressed of how he was able to stay dominant for his whole career. He was well respected by the players and the association. He achieved so much and inspired a generation."
Young and old Filipinos who play in several basketball leagues in the city wore Kobe Bryant's jersey and dedicated their games to him.
Starting on the day he died, all NBA players and teams paid tribute to Kobe Bryant by committing the 24-second shot clock violation and the eight-second back-court violation.
Kobe Bryant left behind his wife Vanessa of 19 years and three daughters, Natalia (17), Bianka (three) and Capri (seven-months-old).