Even though the NBA has had global superstars, especially in the 90s with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls going on trips around the world and other world-famous stars like LeBron James, the association has never seen a player so famous overseas as Kobe Bryant.
The Black Mamba was a pretty huge deal in the United States, but once he went to a different country, things took a whole new dimension. It's well known how famous he was in China, as not even LeBron could believe the impact Kobe had in the Asian country, but Bryant's fame went beyond that, and he was well respected and loved in more nations.
The Philippines had the biggest love for the Black Mamba due to something he started doing when he was a young player. A recent post by Instagram page "Rich Sport" shows a young Kobe Bryant in the Asian country, dancing with locals and embracing their traditions. At the time of his first trip, Kobe wasn't nearly the player he would be in the 2000s, but that young man really connected with the fans and inspired others to be like him.
Kobe’s popularity overseas, compared to other basketball players, was no accident; he constantly made trips out to the Philippines, which started back in ‘98 when Adidas had begun Adidas Philippines and decided that the best way to market the new location was to get Kobe, the new face of Adidas basketball out to the people. They had Kobe go through their traditions and dances; he wore their clothes out of respect as a visitor, and in time, that relationship grew to where after he left Adidas, he kept coming back to host clinics and made sure Manila was a part of his tour. Women over there loved him, and he used the image of being one of the first teenage sensations to his benefit to keep pushing his brand while also being someone that young men wanted to be like on the court.
It wasn't just a one-time thing for Bryant, who became a fan of this country, and the people there loved to see him back, inspiring kids trying to be great in life. Eros Villanueva of ESPN wrote a piece in 2021 explaining how impactful Bryant was for Filipinos.
It's easy to see why Filipinos loved Bryant. While most Filipinos didn't have his physical traits, many saw a magnified version of themselves: A scrappy fighter who excelled by playing with passion and a sizeable chip on his shoulder.
"No matter how different we are, we can all channel that inner beast within to accomplish a task," Wright said. "That's the Mamba Mentality in a nutshell."
And Bryant seemed to love Filipinos back. Bryant made six visits to the Philippines and was embraced each time.
"Filipinos love Kobe because he gave back to the country. He visited countless times and held Nike events for the youth here. It's not hard to see why people are fans of Kobe," said Wright.
While no amount of memorials could ever capture the sheer weight of Bryant's basketball legacy, that hasn't stopped Filipinos from paying him tributes.
Kobe saw how people embraced him when he was just starting to show his quality in the league and appreciated that. He didn't forget about it and traveled to the country many times, bringing joy and knowledge to all the kids that dreamed of being the Filipino Kobe.
Bryant was a huge figure around the world, and he not only brought joy to the American people but to many fans in different countries. It's easy to see why so many people loved him and mourned his death when he sadly left this world.