andre & Kobe Paras
Since they were young, Kobe and Andre Paras, the good-looking sons of comedian and former professional baller Benjie Paras, have been very close—thick as thieves, as the old cliché goes. In his interview with YES! in their Pasig City home, Kobe says that wasn’t always the case. They might even have been, he exaggerates, “rivals” and “mortal enemies” in their very early years. But, around the time Kobe was to leave for the U.S. in 2013 to continue his high school education at Cathedral High in Los Angeles, California, he became closer to Andre. “It’s not ’yong typical na parang sa movie that the brother hates the sister, the brother hates the brother,” Kobe recalls. “Kami ni Andre, we realized na we should’ve been really close when I was 14 or 15, when I left [for the States].” Andre, who considers his younger brother the “mature” one, agrees that theirs is not a perfect sibling relationship. Yes, there is laughing, teasing, arguing, and sometimes fighting—but it certainly never gets to the point of hating. Andre and Kobe, through the good times and the bad, have always had each other’s back.
Brothers Andre and Kobe Paras were four and two years old, respectively, when they graced the pages of YES! Magazine for the first time. The two kids and their father, Benjie Paras, the legendary basketball player-turned-showbiz funnyman, were the subject of a four-page feature in the magazine’s inaugural issue, published in April 2000.
Father and sons had their photos taken at the family residence then: a two-story, three-bedroom affair on Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. The pictures showed the three of them hanging out in the sala and playing in the driveway.
Between the two boys, it was Andre whom Dad Benjie called “showbiz.” Indeed, his panganay looked at ease in front of the camera, which even got a shot of him with his index finger pointed upwards. Second son Kobe, on the other hand, hardly smiled and was shown in photos as holding on either to Dad Benjie or to a stuffed toy.
In the article, Benjie—the only player in the pro league Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) to win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards in the same season in 1989—told YES! that his sons were already showing an interest in basketball, and he could see that one of them, if not both, would end up playing the game. That, he said, was no problem for him, adding that when the time would come, he would support his boys’ decisions.
And the time has come for the Paras brothers—who both have grown up to be tall, good-looking, articulate, and wellmannered—to take the spotlight.
Andre, who turns 22 on November 1, straddles basketball and showbiz. The 6-foot-4 athlete plays forward-center in the AMA Online Education team, which competes in the semi-pro Philippine Basketball Association Development League, or PBA D-League. At the same time, he co-hosts the GMA-7 noontime variety show Sunday PinaSaya. He has also appeared as an actor in the daytime soap The Half Sisters and the primetime series That’s My Amboy and Encantadia, as well as the romcom flicks Diary ng Panget and Girlfriend for Hire.
Kobe, who will be 20 on September 19, pursues his dream of playing basketball among the best players in the world, while at the same time thinking of opening a dining spot and a fashion line. At 15, he had moved to the U.S. to continue his studies at the Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, California, and to play for his school. After graduation, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard
According to the padre de familia, the living space reflects everything that he loves about this house: “maaliwalas.”
Benjie tells YES!: “Ano kasi siya, maliwanag din siya. ’Yon lang ’yong gusto ko dito. ’Tsaka my favorite is either the sala or the kitchen.”
The living room is furnished with a remodeled sectional couch, two swivel coffee tables, a 65-inch flatscreen TV, a shag carpet, a pair of high-back accent chairs, and a modern open shelving unit that holds a decorative clock, candles, and various home accents.
Lyxen, Benjie’s wife, says that the sectional sofa used to be L-shaped. “And then, since we expanded this area, we needed a bigger couch,” she tells YES! “So we took out the corner and then put together the parts that used to turn into an L.”
Benjie paints us a picture of how the living room would look like on a normal day. “Imagine-in mo na andiyan ako nakaupo, watching TV. ’Tapos, my kids will be here,” he says, pointing to the carpet, “nagdodrawing. Nandito ang isa, and then ’yong isa ko, nakasandal sa akin, playing with the tablet. ’Tapos, si Georja, andiyan ’yong toys niya. Normal day.”
Kobe says that this spacious living room is his favorite part of the house: “Because that’s where we spend all our time. ’Cause if we’re all in our rooms, we’re doing our own thing, like, the little kids are studying, Dad’s doing phone calls, I’m just up in my room sleeping. I love the living room and love the kitchen just because I love to cook and I love to eat.”
Designing the interiors was a merging of Benjie’s and Lyxen’s tastes. “’Yong wife ko kasi, we’d always watch HGTV, and then titingin sa magazines. ’Tapos, magka-canvass kami, kasi ’yong iba mahal. Ang kukunin namin e ’yong mirror image n’ong gusto namin [ na furniture].”
He sheepishly admits, “Favorite naming panoorin ’yong Fixer Upper.”
For the uninitiated, Fixer Upper is an American reality-TV series about buying and remodeling old homes. It is broadcast on cable channel HGTV. went to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, as a student athlete. A year later, he returned to L.A. to join the team at California State University in Northridge. He is also a member of the Philippine men’s national team, Gilas Pilipinas.
One fine Thursday afternoon, YES! revisits the Paras household, which has seen many changes over the years.
A few weeks before the publication of our first issue in April 2000, Benjie had separated from his first wife and the mother of his two sons, Jackie Forster, now a retired actress. Six years later, in 2006, he got married to his current wife Lyxen Diomampo-Paras, a former preschool teacher and commercial model. Benjie and Lyxen now have three children of their own—a boy named Riley, eight years old; another boy named Sam, six years old; and a girl named Georja, who turns one on September 4. Andre and Kobe call their stepmother Mommy Ly.
The Paras family—Benjie, Lyxen, Andre, Kobe, Riley, Sam, and Georja— currently lives in a three-story house with five bedrooms in an exclusive subdivision in Pasig City. Kobe has come home from the States for a string of tournaments for Gilas Pilipinas. On the day of our house shoot, he has just returned from the Taiwanese capital city of Taipei, where he played in the 2017 William Jones Cup international basketball tournament, which ran from July 15 to 23.
GROWING- UP YEARS
“I don’t know when we moved in,” says Andre, the eldest of the Paras children, shaking his head.
We are in the den, where a spot has been set up for the grooming requirements of the photo shoot’s celebrity subjects. Makeup artist Muriel Vega Perez applies a little makeup to Andre’s face, just to add color to his fair mestizo skin, as hairstylist Grace Salvador blow- dries the actor-athlete’s dark brown locks.
Andre vividly remembers the time when he and his family were living in another subdivision. That one was in Libis district, Quezon City. “We had a basketball court, like, beside the house lang,” he says. “So every day, we’re in the park lang, and Dad didn’t look for us anymore because he knew we’re safe there, he knew where we were. To the point na we didn’t go home anymore. Hehehe! We played and played and played, and then, we had playmates there who played basketball, so never may time na wala kaming kalaro.”
He can’t recall exactly when he picked up the sport, speculating that he must have been nine years old and that his younger brother Kobe must have been around seven. “Basta I remember at that time, Dad was still playing in a way, so we wanted to be like him, or nahawa lang ’cause we seemed to do things like Dad.”
Benjie Paras retired from playing pro basketball in 2003 at age 34, so Andre and Kobe were eight and six, respectively, at that time. Nevertheless, Andre has good memories of the time when their dad, the PBA’s two-time MVP, was lording it over the hard court.
“There were games I knew I watched, and there were some games I think me and Kobe were just running around the arena because we’re kids, we didn’t understand the sport,” Andre recalls. “Well, I could remember, like, the announcers saying his name all the time, ‘Benjie Paras, for the slam!’ Those are the things that are nostalgic, so when I hear people say his name, those are the things I remember.”
Andre makes it clear, though, that Dad Benjie didn’t have a direct hand in getting his sons into basketball.
“Dad never really introduced us to the sport naman talaga,” Andre points out. “He never told us, ‘You have to do this, wear this, or go here, train here.’ It’s just us. We started asking advice from Dad, and then ’yon, we asked Dad, ‘We just wanna go play, what can we do?’ ‘Sige, there’s a basketball camp nearby…’ Then, yeah, that’s where it started na. We just asked advice. From that day on, Dad never told us what to do. ’Yon lang, it’s more of us. As long as we ask something, he’ll be open.”
In a separate interview with Kobe, in another corner in the family home, the second-born child attests to Dad Benjie’s lenient ways. “We’re just lucky to have a dad like him just because he’s gonna support whatever I want to do in life,” Kobe beams. “He never pushed me or forced me to train, he never forced me to model, he never pushed me to do the things I did. That’s why I appreciate him so much. Since he’s a good dad, I learned to talk to him and ask him for advice. I told him mismo na ‘Dad, I think you should train me,’ and stuff like that.”
Kobe recalls that he was in third grade at La Salle Green Hills on Ortigas Avenue, Mandaluyong City, when he took to basketball as a hobby. Then, taking the cue from Andre, who was two years ahead of him in the same school, Kobe also tried out for the varsity team, the La Salle Green Hills Greenies—and he got in. He stayed with the team all the way to high school. That was when he realized that he had great potential to be a basketball player,
and that was when he decided to make a career out of the sport.
Going to tryouts exposed the brothers to the way people perceived them—that they should be as good as their father.
“That’s a fact,” Kobe says. “I mean, because Dad is a legend in Philippine basketball, so, of course, people are gonna look at me and Andre. Growing up was hard ’cause every time I would be in the team, like, ‘Uy, nasa team lang, kasi anak ni Paras.’ But, you know, I’m just happy that I prove people wrong now, that I’m here for a reason, and that my name is just Kobe Paras, and hindi na ‘anak ni Benjie Paras.’”
For his part, Andre used to take a beating on social media when he was playing for his high school team. After a game, he’d get online comments such as “You’re not good” and “Why you’re not like your dad?” And he’d think to himself: “Why are you comparing me [to my dad]? Like, I’m just fifteen or seventeen.”
He gives us a look that shows he’s a bit annoyed yet informed.
“So people always expected a lot from me more than I should expect from myself, na I’m getting used to it,” Andre explains. “I like to represent my school. But people see us, like, ‘Hey, if you wanna make it to the pros, you have to be this good.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m still in high school. I just wanna enjoy the game.’
“A lot of people are like that. I don’t know how to call them. Hecklers? Or I don’t know. People are nagmamarunong, I guess. There were a lot, but now, wala naman. I think they grew old na, or I think they just had better things to do. Hehehe!”
Andre acknowledges the superior moves of his father, who is as tall as he is and who also played center. The son only wishes he could have the basketball IQ of the one known as “The Tower of Power” in the PBA from the late 1980s to the early 2000s.
“When he played the sport kasi, he knew, I guess, how to enjoy it, more than being scared of it,” the aspiring pro cager says of the former hoops star.
Andre also appreciates how, when he has bad games, Dad Benjie tries to cheer him up with comforting words that go something like this: “You had a nice game, you know, something to learn from.” Apparently, the older Paras’s way of handling the situation is a far cry from the horror stories Andre has heard from other players, whose fathers—nay, stage fathers—reprimand them for not playing well.
“Dad doesn’t really interfere,” he points out. “When you ask something, he’d answer, he’d be honest. But mostly, he’s
always there as a father, not as a coachfather, if there’s such a thing.”
Indeed, basketball has been a big part of Andre’s and Kobe’s lives since childhood. But that doesn’t mean that their shared passion for the sport spared them from what Andre—who is not called Kuya by Kobe— describes “’yong typical na nag-aaway, pikunan, kulitan” that siblings usually go through while growing up together.
Andre then goes on to narrate the worst fight he and his brother had. It happened while they were playing PlayStation 2 (PS2), a home video game console.
“We were young, like, eight, nine. We were playing PS2, and then… I don’t know. He’s weird in a way na when he plays, he doesn’t wanna fight—and that’s the whole point. He just wanted to roam around [the room]… I went behind his back and I started beating him, then he threw the remote [control]. I think, that day, he didn’t want to play with me anymore.”
Now that they’re already grownups, Andre says they still tease each other. “But it’s not like to the point na iiyak or magsusumbong,” he adds, chuckling. “It’s for fun lang, and at the same time, I guess, it’s a way of testing the bond we have.”
Kobe agrees that he and his older brother used to fight a lot when they were kids. “It’s a phase,” he says. “We grew up na parang hating each other, and then, before I left for the States, that’s when me and Andre became super close. We became, like, best friends, and then, you know, he’s my best man. So if I’m gonna get married tomorrow, he’d be the guy beside me, yeah!”
Back when he was in third year high school at La Salle Green Hills, Kobe read about the Cathedral High School’s
“having a lot of international students,” so he told his dad about his desire to study in that Los Angeles institution.
“And then we contacted the school and it happened there,” he says. “They helped us get my papers, my visa to play basketball in the States. So, that’s where it all happened.”
In a separate interview with Benjie, in the living room of the Paras residence, the PBA legend relates what happened when he accompanied Kobe to his new place: “Pagdating namin do’n sa States, sabi niya, ‘Dad, sa’n tayo titira?’ [ Sabi ko,] ‘Ikaw lang.’ Hindi niya alam. So, sabi ko, ‘Kaya mo ba?’ ‘Kaya ko.’”
Living alone for the first time in a faraway place brought mixed emotions to the then-15-year-old basketball prodigy. “I was really excited because it’s like a new beginning for my life,” Kobe recalls. “No one knows me in LA. It’s my time to show people na kaya ko talaga. And then, you know, I proved myself. I made a name in LA. I made it to LA Times, did a bunch of things.”
The daily newspaper Los Angeles Times, or LA Times, ran a story on Kobe on October 13, 2014. The very title of reporter Eric Sondheimer’s article, “There’s a new Kobe in town at Cathedral High,” made it clear where the Filipino ballplayer stood. By being described as “a new Kobe,” the Pinoy Kobe was clearly being compared favorably with the American basketball superstar after whom he was named— Kobe Bryant, who dominated the sport as shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1996 to 2016.
The article made mention of an exhibition game sponsored by Nike sneakers in Manila in 2013. That game had Kobe Paras and another NBA superstar, LeBron James, playing in opposing teams. At one point during the game, Kobe made a slam dunk in front of LeBron. “They’re calling me the kid who dunked on LeBron,” Kobe was quoted as saying.
Cathedral High’s head coach for men’s basketball, William Middlebrooks, was also interviewed for the article. “Most know him for his dunking, but he can shoot the three, dribbles and passes,” he said of Kobe, his one and only Pinoy player in the team. “He’s highly skilled and is adapting to the style of play in America.”
Chasing his American dream in his first year of high school had its downside, Kobe tells YES! “It was hard,” he confesses. “I was homesick. I was depressed… But then, I used as motivation my parents and the fact that there are a lot of people who would like to be in my position, you know. And then I just did my best, forgot about homesickness, got used to it.”
He also appreciates having a coach like Middlebrooks, whom Kobe describes as his mentor and as a great person who has “helped me so much in life, not just in basketball.”
Kobe’s father Benjie agrees that the boy’s first year away from home had been tough. “No’ng minsan, tumawag ’yan,” he says of Kobe. “Umiiyak ’yan. Sabi ko, ‘Gusto mo na umuwi?’ Ayaw daw niya. Nire-release lang niya [ ang homesickness]. Sabi ko, konting tiis lang. Three years kong sinabi sa kanya ’yon: konting tiis. Pero ngayon, sa college, sanay na siya.”
Of those whom Kobe had left behind in the Philippines, it was his older brother Andre who took the separation the hardest.
“Andre was really affected,” Dad Benjie says. “So, malungkot siya. Kasi lagi niyang kaaway ’to [ Kobe]. Hindi naman kaaway, pero ang magkapatid, darating sa age na hindi kayo magkakasundo. ’Tapos, ito na ’yong age na talagang magkasama sila. And they are more frank to each other. ‘Dude, pangit ang suot mo!’ ‘E, ano’ng magagawa mo?’ ‘Lalabas tayo, ang pangit ng suot mo.’ Ito kasi [ Kobe], he’s a fashionista.”
Andre admits to YES! that he was emotional during Kobe’s first trip away from the home country.
“I cried a lot when he left,” Andre says, sans emotions now. “And then he just said he’ll be back, or he said he’s doing this for the family and for him, for us. It’s okay, but kahit any word he said, wala, he’s gone pa rin. So, no matter what, I was really sensitive about it. I pretty much got used to it from time to time, ’cause, you know, I realized I have work, so if I get to save out, I
get to visit him. So whenever we say goodbyes now, it’s nothing emotional. We just say, ‘Yo, we’ll see each other soon!”
Though he’s older, Andre wasn’t the one who imparted words of wisdom and life lessons to Kobe.
“Honestly, he was the one who was giving me advice when he left,” Andre says. “You know, ‘Have fun, don’t listen to negative people.’ Or he’ll tell me, like, ‘If you have work, do it.’ Or, ‘If you have chance to play again, then play again.’ Ako, I just told him, ‘Follow your dreams.’”
Andre clearly recalls the first few months after his younger brother’s departure for the U.S.: “It was weird, because there’s no one teasing me. There’s no one, like, just asking me to go out, like, just to the convenience store or just drive around the city at night. No one tells me to do that anymore, so I was, like, it feels weird, ’cause sometimes, you expect to say something back na parang ‘I wanna sleep,’ or, you know, it was typical na ‘I don’t want.’ But now, I’m looking for it [that kind of response].”
Thanks to technology, the Paras boys remain connected through social media and messaging apps. And even if they don’t see each other, Andre doesn’t worry much about Kobe because he knows his younger brother so well.
“Ever since he was young, he’s just really tough,” Andre says of Kobe, who is decidedly the more mature one. “He was really matapang, e, in a way na ’yong pikon niya in sports, it’s not because he hates people but he wants to win. So he has this thing in him na I see na he’s really someone who’s strong. Kaya, you know, he survived in America. He’s street-smart. He’s independent. He knows how to wash his clothes, he knows where to go without being told, or he knows his way around by himself… He’s homesick, he’d admit it, but he didn’t give up because he has that thing in him that pushed him to be who he is now.”
OVERCOMING A SETBACK
Kobe’s tenacity was put to the test when, after graduating from Cathedral High, he was unable to enter his first choice of college: the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). A slot in the UCLA— whose men’s basketball team, the UCLA Bruins, has won 11 championships from the prestigious National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)—may boost Kobe’s chances of eventually joining the U.S. pro league, NBA, in the future.
Rewind to November 11, 2015. On that date, Kobe took to Twitter to announce that he was officially a Bruin. That same day, the LA Times reported that Kobe was among the three top high school basketball players from Southern California to have signed with UCLA.
Seven months later, on June 29, 2016, UCLA issued this statement: “Incoming freshman guard Kobe Paras, admitted upon condition to UCLA, has withdrawn from the university due to academic conditions of his admission not being met.”
That day’s issue of the LA Times carried a story on what could’ve been the reason for Kobe’s withdrawal. The paper had interviewed Cathedral High principal John Montgomery, who said that “the standout basketball player was an honors student who had met all of his NCAA requirements,” but added, “There was an SAT scoring issue.”
SAT, originally an abbreviation of Scholastic Aptitude Test, now stands for
Scholastic Assessment Test. According to Dictionary.com, it is a “set of standardized college admissions tests developed by the College Board, the principal one measuring mathematical and verbal reasoning, and others measuring knowledge in specific subject areas.”
In the LA Times article, Cathedral High coach William Middlebrooks was also quoted as saying that Kobe would play at another Division I university. “They made their decision,” he said of UCLA. “He’ll be wearing another uniform.”
But three days later, the coach, through his own school, Middlebrooks Academy, for which Kobe had also played, denied that the Filipino ballplayer had an “SAT issue” with UCLA.
“It was reported in the Los Angeles Times that the Cathedral High School Principal made a statement that ‘there was a SAT scoring issue,’” Middlebrooks said in his own written statement, titled “Kobe Paras & UCLA: The Facts.”
“The challenge is readers do not know that this small 6-word statement was in reality made as part of a larger statement and unfortunately many people have construed this statement to mean something it does not. For the record, Kobe Paras has a SAT score and that SAT score has been used as part of the process to evaluate his academic eligibility through the NCAA Eligibility Center, which has ultimately deemed Kobe Paras a full academic qualifier.”
Middlebrooks added in his statement: “The Paras family does not know any more information than what has been communicated via the UCLA official statement. No meeting between the UCLA Admissions Department and Kobe Paras has ever taken place and therefore the Paras family was not made privy to the intimate details or rationale as to why the UCLA Admissions Department made the decision not to admit Kobe Paras.
“It is important to also know that as with any acceptance or denial to a college in the United States, the admissions department at any school is not required to inform any student or their family as to the reasons why or why not a student has been accepted or denied admission to their college. The case is not different for Kobe Paras and UCLA does not have to give him specifics as to their decision to deny admission.”
Kobe’s high school coach also highlighted his protégé’s scholastic achievements, including being a “chemistry Star Scholar award winner, Physics and Calculus award winner, an inductee of the California Scholarship Federation (a high school honor society founded in 1916), a multiple semester
Honor Roll student and graduated from Cathedral High School with honors.”
Lastly, Middlebrooks announced that Kobe had been getting numerous offers from universities in which he could take up a college course and for which he could play basketball.
The college freshman ended up at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. But after completing his freshman year, Kobe moved to the California State University, Northridge, which is also called Cal State.
Kobe’s father Benjie looks back on the UCLA debacle with a sigh. “Nagkaro’n ng political ano, e. Marami ro’n, so…” he tells YES! without elaboration. What he’d like to talk about is how the sudden turn of events affected his son.
“Do’n talaga, tumawag siya sa ’kin na iyak siya nang iyak,” he recalls. “Tumawag siya ng umaga. That night, lumipad ako. I went to LA. ’Tapos, bumalik ako rito. Pagbalik ko rito, hindi pa pala siya nakakasettle. Sabi ko, I need to go back. Balik ako, so inantay ko siya ma-settle kung sa’n siya talaga. Unfortunately, we picked Creighton, and it didn’t work out for him. So, he’s now transferred to Cal State.”
For his part, Kobe opts to look at the bright side of his missed opportunity at UCLA.
“’Cause my whole life, ever since I was a kid, I was going through adversity,” he says in reflection. “So it’s not really bound to happen. But I knew something bad
would happen just because, like, every single year in my life, I go through adversity.
“So, I think that’s just one test from God to show me na ‘You know what, it’s not your direction. Let’s take another direction.’ So I just used it as motivation, and just, you know, I think about it every day. But it doesn’t stop me from achieving my goal…
“Nothing’s easy in life, and you’ll never get what you want, and, you know, if God gives us a different direction, just go with the flow, and just ask for guidance.”
Kobe barely suppresses a snicker when asked if his girlfriend at the time had something to do with his no-go at UCLA. “Oh, no, no, no!” he protests. “She’s not the reason!”
From November 2015 to June 2016, Kobe and Gabrielle “Gab” Current—a Filipino-American who had modeled for the clothing brands Macy’s, Target, and Pottery Barn before she trained her sights on singing and music production— had been posting on their respective social media accounts photos of themselves together sharing sweet moments.
On May 24, supposedly their sixth “monthsary,” to use millennial speak, Kobe took to Instagram to express his feelings for Gab: “6 months ago, my life changed… This amazing person beside me helped me through a lot. I never expected that someone out there would understand and care for me this much. Because of her, I am a better person. She’s beautiful inside and out. I still get goosebumps every time I call her mine. It’s been half a year and I’m still blessed to have you. #gabcurrent.”
However, when news about Kobe’s withdrawal from UCLA broke out at the end of June, Kobe and Gab’s joint social media presence had been conspicuously toned down. And then, one day, their followers noticed that their past photos together had been taken down. In conclusion: the young lovers had split up.
“No, she didn’t break my heart,” Kobe tells YES! “She’s a great person, she has a great career. But, you know, it’s life. You’re gonna have your chances, you should take it. If it doesn’t work out, just go on with your life.”
He clarifies that being with Gab didn’t have a negative effect on him.
“I wanna clear that up ’cause people think when you’re in a relationship, it affects your future. No, it doesn’t. Like, if I’m dating someone that’s strictly, like, a relationship, that’s gonna ruin my relationship with my parents, my friends,
or my basketball? If it did, at the first day it did, you’re gone. You’re not gonna ruin my relationship with anyone.
“That’s why, you know, we broke up just because, like, I moved schools. So, it’s the distance, and I’m not good with distance. She could’ve handled distance...”
He pauses, and points out: “But I don’t wanna talk about that just because it’s the past. I don’t wanna bring up my ex. But, you know, just to clarify, she’s a great person, great human being. Never affected my schedule. But, you know, I’m just single now, and I’m happy.”
Kobe’s older brother Andre, who’s getting prepped up in the den of the Paras family home at this point in the YES! interview, recounts his own journey since graduating from high school at La Salle Green Hills in 2013.
He enrolled at the University of the Philippines to study sports science and take up a few subjects in film—which was his original choice, of course. All the while, he played for the UP Fighting Maroons in the collegiate league, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).
Later that year, in October, Andre and Kobe signed up with GMA-7 to jumpstart their showbiz career. The following school year, the UP Iskolar ng Bayan transferred to San Beda College, his father Benjie’s alma mater, where the retired player also worked as the men’s basketball coach. But after a year at San Beda, Andre dropped out. He had opted to focus on his burgeoning acting career.
On April 2, 2014, the newbie actor’s first movie, Diary ng Panget, in which he co-starred with James Reid, Nadine Lustre, and Yassi Pressman, opened. Two months later, on June 9, his first drama series, The Half Sisters, alongside Barbie Forteza, Thea Tolentino, and Derrick Monasterio, premiered on the afternoon block and went on running for one year and seven months.
“I remember in San Beda, I’ll be in class sleepy ’cause of coming home from taping,” he says with a slight shrug of his shoulders. “But to the point it just became… It was hard for me. Like, I was suffering, and then, my grades were getting really bad, honestly. So, like, I had to put it on hold. So ’yon lang.”
In early 2017, Andre’s participation in the now- defunct fantasy series Encantadia, as the Barbarian-like warrior Wahid, came to an end. A month later, he got a message from a former coach, Mark Herrera, who now coaches the AMA Online Education team that competes in the PBA D-League.
Mark invited Andre to join the team. That made the then hibernating player exclaim: “Wow!” But before sending out his reply, Andre talked to his dad and messaged his brother, asking them, “What do I do?”
Dad Benjie told him, “Ikaw. Kung kaya mo, di, okey.”
Kobe sent Andre a long cellphone message, in which the U.S.-based brother remarked: “You always complain to me how you miss basketball, this and that.”
And that was how Andre decided to go back to playing competitive basketball.
“I was, like, okay, I’ll do it,” he says. “So, yeah, I was going around the house, I was seeing awards. Oo nga, I had no awards. I had nothing to prove, like, why did I put it on the side. So, yeah, prove something muna to myself and not to anyone. Just to me, self-fulfillment lang. Sumakto na nakapag-enroll pa ako sa AMA Online. So, if I had work or not, I was still able to go to school online and play basketball.”
Andre’s return to the hard court was marked by improved overall performance, which impressed even the coaches of rival teams. Eric Gonzales of the Batangas team said on the sports website Spin.ph on July 7, 2017 (quoted here as is): “Magaling si Andre. Hindi malayo (na makapasok siya sa PBA)… Athletic, matalino, at magaling yung bata.” In the same article, Cignal team coach Boyet Fernandez, who also coached Andre at San Beda, added (also quoted here as is): “Si Andre kasi ganun ang asset nun, more on rebounds and defense but then he can shoot the three and yung energy nya andun lagi… Ganda nga ng katawan ngayon medyo naging solid.”
Basketball’s comeback kid takes the good words with self- depreciation. “Sometimes I consider it kulang pa,” Andre says matter-of-factly. “But that’s me, you know. I guess I just really don’t
pay attention to what people say, like, ‘You need to do better,’ or ‘We expect you to be here,’ or ‘We expect next year na…’ I do hear it or see it na, ’cause of social media. I saw na what to work on, so I use it as an inspiration lang for me.”
Ultimately, Andre sees himself turning pro, as his father did in 1989.
“Hopefully,” Andre nods. “’Cause I’m twenty-one, and I guess the ideal age here in the Philippines [to turn pro] could be twenty-four, twenty-five. Because at that age, your body is mature, and I guess mature in the sport in a way. I think I have two or three years more for me to improve… If I had the drive or inspiration, I would.”
And what will happen to his other passion and profession? “Ah, showbiz will be there, like basketball will be there,” he points out. “So it’s all about time management. Kasi Dad naman, napagsabay niya, e. No one can tell me he slacked off because Dad won multiple awards while in showbiz. So, you know, if he can do it, why can’t I? There’s nothing wrong with doing, like, multiple things at once if you know you love it.”
But if a lucrative offer comes to the Sunday PinaSaya co-host to star in a big showbiz project that will require his full attention, then he may be forced to make a choice. “I guess it’s gonna be the most mature decision of my life,” the self- confessed easygoing guy remarks. “Like, where do I go first? Where should I rest first?”
THE BOND OF BROTHERS
Andre finds it funny when people compare him and his younger brother Kobe as basketball players. “’Cause they’re not gonna get the answers they want,” he reasons. “We play different positions, e. He’s a guard; I’m a forwardcenter. I play in the Philippines; he plays in America. I’m undersized; he’s got perfect height. So the more you compare, the more you won’t find answers.”
Indeed, the kuya only has praise for what younger brother Kobe has achieved so far. “I’m happy, like, that was our dream ever since,” Andre points out. “Kaya when he was making his name and when he was proving himself, it’s a good feeling, also to me as a kuya. So, you know what, he did it without his name. He did it with his skills... Pretty much he did it ’cause he wanted to do it.”
The kuya is aware that Kobe looks up to him, too.
“But I just hear it from interviews,” Andre says, trying to play the compliment down. “I understand he just wants to say it straight up, like, he just looks up to me ’cause I guess ever since naman, I was there to take care of him. But ngayon, I look up to him when it comes to sports or being mature and independent…
“At least, we look up to each other and not to anyone else—and Dad also. We don’t look up to role models that are not us in a way, like, we don’t look up to actors or other athletes. We just look up to each other, which is good ’cause we keep our circle really, really small.”
Kobe walks into the den for a little makeup and hair styling. He has a big smile on his face, as he greets everyone with “Hi, kumusta?” His decidedly outgoing personality contrasts with Andre’s laidback attitude.
Andre throws our question to Kobe, “Did you ask for advice from me?” A puzzled Kobe asks him back, “What?” They banter a bit, and Andre goes back to our interview.
“No’ng bata po kami, like, he’d ask advice from me,” Andre says, “But there were times I didn’t have answers, so I just made it up or I just made sure it was a good, like, a white lie.”
Kobe interjects: “I always believed him.”
Andre agrees: “He always believed me, yeah. No’ng kids kami, he asked for advice. But now we’re older, I ask advice from him, of course—how to dress up, how it’s like in America, about basketball.” “Mostly dressing up,” Kobe stresses. His older brother concurs: “Yeah, mostly dressing up, kasi I never had style. He just looks nice even if he didn’t try. I have had style before, kaya hopefully now, you know, like, when I go out and all, he’s always there—until he’s here.”
As of this writing, Kobe had flown to Lebanon with the rest of the Gilas Pilipinas team to compete in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017, where they would reach the quarterfinals. Then the Philippine delegation was set to see action in Malaysia for SEA Games 2017, from August 19 to 30.
After Kobe fulfills his duties as a national team member, the one believed by many of his compatriots to be the future of Philippine basketball will return to the U.S. to join his new coach, teammates, and classmates at Cal State.
“My goal is just to, you know, play in college, do my best,” Kobe says. “And then, hopefully, play professional overseas because, ah, mahirap dito sa Philippines, e. Full of politics. I mean, everywhere you go, it’s full of politics… So, if it’s Europe, if it’s somewhere in Asia, if it’s in the NBA, I don’t care. I just wanna play in the highest level of basketball. But as of now, I’m just focused on representing my country and ang college ko.”
With every step that Kobe will take in reaching his goal, Andre and the rest of their family will be there, watching, applauding, and rooting for him. Kobe will do the same for his other siblings, particularly Andre, his kuya and his best man.
Here’s a nifty feature in the living room: the two low white swivel coffee tables, each of which has a rotating top that reveals a hidden storage solution. The storage part is where Benjie stows his kids’ books and toys.
In November 2016, Andre visited Kobe in Omaha, Nebraska, where the latter was then on his freshman year at Creighton University. This was before Kobe transferred to California State University Northridge in Los Angeles, California.
Andre’s visit was, of course, immortalized on Kobe’s Instagram (_kokowave). Left photo, showing the brothers on a bench with cups of ice cream, came with the caption: “this guy visited me here in Omaha for a couple of days and he just made my whole year. miss you already, Dré. to infinity and beyond”
To the curious, “Kokowave” has become Kobe’s nickname, a variant of Koko. “Ever since I got there in the States,” he says, “my friends called me Koko, so it stuck with me.”
The kuya in the family, according to Dad Benjie, has been looking for a suitable place of his own: either for himself or as an investment option. “Gusto nga ni Andre na bumili ng condo for investment. Sabi ko, ‘Sige, mag-usap tayo.’”
Benjie admits that when it comes to big purchases, he doesn’t like to meddle with Andre’s decisions. He would come in only when Andre asks for his opinion. “Like, sa kotse, ’yong first car niya. ’Tapos, bumili rin siya ng van for taping. Then, meron siyang old car. Kung makikita mo diyan sa labas, ’yong Mercedes na black.”
Andre loves cars, vintage or modern—a love that Andre must have inherited from his dad. “Mahilig din ako kasi,” Benjie says. “So nag-restore siya, tinulungan ko. Na-restore namin. And then, meron pa siya sa shop na 1969 na Mustang. So inaayos pa. Mura lang namin nabili, pero gano’n talaga. Pag hindi ka passionate about cars, ’yon [ gastos] talaga ang unang maiisip mo.”
Their love for cars, however, doesn’t sit well with the lady of the house. With a laugh, Benjie says: “Kaya ’yong wife mo, nagagalit. Minsan nga, may tinitingnan akong kotse na naman, sasabihin niya, ‘Ano na naman ’yan?’”
The younger brother admits that after he left for the States in 2013, he began missing his Kuya Andre a lot. Kobe would suddenly remember those random “lakad” that he and Andre used to make just out of kicks. “And he [Andre] realized na he has no one to make kulit. There’s no one to randomly wake up and, like, ‘Let’s go eat and hang out.’”
The sibling relationship that they had at the time was a difficult one, Kobe says: “It’s hard na parang it’s like a long-distance relationship. But we make the most out of it since there’s a lot of electronics, there’s a lot of gadgets, that could help us stay connected.”
Kobe is aware of the fact that the public can’t get enough of him. But instead of getting pressured by the attention and the expectations, Kobe focuses on doing good and making a name for himself.
“At first, it started as being, like, ‘Anak ni Benjie Paras.’ So that kind of motivated me to make my own name. And the only way I could do that first was through basketball. And I think I did a good job because now people appreciate me. When they see me, it’s not ‘Anak ni Paras.’ It’s just, like, ‘Oh, it’s Kobe Paras.’ So I worked hard for it, I can say. There are a lot of people out there who wanna do stuff, who wanna be something, but they don’t put in the hard work.”
Riley and Sam, Andre and Kobe’s half-brothers, share a room on the second floor. This room is furnished with a portable plastic basketball hoop stand, where the boys can practice shooting; several open shelves that hold their toys; and two identical kiddie loft beds, which have drawers and pullout desks underneath.
To add a personal touch, Benjie let the kids write their names and draw their favorite cartoon characters on the roller blinds. “’Tapos, ’yong mga Lego toys nila, ayaw na ipagalaw sa kanila ng mommy nila, kasi maayos na, buo na. E, sinisira lang nila.”
Notice the flooring? It’s laminated wood. Benjie says he chose this type of flooring because it’s perfect for the kids who keep running around, jumping and dropping things on the floor.
“Ang maganda sa laminated wood, mainit. So ’yong mga bata, pag naka-aircon, hindi siya malamig. ’Tsaka kahit magbagsak, hindi maingay. ’Yong laminated kasi, before you install it, you will put a soft na parang cloth, so pag nakapaa ka, mararamdaman mo.”
Kobe is a doting kuya to his younger siblings Sam, Riley, and Georja. And because he doesn’t see them often, he has promised himself that as soon as he starts making money, he would go ahead and spoil the three kids. “I’ve been struggling my whole life. I just want them to be happy,” Kobe says. “But I’m not gonna spoil them to the point na they’re going to brag about it. I’m just gonna spoil them, like, if they have high grades or they do good in basketball, I’ll give them a nice surprise. I just wanna be that kuya that treats them well.”
Before you can reach Andre’s bedroom, you have to pass by a receiving area, which is a large room furnished with a couch, a carpet, a TV set, and shelves overflowing with Adventure Time memorabilia.
Those aren’t real brick walls, by the way. They’re just wallpaper, which Andre personally picked.
Lining the walls are Andre’s electric and acoustic guitars, as well as dumbbells and other gym equipment. The double doors—plastered with the signs “Restricted Area / Keep Out” and “Authorized Personnel Only”—open up to Andre’s inner bedroom. In case you’re wondering what those red cable wires firmly fixed on the door are, they’re actually tension cables or door anchor resistance bands.
The exercise equipment comes in handy when Andre doesn’t have the time to work out in the gym. It’s for upper body and core (trunk) exercises.
Andre is proud to say that he was personally able to cover the expenses for the construction of the modern-industrialist toilet-and-bath in his room. He got big help from his father Benjie, who took on the role of contractor and made sure that everything went smoothly. Benjie, a fan of interior design TV shows and magazines, is equally proud of this project.
Kobe and Andre hold up their favorite stuffed toys, characters from the animated TV series Adventure Time.
Andre says he’s obsessed with the cartoon series featuring a boy named Finn and the boy’s shape-shifting yellow-colored dog named Jake: “It’s been my addiction, pretty much. I’m addicted to Adventure Time. It is really weird. And it doesn’t make sense. I think that’s why it’s nice for me. It targets all audiences.”
He proudly reveals that he also bought Adventure Time merchandise for himself. And he doesn’t feel he’s too old for it. “Oh, no. I even have Adventure Time polos I could wear. Can I wear them? Fans give me gifts din. But these are just stuff I buy.”
The forever-young Andre adds that he also likes Steven Universe, another popular animated series of the Cartoon Network, about a boy’s coming of age.
Benjie, here in an old photograph published in the April 2000 issue of YES! Magazine (above) and in a photo taken for this issue (below), clarifies that he’s not the strict type. He says he knows the repercussions if he becomes too hard on his sons.
“Hindi ako ’yong mahigpit. Kasi meron akong mga kakilala na ’yong mga anak nilang lalake, they lie to their parents about where they’re going. I don’t want that to happen. So ako, ‘Sa’n na naman ’yan? Ano ’yan? Sige, sige. Basta you go to a place, ’yong medyo discreet naman.’ ‘Opo.’ Ayun, okey naman. Okey naman ’yong relationship namin.”