Philippine Daily Inquirer

Covering Kobe, Manny: 2 farewells in a week

- By Celest Flores-Colina Sports Editor,

LOS ANGELES—All my life as a sports fan, it had always been headlines about Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, or Manny Pacquiao and his stunning knockouts, that I woke up to.

I’m 26, and Kobe had played 20 years with the Lakers, trying passionate­ly to become the next Michael Jordan. Pacquiao, meanwhile, had been a pro boxer for about 21 years, 15 of those spent headlining Philippine newspapers as he obliterate­d weight classes, starting with his first US fight. When I say “all my life as a sports fan,” I mean it.

Bryant drops 81 points, Pacquiao shuts down “Golden Boy” Oscar de la Hoya; the Lakers raise their banner 16, the Filipino boxer wins his eighth division belt; 20 years of Kobe, 15 of Manny.

I got to watch them—cover them—say goodbye in all kinds of emotional funk in the span of five days, live, all-access.

Deep inside, I felt like I was part of the crowd in both instances, needing to draw from the deepest corners of journalism ethics to keep myself glued to my seat, seemingly unaffect-

ed by the hoopla.

I had seen Pacquiao train countless of times and heard him speak in press conference­s and interviews even more, but that night at MGM Grand Garden Arena was the first time I got to see the Filipino boxing champ in action from just rows behind the ring. It was overwhelmi­ng as it was amazing to hear the roar of the crowd a hundred times louder live than on television.

Nervous energy

Naturally, I was pulling for Pacquiao, as I had always done even before writing about him became my line of work. It’s hard to bet against him and his punishing punches that had brought down champions—most of them bigger than him—one after the other. Yet there was a nervous energy in- side the arena, or maybe that was just me. There was heightened anticipati­on to see if Pacquiao could, for one last time, go out as the ruthless fighter he once was in what could be his final fight.

That was evident with how the 14,665 fans inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena rose to their feet every time Pacquiao tagged Timothy Bradley with combinatio­ns, though not as potent as they used to be, like a knockout of the old days was about to happen anytime now. Sitting at Row F, I exhaled a heavy breath not realizing I had been holding it in because, like the fans, I had been waiting for the same thing.

Scoring machine

There was the same mystery surroundin­g Bryant’s finale. Two weeks before, Shaquille O’Neal challenged the former scoring machine to put up 50 in his final game, but Bryant turned him down. There was no doubt that fans, who came to Staples Center in droves in their Kobe gear, wanted a big game from Lakers’ longtime superstar, but with how Bryant had been diminished to occasional scoring outbursts here and there, it was hard to count on it.

Add to that, the fact that the Lakers are terrible, second worst in the league if records were concerned, and for most of the night, not even Bryant’s final game could seem to change that. The Utah Jazz built an early lead against the Lakers, but nobody was looking at the score. All eyes, including mine, were on Bryant, who seemed on pace for a career night.

The rabid supporters probably didn’t care whether the Lakers got victory No. 18 in their last game of the season, but I did.

If that were any ordinary Lakers game, my heart would be making somersault­s in jubilation as the team I absolutely hated was losing. Only this time, with the home team down by double digits with half a quarter to play, I was rooting for the Lakers to win. On a rare occasion, I was rooting for Bryant, one of the fiercest competitor­s the game had ever seen, to go out the way he deserves to.

Different circumstan­ces

Their farewells may have held the same theme, but Pacquiao and Bryant were both leaving their sport under different circumstan­ces.

Bryant, whose tail end of his career was marred with frustratio­n over injuries, decided it was time to hang up his sneakers when his body could no longer endure the wear and tear that comes with his sport. Pacquiao, who still packs a mean punch at 37, felt he needed to quit to get into a whole new arena that is politics.

Yet despite that, everything harmonized for their final dance. These sports heroes who gave their hometown crowd something to take pride in for decades—from trophies in LA to belts for the Philippine­s—bid adieu to the admiring crowd in almost the same manner: As winners they have always been. And it had been an absolute pleasure to watch.

There was 1:09 left in the 12th round when the MGM crowd began their final salute to Pacquiao, one section after the other getting on their feet even as action on the ring was nonexisten­t—Manny had won this bout and Bradley looked too spent to land a haymaker.

Kobe received his final ap- plause at the two-minute mark of the game in what had been an emotional night for the Lakers franchise, and that was even before he singlehand­edly spearheade­d a late Lakers rally in a show of old brilliance en route to the win.

And there it was, the end of an era in sports as my generation’s sports icons closed a chapter in their respective careers. For the final time, Kobe Bryant, as gold confetti swirled around him, waved to the crowd on April 13 in Los Angeles, just as Pacquiao climbed up his corner and raised his arms five nights before in Las Vegas.

This is the kind of ending you’d pay to watch over again. In my case, the kind of thing you’d want to write about at least once in your life. Lucky for me, I had the chance to cover two historic farewells in one week.

 ??  ?? HISTORIC FAREWELLS Kobe Bryant and Manny Pacquiao raise their hands in triumph as they bring the curtains down on their storied careers, appropriat­ely in triumph, in Los Angeles and Las Vegas within a week.
HISTORIC FAREWELLS Kobe Bryant and Manny Pacquiao raise their hands in triumph as they bring the curtains down on their storied careers, appropriat­ely in triumph, in Los Angeles and Las Vegas within a week.
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