When Kobe Bryant visited the Philippines in 1998, Kat Tan, aka The One-Armed Mamba, would not have imagined their lives would get intertwined together. Here’s her story on who Kobe was up close; behind the camera.
Unfortunate incident brought their paths together
Like many young Filipina her age, Kat Tan loved the outdoors. She was into tennis and basketball. However, her love for adrenaline-filled activities would alternate the course of her life. A rollercoaster accident during a school fair severed her left arm.
At that time, many questions entered the mind of the 10-year-old. “Why me of all people?” she wondered. But later, God would reveal His answer in the form of a TV inside her hospital room. As she watched NBA games while recuperating, one particular player caught her eye: a rookie playing for the '96 Lakers.
When asked what made her follow Kobe, it was his passion to succeed even at a young age. Tan also later admitted that she found him cute.
“While I was in the hospital, I was watching the game between Utah Jazz and L.A. Lakers. I actually have read about him before he entered the NBA because he made quite a buzz because he skipped college and went straight out of high school. But honestly, my honest answer, is I found him cute. But definitely, his passion. You can see it in his eyes the way he plays the game. Even though he was not the kind of superstar when he entered the NBA, he wanted to be the greatest.”
Young Afro Kobe on the rise and about to take the whole world head-on served as an inspiration for a Filipina fan whose dreams and motivations to live just got crushed. After watching and seeing Bryant play, Kat continued her hoops dreams and eventually made the varsity team after getting rejected in his first attempt.
Meeting Kobe for the first time
Two years later, Kat would meet Kobe in 1998 when the Lakers star visited Manila. Lady Luck smiled on her on the day of the event as one of the journalists recognized her as the young Filipina hooper with only one arm. But the first meeting wasn’t your standard fan experience. The two went to lunch together, and it gave the young, adoring fan a glimpse of who her idol was like behind the camera.
“One thing with Kobe is that of course everybody knows it now, he’s an intelligent person. And he loves to talk. When he talks, when he speaks to you, it’s not out of respect because he was already a basketball star. You would really want to listen to what he’s talking about because it makes sense. All I could remember was responding to his questions with yes or a no and he was really like talking to me. I was definitely starstruck at first.”
The conversation proved The Black Mamba’s thirst for knowledge. He was not only a student of the game but also a student of life. We knew Kobe’s obsession with getting any advantage over his opponents, so he studied their skills, tendencies, and what makes them tick. In this case, Kat was treated no differently. Every time a learning experience presented itself, Kobe was there to soak in new things.
Second meeting in 2013: Breaking rules to accommodate a fan
While recovering from an Achilles injury in 2013, Bryant decided to visit the Philippines in the summer.
A friend of a friend knew the interviewer Chino Trinidad, so he accompanied Kat when Trinidad was interviewing Kobe. Not wasting the second opportunity to meet her idol, Kat was more than ready this time, bringing two photo frames: one was with Kobe on their first meeting and the other a news clipping about them.
“We showed Kobe the pictures. He was still in Afro hair because that was his rookie year. His first reaction was, “Oh, wow! Look at that hair!” Here’s the thing with Kobe. People know how relentless Kobe is on the court. He’s very serious about the game. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, outside it, he’s one of the kindest and friendliest superstars I’ve met. We were not allowed to take pictures or autographs from Kobe. Before we left the room, I think Kobe saw me carrying the frames, and he said “You want me to sign those for you?” He was the one who initiated to have his autograph. So I got his autograph, and we took a picture again. I wished him well with his injury.”
The second meeting again proved Kobe was a genuine human who cared for people. He went out of his way to break the rules and give his fan another memorable experience. For sure, NBA stars also go out of their way for their fans, but this was the second time The Black Mamba did it for Kat.
Third and last time: A memory both of them won’t forget
Most fans could only dream of seeing their heroes up close, but Kat Tan met Kobe for the 3rd time and this time, she wouldn’t let fate work its magic for her. The young baller worked her way in tryouts and bested around 800 hopefuls. In the end, she was number 24, the final cut for those who made it.
Kobe challenged anyone who could shoot from the 3-point line during the camp. If the shooter didn’t make it, the other players would have to run the entire length of the court. One of the coaches handpicked Kat to take the challenge. Seeing it as an opportunity that won’t happen again, the Filipina baller made her way to the court.
“This one is definitely the most memorable. It was the last time I saw him. There were 18 guys and 6 girls. The prize is on the weekend, we will get to see and train with Kobe. He challenged us and it was a voluntary thing. Others volunteered themselves but one of the coaches pointed at me and told me to take it. My initial reaction was, “Okay, good. I’ll do it.” There was no doubt that I could do it. While he was explaining the challenge, you can say I’m calm but internally I was praying to all the Gods. I was nervous but at the same time confident because it was my favorite spot on the floor.”
Kat released the ball, and it felt good, but she wasn’t sure if it would go in. Kobe stood under the ring, and the ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net. Bryant’s reaction was priceless, and it was another chapter in the book of friendship between the two. If it were in a movie, you'd say they went too far.
video courtesy of Kat Tan
Kat revealed that Bryant was ecstatic to share what happened to other people in other events that day. It was a hell of a moment to meet and talk to your life hero, but for him to talk about you and share your accomplishments like a proud father or mentor was something else.
Moving on in life
Two years after Kobe Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash, all the ones who love him are left with nothing but questions, regrets, and precious memories. Kat Tan, popularly known as the1armedmamba on social media, still feels devastated but moves forward in life - she knows that's what Kobe would want her to do.
Call it fate or destiny, but her accident paved the way for Kat and Kobe to meet not once but three times. She hopes her stories about who Kobe was behind the camera can help other fans heal and accept things. After all, the greatest tribute anyone can give to Bryant is to relive the special memories he created and keep them alive forever.