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Kat Tan On Meeting Kobe, Adopting “Mamba Mentality,” and Inspiring The Next Generation

Kat Tan, Kobe
James Francisco

A living embodiment of Kobe Bryant’s Hall of Fame legacy, Kat Tan (The One-Armed Mamba) answers his call to “be legendary” the best way she knows how to. Her connection with the Laker legend goes beyond observing his game and following his undying philosophy but consists of first-hand encounters that even inspired Bryant in the process.

As supernatural as he may seem, not everyone can inspire the icon who inspires, but the extraordinary Mamba disciple from Cagayan de Oro did just that. Tan doesn’t allow an unfortunate childhood incident to define who she is but regards it as a stepping stone to only becoming better. 

She continues to tell her story, play the game she loves, and influence the next generation of hoopers regardless of the challenges she faces. Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” just doesn’t live through clutch fadeaways, delivering 81 points, or a banner dangling on the rafters, as she tells Complex Philippines her version of what it means to be “like Mamba.”

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via Kat Tan

Did you always idolize Kobe?

I’ve been asked this repeatedly, and I would always respond jokingly: “It takes one to know one.” (but of course hindi sa level niya) *laughs*

It was a connection that I can’t put into words. I saw the determination in him in wanting to be the best at what he does and yung grit na kahit anong ibato mo sa kanya, lalaban talaga siya.  In 1996, when the accident happened, it felt like we were going through similar things– that we both had to prove ourselves. I wanted to have the attitude of accepting any challenge and showing that I can do it.

You met Kobe 3 times. What was it like the first time?

In ‘97 I made it to the school basketball team even after the accident. Nagkaroon ng mga articles about me– about an elementary school student playing basketball with my situation. 

In 1998, Kobe visited the Philippines for the first time. My cousin, who was working at the school kung saan magkakaroon ng event ni Kobe, asked me if I wanted to watch it. Manood lang from the sidelines. A journalist recognized me from the articles and said he’d try to have Kobe meet me.

I eventually got to have lunch with Kobe. I was 11 years old. Hindi ako nakakain kasi sobrang na-starstuck ako. I couldn’t respond apart from “yes” and “no.” Introvert talaga ako *laughs*

While he’s talking to you, I could say that it wasn’t because he’s just trying to be friendly, but because he’s invested and engaged. Hindi siya yung parang tahimik na may “superstar” vibe. 

How about the second?

The second time I met him was in 2013 during the off-season when he was recovering from his Achilles injury. I got a free pass through a friend of my kabarkada who knew how big of a Kobe fan I am.

Sir Chino Trinidad knew I was going to be there, so he met up with me for his interview with Kobe. He brought me up during the talk and showed the photo I had with him of our first meeting. Kobe laughed, “Look at that hair!” and referred to me as “Kat-kat” because that’s how Sir Chino introduced me. Mind you, I was 30 years old at the time.

Bago kami umalis sa room, Kobe looked at the photo : “Do you want me to sign those for you?” His team previously said no pictures or autographs, pero tatanggi pa ba ako? Feeling ko talaga gusto kong umiyak. While he was signing, I told him I couldn’t wait to see him back on the court. It was amazing.

Instagram: @the1armedmamba

You have an iconic shot of making a basket in front of Kobe. Was that the last time you saw him?

Yes, that was in 2016. Yun yung “Mamba Mentality” tour niya.” If you look at the first and second instances that I met him, it was because the opportunity was handed to me. But this time, it was more memorable kasi alam ko na pinaghirapan ko siya. Mas iba yung feeling ng success.

It was a three-day camp that had 800 players at the start, then 24 by the end of the last day. Para siyang tryout na after every session they would cut players. We were doing all sorts of drills – agility, endurance, lahat gagawin mo siya from 4 AM to 6 AM.  I was already 30 years old and was one of the oldest who participated. “Bahala na, give it your all kahit mahimatay ka dito, just don’t quit.” May assurance naman ako kasi may medic on the side *laughs* 

Out of the 24, how were you chosen to take the shot?

I approached Kobe while we were on break from a drill and asked him: “Hey, Kobe do you remember me?” He was like: “Yeah, of course,” but I felt he didn’t actually remember who I was. I then told myself I’d make sure he knew who I was before this day ended.

Kobe’s final challenge for the camp was to make a three-pointer, and if the player made it, nobody ran the “17s,” which was dreadful. If they missed it, everybody would run except the shooter. 

Coach Yuri (Escueta) then pointed at me and said: “Kat, ikaw na ito, and everyone was looking at me. Kobe asked if I could do it, and I told him, “Yes, of course”, pero sa totoo lang nagdadasal na ako.

I was confident because a shot from the top of the key was one of my favorite spots na hindi alam ng tao. Pero pagdating ko sa spot, nandoon si Kobe sa ilalim ng basket. Siyempre iba yung pressure diba? But from the moment I released the ball, I knew it was good.

Once it went in the hoop, I turned around and made the same gesture Kobe did after hitting the game-winning shot against the (Phoenix) Suns. It was completely unplanned and I felt like the Mamba Mentality was with me at that moment.

KobeKat 001

via Kat Tan

Did you see Kobe’s reaction?

Hindi ko nakita initially yung reaction ni Kobe, but all my teammates ran towards me as if I hit a game-winner talaga. Kobe told me right after that my shot was “amazing.” The documentation team showed his reaction with both of his arms raised. I had that moment tatted on my arm and I’ll never forget that. 

Kobe went to the locker room and talked about my shot. Makikita mo yung reaction niya and you could see that he was amazed. I really couldn’t believe it. Hindi ko ineexpect na ganyan yung kalabasan ng event, but I just worked hard. 

All the sweat, pain, and dedication led up to that moment. Kaya ko sinasabi na that moment was the best and most memorable because alam ko na pinaghirapan ko siya. Alam ko that I deserved that.

After having all these amazing moments, what do you remember most about Kobe?

To this day, I feel so lucky and blessed to have had those moments with him, which were all different. As he grew, I grew with him too. The lesson in all this is to give it your all, 100 percent of the time– with pure heart and dedication. Dadating yung mga araw where you’ll doubt yourself, but one day you’ll find the answer at the right time.

Unfortunately, that was the last time we crossed paths, pero I feel that it’s my responsibility to continue imparting the lessons I’ve learned from him. I remember he was asked how he gets inspired and he replied that whenever he gets to be an inspiration, “just like to Kat-kat here.” As long as you can make a difference, then that’s what matters.

Instagram: @the1armedmamba

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