Filipino basketball players

The Sisyphean burden on Kobe Paras’ shoulders

Ariel Ian Clarito
The Sisyphean burden on  Kobe Paras’ shoulders

STALWART. Kobe Paras has always answered the call for Gilas Pilipinas.

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Kobe Paras has practically grown up, literally, under the microscope of demanding Filipino fans who expect him to dazzle beyond highlight reels and the occasional flashes of brilliance

In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus of Corinth was cursed with the task of rolling a boulder repeatedly up a steep hill, a rather heavy and impossible burden he has to shoulder in perpetuity.

Kobe Paras faces a similar burden. Perhaps it comes with bearing a first name and a last name that automatically generate attention and lofty expectations. Or maybe it can be attributed to him showing so much potential so early in his career that he was elevated to levels of perception that left very little allowances for unattained promises.

The interest from the media and fans began even in his early teens at La Salle Green Hills. He was a high school phenom whose athleticism was nothing people had ever seen before from someone his size. While it was common to see 6-foot-5 high school bigs showing pivot moves in the low block, Paras was of the same height who played the wing position and regularly dunked in actual games, not just during round robin warm-ups.

When he moved to the United States to pursue his goal of playing college ball in the NCAA and knocking on the doors of the NBA, his dreams became the dreams of Filipino fans who longed to see a homegrown talent succeed in the US. Every development in his journey was chronicled by the press. His fan following grew exponentially. With it also came a mob of detractors, the types one finds on social media who derive satisfaction in pulling down fellow Filipinos trying to make it big abroad.

Paras was used to the spotlight and he reveled in it. Here was a 15-year-old prospect who left the comforts of home and family to take a chance on himself. Here was a well-spoken and confident young man, yet there were those who chose to see these positive traits as cockiness and arrogance.

Lost in the discussion was how he always proudly bannered the Philippine flag in various international competitions.

He came home to play for Batang Gilas in the FIBA Asia Under-18 in 2014. Fans wanted him to dominate given his training in the States. He was made to play the center spot for Batang Gilas, and he struggled mightily in this unfamiliar role early in the tournament. But he plodded on, the way a good soldier does, and eventually found his groove. In the battle for 5th place against Japan, Paras showcased his entire arsenal as he finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks to lead the Philippines to a 113-105 overtime victory.

He also represented the country in the 2015 FIBA 3×3 Under-18 World Cup where he won the Dunk Contest for the second time. In 2017, he played in the Jones Cup and the FIBA 3×3 World Cup and won a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games. At 19 years old, he was already a veteran internationalist and a patriot who never turned his back on his country.

However, when things did not pan out for Paras in the States, some fans were quick to dismiss him as nothing more than the creation of a good marketing and branding campaign.

Moving back to the Philippines meant living even more under the scrutiny of fans who were focused solely on finding something about him to lambast. When he could not lead the UP Fighting Maroons to the UAAP title, he was measured against his father Benjie who led the same school to a championship, and the younger Paras was found wanting.

When he was selected to be part of the Gilas Pilipinas squad in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in Manama, Bahrain this November, the critics once again came out of the woodwork. They blasted him for not scoring enough. They ridiculed him for not putting up numbers worthy of the hoopla surrounding him.

Relegated to irrelevance for the uninitiated fans was the key role he played in the Gilas defensive schemes where he anchored the team’s rotations and switches along the perimeter and even in their press. He registered a plus-minus of +16 in the first game, the fourth-highest positive impact among all players in the team, and led them in rebounding along with Dwight Ramos. In the second game, he tallied +4. 

Gilas program director Tab Baldwin has gone on record to credit Paras for his attitude despite being tasked to once again play out of position.

“He was out there working extremely hard to do a great job for the team, and Kobe to me is long-term potentially a tremendous player for our program,” Baldwin told Coaches Unfiltered.

Yet, there are those who insist Paras should not be included in future iterations of Gilas Pilipinas.

Paras has practically grown up, literally, under the microscope of demanding Filipino fans who expect him to dazzle beyond highlight reels and the occasional flashes of brilliance. But the reality is, the public has not really given his game ample room to grow given the way his every misstep is magnified tenfold. When he plays well, his performance is downplayed because he is expected to be spectacular every time he takes the floor. When he bombs during games, he gets harangued by those seemingly just waiting for him to fail. Simply put, he is in a no-win situation.

Paras is now 23 years old and he still is trying to fit in with the UP Fighting Maroons and Gilas Pilipinas. He clearly is not trying too hard to show off his individual skills. Instead, he submits himself to the team system and to his coaches. In short, he is someone who is still learning to play the game the right way. 

The day will come when things will finally fall into place for him and he will learn to tune out the unnecessary voices in the peripherals. That will be the day when the hype, potential, athleticism, and promise would all mesh and come together to reveal the best version of Kobe Paras. –