MANILA, Philippines — On the final FIBA World Cup in China in 2019, Kobe Bryant was the video games’ official ambassador. He not solely thrilled the Chinese language followers however watched carefully and handed out compliments to gamers and groups from Poland to Venezuela in English, Spanish and Italian.
Bryant is after all, sadly, not on the 2023 occasion, his tragic demise having come only some months after he handed out the trophy in Beijing. But when Bryant had been in Manila this summer time, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would in all probability have captured his consideration.
Hollis-Jefferson has emerged because the epitome of what makes the World Cup fascinating and has executed it with a model of Mamba Mentality that honors Bryant’s reminiscence and has captured the hearts of the Filipino followers.
Now taking part in as a naturalized citizen of Jordan, the 2015 NBA first-round decide scored 39 factors in a panoramic efficiency Monday night time, together with a dramatic four-point play with 10 seconds left that compelled additional time. In a Tracy McGrady-style burst, he scored seven factors in seven seconds late within the fourth quarter to provide Jordan an opportunity to beat New Zealand and get in place to advance within the match.
Jordan ran out of gasoline in additional time and misplaced, however the followers at Mall of Asia Enviornment chanted “Kobe!” as they took in his efficiency — largely as a result of Hollis-Jefferson has undergone a putting life and profession renaissance that would’ve been in a Kobe System Nike advert, starting to look and even play just like the Los Angeles Lakers nice.
Frankly, it is uncanny. A Philadelphia-area native who grew up idolizing Bryant, Hollis-Jefferson has reduce his hair like Bryant, is carrying an armband like Bryant, wears Bryant’s acquainted No. 24 and has mimicked all the pieces from Bryant’s footwork to his free throw routine to his poses after large photographs. If he wasn’t left handed, there have been moments the place you’d genuinely not imagine your eyes.
“He is a legend and you may solely dream of being in comparison with somebody like him,” Hollis-Jefferson stated. “However I am nowhere close to near Kobe. I’ve tried to be a tough employee like he was and I really feel his power. I additionally know lots of people that knew him so I have been listening to tales about him my complete life.”
However this is not only a Halloween act. Hollis-Jefferson is taking part in spectacularly on this Bryant mildew. Principally a rugged wing and publish defender who specialised in bodily protection throughout six seasons within the NBA, he seems like a totally completely different participant highlighting a brand new skillset that modifications the notion of him.
American followers, and NBA executives, will get an opportunity to see this model of Hollis-Jefferson Wednesday when Jordan performs Group USA of their remaining pool play video games (4:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2). The stakes for the sport are restricted for the groups — Group USA has already superior to the second spherical and Jordan has been eradicated — however not for Hollis-Jefferson.
After being out of the NBA for the reason that 2020-21 season, Hollis-Jefferson re-evaluated his life and profession and has been making many modifications. He has misplaced about 15 kilos, turning into a pescatarian who sometimes solely eats one meal a day. He battled abdomen issues that he stated typically affected his temper and felt higher since making the change. He began working with a management advisor to assist alter his outlook on life.
“I used to be sitting in a small condo in Puerto Rico (the place he was taking part in in a professional league) and I used to be questioning what had occurred to my life,” Hollis-Jefferson stated. “I used to be at a reasonably low level. I used to be in a continuous battle of combating myself. The previous few years I have been attempting to make some modifications.”
The modifications are profound. He would not look very like the ahead who performed six seasons within the NBA together with 4 with the Brooklyn Nets.
He’d performed some level guard in highschool in Chester, Pa., the place he was a high recruit. However at Arizona he performed with future NBA guard T.J. McConnell and settled into a unique function. He is re-discovered his roots and now performs extra like a slasher who makes use of his glorious athleticism to create house and draw fouls.
It is a small pattern however by means of two video games, he is the second main scorer on the World Cup behind Luka Doncic whereas capturing 54% from the sphere. New Zealand’s bodily protection bothered Group USA at instances when the crew’s performed final week. Hollis-Jefferson went proper into the tooth of it, drawing 12 fouls. He is additionally averaging 9 rebounds and three.5 assists.
At simply 28, Hollis-Jefferson nonetheless has prime basketball years left. He is hoping his play this summer time will get some NBA groups to see his skillset anew and provides him one other look.
“I am attempting to point out that I can compete with the most effective of the most effective and produce power to each recreation,” Hollis-Jefferson stated. “I at all times admired Kobe’s killer mindset and aggressive spirit and I am attempting to study from it.”