Look! This Brooklyn-Raised Pinoy Creative Paid Kobe Bryant The Most Unique Art Tribute
Mike Swift, a.k.a. Mr. Pinoy Hoops, is helping keep the basketball icon's legacy alive in Filipinos with an amazing art piece housed at Taguig's The Tenement
It's what Kobe would have wanted.
Mike Swift, an artist, rapper, basketball player, and sports advocate who grew up in Brooklyn, New York initiated the painting of a massive black and white mural housed in Taguig's The Tenement, a gray-walled apartment complex that houses hundreds of hundreds of Filipino families.
Why, you might wonder, did Mike and his merry band of artists choose The Tenement for such an awesome tribute?
After all, the work of art, created over 18 hours with the help of several Taguig artists, might be seen and appreciated by many more onlookers and Kobe fans if it were positioned somewhere different, perhaps somewhere with more foot traffic and yes, somewhere more palpable according to the standards of others.
But that wasn't the point—and that certainly wouldn't have been staying true to Kobe's legacy.
See, The Tenement holds a special place in Mike's heart. And if Kobe himself had seen it and learned of its history and its residents' colorful lives, we're sure that it would have tugged on his heartstrings just as much.
How it relates to basketball (in particular, the Filipino's love affair with the sport and the Kobe Bryant fandom in all corners of the country) is simple: Many of the NBA's biggest stars didn't come from wealthy families blessed with polished lives and well-defined paths to success.
Like the Tenement's residents, a good number of these professional athletes faced serious issues in their formative years: Not having a big enough family income to put food on the table, struggling to stay in school, being deprived of the presence of positive role models, and many times, having only a simple recreational activity to keep their mind off things—an activity like basketball.
Mike, seeing how basketball had the power to change lives for the better during his time in New York where the state is no stranger to makeshift courts not unlike those scattered around Metro Manila, first made contact with The Tenement's residents in 2014 and made it his mission to recreate that effect in their home, in his own country.
It started with hosting The Tenement's very first event: A charitable music and art fundraiser whose goal was to raise enough money to fix many of the building's glaring problems, leaking roofs and ancient plumbing included. The end goal was to trash plans of demolishing the building that's been around since the sixties, something that would clearly impact the lives of evicted residents.
Six years later, Mike's efforts have born fruit and have evolved into something much greater; the Tenement community, which has always been tight-knit and very much like a giant Filipino clan made up of extended family members, are now proud to call the building their home.
The Tenement is now a popular attraction for urban tourists out to get to know a city in ways that diverge from pinned locations recommended by glossy travel booklets. With its residents, they join events hosted by Mike and others and discover more about the culture the community's cultivated over time. (Fun fact: Lebron James has actually visited The Tenement himself!)
The basketball court is, of course, its centerpiece. It's often outfitted with different works of art depending on who it is they wish to honor.
That's where all the action happens, but even on quiet, event-free evenings, residents often convene in the open-air venue shooting hoops, gossiping about the day, sharing their hopes, losses, dreams, and ambitions with friends and family.
Now it's easier to understand why the court, the building its in, and the people who call both their own are a symbol of what Kobe stands for: the potential that lies beneath, the power that one holds to become great regardless of circumstance.
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Pass by if you can, we will be painting all day, all night again. Since early, media and visitors are coming one by one. Leave a message, bring a candle, drop a verse if you are a singer or a rapper. We will continue to mourn the loss, but more important is that we make sure the legacy of Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant lives in our hearts forever. Philippines, our infatuation with basketball is unmatched and we know how much Kobe enjoyed coming to this country. This is the least we can do at the Tenement to let the world know how much you mean to us Kobe! 💔 Still does not feel real. 😢 #MambaMentality #TenementVisualArtists #nipponpaintph #TeamNike #savetenement #EveryCourtCanDream @pinoyhoops
In a brief conversation with Mike, he shares more about the project:
Who were the artists that you worked with to complete the mural?
"We are a group called Tenement Visual Artists led by head artist Jerry Gabo. There [are] a lot of us."
How did you offer the project to them? And, how did they react when you told them it would be done at The Tenement?
"I did not offer anything. We all woke up with the same thought after hearing of the tragic news. And that is to make our way to the court, and do what we do at the Tenement, which is to wow the world with our artwork. But this time it's a lot different. We all contributed with a heavy heart."
You don't have to be big on sports to appreciate the impact Kobe's life had on millions around the world. Personally, what did he mean to you?
"It's like losing a brother, a family member. Kobe had been one of my biggest inspirations in life. Having that Mamba Mentality is greatly how I made it as far as I am today. I've watched and followed that man since 1996—and to find out that his daughter was alongside during this tragedy, I've been following and adoring their relationship ever since—is is just too much. Has not really [sunk] in yet. Too many tears."
What kind of role does basketball play in the lives of The Tenement's residents? From when you first met them in 2014 up till today, has the sport changed them for the better?
"BASKETBALL at the Tenement. It's an everyday [activity], rain or shine, no matter the weather, we are active. The court being the central piece of this building, you could almost not get away from it. And since 2014 the miracles we had experienced from NBA players walking in—LeBron James leaving us a project—I can say that basketball is what's saving the Tenement [residents] from being evicted."
What do you think Kobe would have said or done had he been given the chance to visit The Tenement, like Lebron James did?
"He would have helped us. And we feel now in his demise, and with the world's eyes on us. We feel that our dream of him passing by while alive may have not happened, but in this form, we feel that Kobe's presence, his spirit, [are] here at the Tenement with us, and our dream of him walking in here is fulfilled. Sadly."
Kobe Bryant's Tenement mural will remain on the Tenement court until his funeral.
Mike and the artists working on the wonderful artwork invite those wishing to pay their respects to drop by. And while you're at it, leave a message on the surrounding walls to share your own thoughts about the basketball legend.
Images from @iammikeswift @pinoyhoops