After a period of recalibration, Kobe Paras re-emerges with a do-or-die attitude that has won him points as an H&M collaborator, player to keep an eye on, and yes, his best self yet.
Unless you’re genetically gifted, done your fair share of jumping on the first few second of New Year’s Day, or have diligently guzzled your height-inducing vitamins or Chinese herbal growth balls, you’ve probably spent a good chunk of your life wishing you were even just a few more inches taller. We know what you’re thinking: Tall people have it so much better—they can see more at an expansive glance, they can physically get ahead without so much as a vertical effort, and for sure, a few more inches stacked up is a boost to one’s confidence. Needless to say, the status quo of height-challenged populace has always harbored a lashing of envy towards taller people.
Sure, it can serve as an advantage, especially in an archaic time when industries held a higher regard for height such as athletics, fashion, and airline services. Heck, even theme parks require a minimum height for certain rides. But have you ever noticed how a tall person navigates his way through a space or a crowd?
Perhaps we’ve been so used obsessing over physical stature or looking up at tall people that we looked over the fact that they typically hunker down or make themselves feel small in order to fit in with the rest of us, so to speak. This could also be why, in a general sense, they are typically gentle creatures, even at times apologetic, figuratively buffing out the extra height just to see us (the non-tall folk) eye-to-eye.
Easily towering over any room, there exists a deft sense of awareness to Kobe Paras, who despite an intimidating six inches over six feet is anything but ominous, at least off the court. A manifestation unique to every person in varying degrees, he hunches his shoulders in micro increments, even dropping his head, especially in conversation. It isn’t so much a shrinking of confidence, but rather a welcome deference to whoever he is interfacing with. But more than the obvious, it isn’t singularly his height that makes you notice him when he walks on by. Like a source of light that has drawn many to its periphery, your attention immediately zeroes in on him, even in his easy and laidback off–court vibe—something akin to people he looks up to in terms ofstyle such as Wiz Khalifa, Rhuigi Villasenor, and Phoenix Suns baller, Kelly Oubre.
“It’s just all different, they don’t try so hard. It’s not annoying, but you don’t have to try so hard to show who you are. You just have to be you. They’re just really different in a sense, to the point that people talk about them. Whether good or bad, they just focus on them and it shows,” he says, maybe unaware that he is indirectly describing himself as well. “Basic is not in my vocabulary,” he boldly asserts, steering the conversation to self-identity and style, something that he has quietly been working on himself. “I am different and I just try to be me and I’m just who I am. So, before, I tried to dress like a preppy boy, which really was odd. I cringe every time I see throwback pictures, but now, I’m just happy with who I am, and I’m really born this way.”
A GAME OF STYLE
To some, it might sound like a stretch, talking about style in direct concurrence to the self, but if one leans into it, there reveals to be a profound relation that proves to be vastly illuminating. “There is a lot of people in this world who are shy and afraid to talk, people I know who express themselves through how they dress. And you can really see a person’s personality,” he relates. “It’s just cool that you know, when I was a kid, I just saw fashion as wanting to dress good or wanting to try hard, but now, it’s a complete sense of who you are. Through the years, when you get older, you realize so much stuff about yourself. So, for me, fashion can really tell a story about your life.”
This is in no way a prophetic declaration that seems cut out of your run-off-the-mill style website, but rather a realization how the mundane means more than just what it is. “Growing up, privilege made me realize that I don’t have to dress this way, like, how you know in school, there’s dress codes? That’s how I kind of based my life before. It’s like: ‘I just have to wear this when I go out,’ ‘I can’t wear tank tops,’ or ‘I can’t wear sandals when I go out.’ So now, when I grew up, I just realized that you’re basically judging yourself as a kid,” he explains. “It’s not good to judge. So, that’s why I don’t care if I wear tank tops and sandals, because I know I’ll make it look good. I just have confidence in that way. I don’t care if they say: ‘Oh, you’re 6’6”, you shouldn’t be dressing like this. It really doesn’t matter. Fashion just made me realize that I just have to focus on myself. So, that’s the fashion I’m into now, is just being you and being unique.”
Like the many sports greats that came before him, Kobe Paras has a sharp and distinct sense of style, one that has seen a considerable evolution over time. “I remember when H&M wasn’t in the Philippines yet, every time I visit Hong Kong or the States like, all my allowance would go to H&M,” Kobe recalls of his early style game. Rooted in the retail powerhouse that he credits for recognizing the other significant facet of his prismatic persona, his point-of-view of fashion has grown with the brand, moving from a cardboard-cutout collegiate persona to one that is equal parts devil-may-care and well-thought-of. “It’s like a full circle,” he says, alluding to the partnership he has struck with H&M, resulting in a striking campaign that makes you want to rack up style points yourself. “If you do good, you’ll receive good. So, it’s just dope to see that all the time I spent…Like, I started my fashion journey with H&M. That’s why it’s cool to me that we’re doing a collaboration. Until now I’m still shocked that I’m a part of it.” So much so that he admits to tearing up when he got the call to work on this project and getting speechless when the posters and billboards were unveiled all over the metro. Yes, Kobe Paras not only shows, but is mighty vocal of his emotions—just like any man should.
RARING AND READY
“I’m not gonna say I’ve fully grown up, because I’m only 21, and before, I wouldn’t listen to the advice or what people would tell me because in my mind I’m always like, ‘Nagmamarunong lang siya’ or ‘he thinks he knows everything,’ but at the same time, I realized na there’s no end to learning or understanding things,” Kobe Paras says, parlaying into a more serious conversation. “Before, like, in 2018 and way back when, I used to be such a hot head, a mess on the court. I couldn’t control my emotions at all. Like what I said, I didn’t know why I was sad and angry. I kind of bottled up all of my emotions, I never knew where to open up, and when I was young, I saw opening up [as a man uncharacteristic,]” he says. “‘You gotta be strong,’ ‘You can’t be sad,’ ‘Boys don’t cry.’ That was really the one thing I didn’t understand as a kid. “At least now, I have a better sense. Opening up about what you’re going through is really good. A lot of people may see it as a weakness, like if you open up, your life is gonna be way better. Being honest, being modest is just a great way to live life.”
Presumably a cloud of gloom of doom when talked about, Kobe Paras is surprisingly buoyant when revealing this more mature side to him that people dissociate with the player they once let his self-importance get the best of him. “If you’re uncomfortable talking about certain situations in the past, or certain things happening, then that means that you really have to have an ego check, because in life, you really can’t have your ego up all the time, that’s what I realized,” he reflects. “And I’m not close to perfect, you know? I’m grateful for all my struggles, because all the things I’ve been through made me the person I am, and it made me realize how life really should be lived.”
Clearly wizened by time and circumstance, Kobe Paras appears and feels like a complete person, a look that he says, he likes on himself. This recalibration has accorded him a new lens on life, as well as with the game he holds near and dear his heart.
“When I moved to the States, I was playing basketball for the fans. I was focused on pleasing what people saw. There was a time, whenever practice ended or games ended, I’ll just be alone and I just didn’t know why I was sad or depressed. Then I realized that I never did anything that I wanted to do,” he explains. “It doesn’t make you selfish as a person for wanting to do your own thing, because at the end of the day, you’re the only person you got. That’s why I’m really happy now that I found my purpose. A lot of people don’t understand that you need self-love; You gotta love yourself first, before you get to love other people, because if you can’t handle yourself, you really can’t handle other people.”
Above and beyond everything, fashion, basketball, and in life, there is just a light that emanates from him, beckoning you to come in for a closer look. There is no longer standing a good few feet away from or looking up at him from way below. Instead, he has reached a level of equilibrium that equates to a necessary contentment. “I’m just really happy,” he reiterates. “A lot of people say I made a wrong decision coming back, but who are they to tell me what to do with my life?” With a renewed sense of passion and purpose for the game, there is a spring and spirit to his game, and it has showed in tourneys such as his explosive performance at the Buddha’s Light International Cup in Taiwan. “I’m just really grateful to be playing for [this opportunity] and the University of the Philippines, because a lot of people don’t realize that you don’t get second chances, you don’t get third chances,” he essays. “I’m blessed to get a fourth chance in college, in basketball and life in general. It’s really hard to get a chance to play so, last year was the hardest time of my life—I lost the sense of who I was. But when I went to UP, my teammates, my coaches, they felt like family, and they made me realize that there’s more to life than what you’re going through, and it’s just cool that my sweet escape last year was just being with my teammates and practicing. Now, I’m happier, I’m better. I went through the phase of depression, and now I’m glad to say that life is great, and I’m just really grateful for the University of the Philippines, and the coaches for trusting me and putting me in to the team this year.”
Standing even taller than he already is, there is no apparent sense of Kobe Paras lording over everyone just because of precedent, his reputation, and his cred as an athlete and your normal young man going through the tempestuous throes of adulthood. Look, we all went through it, some barely scratching out of it, and others, still struggling to get a grip, which is warranted. Each one has their own pace, and in his case, he is barely just getting started. Way far from the buzzer-beating clutch moment, he is taking to this crucial time with a fired up, do-or-die attitude that reckons a beginning of the next great quarters of his life. It’s game on, Kobe.
By Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena
Photography Rxandy Capinpin
Creative direction Jann Pascua
Styling Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena
Assisted by Lyn Alumno
Grooming Rick Calderon
Shoot coordination Thea Martin
Shoot assistant Joy Almero and Kate Loreno
Shot on location at Thirsty Barber
Special thanks to GMA Artist Center, Gino Cruz and H&M Philippines