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 MANILA, Philippines (AP) - More than 7,000 miles from home, fans were chanting his name, and Kobe Bryant was loving it.
No controversy. No tough questions.
In the basketball-loving Philippines, no one was going to ruffle a charismatic icon visiting to promote the sport, encourage kids to pursue their dreams and maybe sell a few pairs of his new line of shoes.
``I love Manila,'' a beaming Bryant told a crowd that started gathering at 6 a.m. outside a store in Manila, nine hours before he appeared. ``The energy here is off the charts.''
Bryant, fresh off a gold medal at the FIBA Americas championship, kicked off his five-stop Asian tour Wednesday.
A lot has happened to Bryant since his first trip to Manila a decade ago - three NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and a rape case that was eventually dismissed but left many wondering about his image.
The Manila public provided an answer. He was even touted as a role model for children, a tag that he didn't try to avoid.
``The important thing to remember when people talk about role models, they assume role models are perfect,'' Bryant said. ``Nobody's perfect.''
The key, he said, is not to repeat mistakes and to try to give back to the community.
Bryant was still basking in the success of the U.S. basketball team, which drew favorable comparisons with the first two NBA teams at the Olympics.
``When you have an opportunity to play for your country, it's even more special,'' he said. ``The whole country gets behind you.''
Bryant said he has taken off 20 pounds since the end of the NBA season, partly by watching his diet for the first time.
``My primary focus this summer was defense,'' he said. ``I had to guard smaller, quicker players. I wanted to get back some of the agility I had in 2000'' without losing strength.
What has he been eating?
``Grass,'' Bryant joked, before saying he had to give up fast food and some of his decadent favorites - apple pie with ice cream, chocolate cake and sugar cookies.
``I can feel the results already,'' he said.
The Nike store, in Manila's Fort Bonifacio area, was festooned with a poster promoting Bryant's new shoe, the Kobe II.
At about $150, the shoes represent about six weeks' pay for the average Filipino. But the mostly middle- to upper-class crowd waved his jerseys and raised the old model shoe when he came out of the store. Arms went up as one, cell phones snapping photos.
Construction workers at two adjacent buildings stopped what they were doing and gathered on the roofs or clung to scaffolding as supervisors tried to get them back on the job.
Bryant, who later gave a basketball clinic, laughed as the crowd chanted his name, then ``MVP.'' He appeared most touched when schoolchildren gave him a framed collection of crayon drawings they had done of him.
``Keep your dreams alive,'' Bryant said. ``Keep going after it.''
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