Bus Driver, Move that Bus!

Marlon Castillo/New University

ABC’s Emmy award-winning series, “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” (EM:HE), set up shop at the Bren Events Center on Oct. 7 as UC Irvine students lined up for a chance to play one-on-one with Kobe Bryant and to donate winter clothing to the tornado victims of Joplin, Mo.

According to senior producer Diane Korman, the show is airing their 200th episode in January 2012 and the crew is currently in the process of preparing to build seven homes in seven days for seven families affected by the tornado that struck Missouri on May 22, killing 162 and displacing thousands. The damage resulted in approximately $2.2 billion of insurance payout — the highest in Missouri state history. However, homeless shelters remain filled with casualties as a result of the category-five tornado.

“The tornado created a huge problem of homelessness and we knew from the beginning we had to go, no question about it,” Korman said. “Extreme Makeover for the past nine years has been crisscrossing the country helping people and when there’s a huge tragedy we just felt so compelled to go.”

Seven homeless families will be informed that they are the recipients of home makeovers in the coming weeks. The crew has encountered their share of run-down residences in their nine seasons of filming, but in this instance, they won’t be rebuilding homes, but building them for families whose estates were diminished to rubble.

Half a country away from Missouri, Michael Moloney — one of the show’s nine designers — hosted the charity event and welcomed a five-time world champion in Kobe Bryant to UCI.

“UCI is well aware that they are a favorite place for Kobe to practice and out of a huge respect for the university when we told him what we wanted to do, he made the suggestion that we come here. So I think that’s a huge endorsement,” Korman said.

Hundreds of students turned out and helped EM:HE compile donations to facilitate to the tornado victims as winter approaches.

“So many people care about helping fix the situation in Joplin and Kobe Bryant happens to be one of them, because homelessness is his foundation’s issue and so he’s on board and he’s helping us do something really great,” she said. “It’s getting us as many winter coats as possible for the folks out there who lost everything and we’re doing it in a fun way today, we’re playing a little one-on-one.”

Once the gates opened, students filed into the stadium. Some had signs reading, “We Love Joplin,” “I Love U Kobe” and “KOBE SCORES FOR JOPLIN!” The crowd had the opportunity to be extras in the show’s taping and experienced a candid side of its production.

Before Kobe appeared, Chancellor Michael Drake spoke of the values that he often imparts on students, praising the student body for putting one of those values to work: empathy. He was proud to see that his students were exercising empathy and of their commitment to restoring the Joplin community.

Moloney then introduced Kobe, who high-fived his way through a crowd of Anteaters. Six raffle tickets were selected and each student was appropriated 60 seconds to compete against the Black Mamba on UCI’s hardwood.

“Before the clock started [Kobe] gave me a smile and a wink and said, ‘Are you ready?’ [Afterward] he came over to me and gave me a hug and said, ‘Good job girl, you’re really good,’” Sara Khalafi, a second-year business economics major, said. “I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren about this day.”

The crowd saw the former NBA Most Valuable Player nail some jump-shots and slam a few dunks.

A 4-foot-tall boy named Kevin had an opportunity to try his hand against the 13-time NBA All-Star and sent a ripple through the crowd when he knocked down a shot. After his minute surpassed, Kobe lifted Kevin over his head and helped him throw down a dunk of his own.

“It was the best one minute of my life,” fourth-year psychology and social behavior major, Rachel Luna said. “I can’t stop smiling. I scored once within the minute and within that one minute, I guess he wasn’t able to make a shot, so who can say they beat Kobe in a game of one-on one?”

Only one of the six contestants could see eye-to-eye with Kobe.  Los Angeles’ guard took it easy on him at first. The student was approximately 6 feet 6 inches and in his first possession he drove on Kobe and laid up a basket to put him ahead. He then rejected Kobe’s first attempt which was a borderline foul. Nevertheless, Kobe turned it up a notch, blocking his counterpart’s next attempt immediately and then driving back to the rim. But Kobe was rim-checked and denied as he tumbled to the floor. The student came out on top after 60 seconds with the Black Mamba as both players enjoyed the moment. Afterwards the two embraced and Kobe ruffled up the UCI student’s hair.

Although the event wasn’t as earth-shattering as building a homeless family their own mansion, Kobe’s appearance made a number of dreams come true.

“It’s beyond impressive that here he is one of the most famous, successful athletes of our time and it’s impressive to see that his value is making a difference, because he doesn’t have to, but that’s where his heart is,” Korman said.

With the episode not expected to air for another few months, Korman and the Extreme Makeover Home Edition staff are motivated to continue to make a difference.

“There’s nothing in the world as beautiful as when you make a family’s dream come true,” she said. “In my nine years on the show, I still get emotional every time I see -not only a family get surprised, but their lives are about to change. But that moment when we move that bus and they know that that’s their new home, it’s beyond words, it’s incredible.”