JERSEY STORY: Ben Mbala\'s admiration for LeBron James prompts switch to No. 23

There's one reason why Ben Mbala wears No. 23. Jaime Campos

THEY'RE more than mere numbers, and there's more to them than meets the eye.

From important dates in their lives to lucky numbers to a happy coincidence, there's usually a compelling story behind the numbers your favorite players wear on their backs.

And more often that not, these stories will either surprise you or make you feel closer to your sports heroes.

Here's No. 19 of our Jersey Story Series:

BEN Mbala looks up to only one player ever since he started playing competitive basketball: LeBron James.

The La Salle star has even tried to emulate the ‘The King’ in every way — from James moves, to his training routine, down to his jersey number.

“My idol is LeBron, that’s why I’m wearing number 23,” said Mbala emphatically.

Curiously, some fans have seen some bits of resemblance between Mbala’s showing in his first-ever La Salle-Ateneo match-up last Sunday and the NBA superstar's display on the court, especially in terms of athleticism.

One particular highlight dunk in the closing minutes of the second quarter stands out. After forcing a turnover, Mbala was off to the races on a two-and-one break. What happened next became the talk of the town as he threw down a one-hand slam off a lob pass from Thomas Torres.

The Green Archers went on to win the game in lopsided fashion, 97-81, to complete a sweep of the first round, a feat the team last achieved in 2002.

But Mbala played down comparisons between his highlight slam to those of James.

“We’ve been working on that. We have fastbreak drills and when my teammate see me running the floor, he will just throw it up and I’ll do the rest. It wasn’t like I was planning to do that. It just happened. With the adrenaline and the intensity, it just happened,” said Mbala.

The Green Archers prized recruit said he also tries to emulate James’ work ethic in training and the resolute attitude the four-time NBA MVP has shown throughout his career in the face of adversity.

His residency at La Salle prolonged to three years by a violation of league rules, Mbala has used those trials in his career as a springboard to this season’s campaign — the same way that James overcame his own tribulations in his early pursuit of an NBA title.

“He struggled for years but never gave up and he kept working hard. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been struggling and I’ve been out for three years. I used to wear No. 7 but I shifted back to 23 because I’m really trying, no matter what, to keep working on my game,” said Mbala.

With James as his inspiration, he hopes that his hard work will be repaid at the end of the season.

“I don’t want to give up and at the end of the day, I want to bring back La Salle on top,” Mbala said.

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