From baller to influencer: The rise and rise of Tito Mikee 2
"For you to even believe that you are worthy of a certain stature, of a certain accomplishment, [kailangan meron kang yabang]," says Mikee Reyes. Photographed by Tammy David
Culture

How the end of a basketball career led Mikee Reyes to become TikTok’s most influential Tito

There was a time when Mikee Reyes—champion of the “yabang isn’t always bad” mantra—could only imagine himself doing nothing but basketball
RHIA GRANA | Jul 05 2023

There’s a lot of guys who call themselves Tito on social media, premature uncles who’s earned neither cred nor coolness, or possess the necessary charm to make a corny joke sound endearing. They call themselves Tito just because everyone else does. But then there’s TikTok’s Tito Mikee. Or Mikee Reyes, who’s only in his early 30s and boyish looking, but is looked up to by his followers for his “pang-diinan” sense of style—which is basically the fashion one wears on a weekend hang with the bosses—and his brand of aspirational wisdom. “Yabang is not always bad,” he likes to say. Or “Wag kayo magtipid, magsipag kayo.” 

Because of this, digital creator Miguel Antonio “Mikee” Reyes now has over half a million followers on the video-sharing platform. The former UP Fighting Maroon point guard dispenses style and grooming advice, delivers pep talks about life and career, and throws in funny clips about his daily adventures as content creator, influencer, sports anchor, and doting boyfriend to the apple of his eye, CK de Leon, who has her own TikTok fan base.

Mikee’s content is undoubtedly popular, especially to young people aspiring to move up in life and the corporate ladder. To have the means to enjoy and afford the finer things. He seems to never stop working, but he also knows how to reward himself. To those who have been familiar with him pre-TikTok, they admire the career he’s made for himself, having enough, well, balls to move away from his basketball dreams and slowly build a career as influencer and sports anchor. 

Mikee Reyes
"Yung growing up years ko were a good mix of being grounded and being aspirational. Iniisip ko nun, pag nag-PBA ako, yayaman din ako,” says Mikee. 

Basketball only

It is a weekday afternoon at the Philippine Esports Office (PeSO) in the TV5 Media Center and Mikee is sitting across us. In case you missed it, he just got the gig delivering the sports news on the channel’s prime time news program. The guy looks smart and spiffy in a striped white knitted Uniqlo shirt, black jacket, khaki pants and white sneakers. He is wearing his usual black-rimmed eyewear and is toting along a black Loewe sling bag, the buying of which was well-documented on his social media. It’s the quintessential casual Tito Mikee look, with the black jacket the “pang-diinan” touch in case a network big shot passes by. 

There was a time this former UAAP and MPBL athlete could only imagine himself doing nothing else but play basketball. With a hardcourt coach for a father, Mikee fully embraced the “cliché life” he was destined to live. He was to follow dad’s footsteps. He was even named Miguel because of His Airness, Michael Jordan.

He was introduced to the NBA at a very young age and started going to basketball clinics as early as his prep years in Ateneo. “Basketball really was everything,” he tells ANCX. While he was also interested in other sports like baseball, his father, Budds Reyes, made a conscious effort to push his son towards being a citizen of the hardcourt. “He knew na mas may future ako sa basketball and it’s something I can rely on for the long haul.”

Mikee became a varsity player as early as Grade 3 in Ateneo and won his first championship that year. He continued playing for the university throughout the rest of grade school but wasn’t fortunate enough to make the cut as high school varsity member. However, an opportunity to play for Ateneo rival De La Salle opened up so the young man moved his studies to the La Salle Greenhills campus.

Mikee Reyes
He remembers his excitement receiving a pair of LeBron James sneakers from his father. “Tapos hindi ko alam Class A pala yung sapatos.”

Growing up years

Mikee says he’s not from the stereotypical rich Atenista family but his parents made sure their children had the best education. All his sisters also went to Ateneo. “We weren’t really struggling, but definitely we weren’t spoiled,” Mikee says, adding how his parents were real hard workers. He had a 40-peso daily allowance in grade school while his classmates got 100 pesos. “There was a time na kada bigay sa akin ng baon, itatabi ko yun. Tapos didiskartehan ko paano ako kakain sa school,” he says. “[Pero] Hindi naman ako nambu-bully.” 

When he started going to La Salle, he would take the bus all the way from Antipolo to Greenhills, bringing his huge gym bag with him. He knew his lifestyle was different from many of his rich schoolmates. “Iba talaga,” he says. And the knowledge of these differences, Mikee stresses, is what kept him grounded.

He remembers his excitement receiving a pair of LeBron James sneakers from his father. “Bagong-bago e, so ang saya-saya ko,” recalls the ex dribbler. “Tapos hindi ko alam Class A pala yung sapatos.” He laughs at the memory. “But [our stature in life] was something we were never ashamed of. We lived well. Yung growing up years ko were a good mix of being grounded and being aspirational. Iniisip ko nun, pag nag-PBA ako, yayaman din ako.”

Mikee Reyes
On being a content creator: “I want this to be a long-term thing. So I started to put out things that involve me, my life, my mindset, my beliefs."

A different path

But destiny had other plans for Mikee. His basketball games were riddled with injuries. Early in his collegiate career, he underwent two shoulder surgeries, which caused him to miss two seasons playing with the UP Fighting Maroons. “I had two surgeries on my right shoulder. Two because na-dislocate dito sa harap, then a year after, sa likod naman na-dislocate,” he shares.

Then in the summer of 2015, he suffered from an ACL tear while playing for the Pampanga Foton Tornadoes in the Filsports Basketball Association (FBA). That’s when he got an offer from the association’s commissioner Vince Hizon to become a member of the panel for the FBA games. The young man’s bibo nature during their casual chats must have left an impression on Hizon. Mikee said yes to the gig and this became his baptism of fire in sportscasting. His first partner covering a game was seasoned analyst Sev Sarmenta. “I didn't know what I was doing,” Mikee recalls with a laugh. “Sir Sev was like, ‘Kaya mo yan!’

“Ang mahirap pa nun, walang apelyido sa likod ang mga players, so talagang struggle,” Mikee recalls. “After the game, pagod na pagod ako.” Following that, he found himself sitting on the analysts’ chair with another old-timer, Noel Zarate.

ABS-CBN Sports would later take note of the young man’s potential and ask him to audition for a panelist slot during NCAA Season 91. “I thought I had the worst audition out of all the guys who were there. But they brought me in,” says Mikee. Probably because he offered something different to the table, he thought: his personal experience as a player.

Mikee Reyes
Mikee’s hand tattoo, “Peace & Love,” is more than just a personal mantra—it’s also his favorite phrase to end his videos and shows. 

The long goodbye 

But despite the opportunities to work on the coverage side of the hardcourt, the boy from Antipolo wasn’t ready to give up on his player dreams just yet. Mikee tried out for the PBA in 2016 and was drafted for TNT Katropa. After a month-long practice, however, he was not offered a contract. 

At this point, Mikee was already thinking of pivoting to another career. After playing as import in Singapore and Taiwan for a short while, he thought of retiring from competitive basketball and worked as a trainer at Anytime Fitness for two years. For a time, he was trainer for Pia Wurtzbach who by then has already won the Miss Universe crown. 

But when Mikee’s father was offered a coaching job for the MPBL, Mikee decided to give pro basketball one last try. He went back to the game full-time for two years and played for different teams. But at the beginning of 2020, he felt his passion for the sport has started to run out. “Medyo naramdaman ko na pagod na ako. I would go to practice na hindi na siya fun for me,” he shares. When his team was cut from the league that January, he took it as a sign to finally end his basketball career.

Mikee Reyes
Mikee pays tribute to Kobe Bryant by having the basketball legend's NBA records tattooed on his arm.

It didn’t help that Kobe Bryant, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest players and scorers in the history of the sport, died in a helicopter crash that same month. “Everyone was emotional that week,” he recalls. Bryant’s untimely demise led Mikee to rediscover the basketball legend’s incredible journey.

“How did this guy who was so obsessed with basketball move on after retiring from the sport?” Mikee thought to himself. “I'm not even as good as Kobe. Wala ako sa level ng mga PBA players ngayon. Pero bakit hindi ako maka-move on?”

Mikee found out that when Kobe was still alive, he had built the Mamba Sports Academy which allowed college players to train with basketball pros. “Naisip ko, ba’t walang ganun dito sa Pilipinas?” he says. “Naisip ko din, if there’s one person with all the connections who could mount the same, it’s me.”

So inspired by Kobe’s initiative, Mikee successfully spearheaded the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) Academy the following month, participated in by college players and PBA stars. He was supposed to put together a follow-up event but Covid happened and put everyone’s plans to a halt.

 

Internet star

During the lockdowns, Mikee turned to gaming as a pastime, and he would stream his games with online. It so happened he had a PS4 so he would invite other basketball players to play Call of Duty with him. Naturally, he would do a short chat with his guests before a game starts. And then he noticed something during his streams—more people would watch when he was just talking about Terrence Romeo and other basketball stuff than when he was playing.

Heeding a friend’s advice, Mikee decided to start a YouTube account in October of 2020 which hosted the Shoot First Podcast. “I remember spending three straight nights on YouTube learning Adobe Premiere,” shares the newly minted sportscaster. In the podcast, he would talk about basketball and try to be as animated as possible. Later, he would interview players in the show. His viewership peaked in 2021 but as pandemic restrictions loosened up, getting players to join him became an effort.

“I thought I won’t be able to maintain the site that I’m building if I will rely on other people for my content. That’s the reason I decided to make my content about me,” he says. “I want this to be a long-term thing. So I started to put out things that involve me, my life, my mindset, my beliefs. That way, it also doesn't feel like work.” This was when he started producing lifestyle content for Instagram and later on for TikTok.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ANCX (@ancx.ph)

‘Yabang is not always bad’

Mikee grew up being told he’s mayabang. “I thought that was derogatory,” he says. “Pero na-realize ko din na sometimes pag wala kang yabang, hindi mo rin maaabot ang gusto mong abutin.” Which is why he tells his followers, “Yabang is not always bad.”

He continues: “For you to even believe that you are worthy of a certain stature, of a certain accomplishment, [kailangan meron kang yabang]. Yabang for me is not something that’s always negative.” He clarifies that it is different from being arrogant and looking down on others. “Wag kang mangmamata ng tao. Wag kang mangmamaliit.”

He takes the ‘influencer’ title to heart. “For me, influencing is really inspiring someone's life,” he says. “It's not just influencing people to buy something—that's promoting. I've done promotions too. Pag nag-promote ka, may bayad yun. Pero to influence someone's life—yung mindset, how he thinks, how he acts, yun para sa akin ang pinakamagandang validation for me. Walang bayad yun.”

These days, his videos often show himself buying this or that sneaker or trousers or bag or gadget. Isn’t he concerned he’s promoting overspending? “No,” he says. “What I’m promoting is sipag. You want that bag, that shirt, those shoes. Now why are you limiting yourself by saying hanggang ganito lang ang kaya mo? Why are we saying ‘magtipid tayo’? Hindi. Magsipag ka. Naniniwala ako diyan, because it is all based on experience.”

 
Mikee Reyes
On being an influencer: “For me, influencing is really inspiring someone's life.” 

From his life experiences, he learned that the cliché “Everything happens for a reason” holds a great amount of truth in it. He says he’s learned to let life take its course, trusting that everything that happens is ultimately for the best. Life may not have always went Mikee Reyes’ way but with luck, hard work and a little shift in perspective, he’s influenced it to swerve to his favor. 

Photographed by Tammy David