For years, every summer Kobe Bryant has gone over to China to build up his brand — he’s done clinics, media interviews, appearances, he has even set up his own charity to help specific causes in China.
The result is he is loved there — during the Beijing Olympics LeBron James and other Team USA players were taken aback by the level of Kobe mania. That hasn’t died, if anything it has grown in recent years.
The Lakers (and Warriors) found out about that first hand this past week around a couple of exhibition games.
The video above is just a taste. Watch the games and you could hear the crowd chant “Ko-be, Ko-be” despite the fact he was in a suit on the sidelines. Check out what Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report — who was in China for much of the Lakers trip — wrote about the experience.
It was asked in the postgame news conference of both Pau Gasol and Golden State star Stephen whether they were offended by the Chinese fans repeatedly chanting Kobe Bryant’s name while they, not he, played.
A lot of Chinese basketball reporters approached me for interviews or casual chats Tuesday, and it was interesting how they wondered whether Bryant is offended or put off by how rabid his fans in China are and how over the top some of them act…
I’ve written essay upon essay trying to explain Bryant’s immense popularity in China, and you know what it boils down to? His Chinese fans admire and deeply respect how hard he tries. They are also fascinated by how unafraid he is of failure, a rare trait in Asian culture.
That last paragraph is an interesting insight. I’ve long thought we tend to admire and even idolize people who do what we can’t — not just physically in the sports world, but mentally. I am drawn to the hard-boiled detectives of Raymond Chandler novels because they are radically different than me. We admire Michael Jordan because if we were given his physical gifts we wouldn’t have gotten as much out of them as he did. His competitiveness and single-minded obsessions does not make for a well-rounded person, that’s not who you want to chat with at a cocktail party, but it makes for a person who wins sporting events. We admire those different than us (in some ways, at least).
Whatever the reason, Kobe is wildly popular in China.