While Miami Heat superstar LeBron James is now the best player in the NBA, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant still has him beat in one important area: being the most popular player in China. As new markets emerge and players become more like businessmen, that's not an insignificant feat. When Kobe goes to China (and he does fairly often), he's treated like a basketball god. Sometimes, he performs like one, too.
Over the weekend in Shanghai, Kobe made an appearance at the Sprite China Second Annual Charity Basketball Game, a "contest" consisting primarily of Chinese actors and singers. As with pretty much any basketball-related event in the country, Bryant was the guest of honor, though at first there were no plans for him to play. However, facing a huge halftime deficit, Kobe decided he had to help. Watch the video of his performance above (via EOB) and check out the firsthand account from his official Facebook page:
We played two 15 min halves with a running clock. I watched from the bench for the first half. We were trailing by 9 when I was notified that fans via text can choose a team to add 20 additional points to their tally!!! We were now down 29!! I wanted to play it cool but what the heck, the place was packed with fans who'd sang an early happy birthday to me and really wanted to watch me go to work. My teammates were down. They are all singers/actors and do not play ball much AT ALL, but they are very successful at what they do hence they are VERY competitive. They asked if I could bring them back in the second half..
I didn't want to disappoint them or the fans that had paid their hard earned money for a show so I took the challenge of really using the second half as a training session for my stamina. I ran and ran and ran. I wound up scoring 68 in the 2nd and we won. Like I said, they are not basketball players by any stretch of the imagination. I was just having fun with all of them and loved hearing the crowd enjoy the show we put on.
The video shows that Kobe didn't face much competition — many times it appears that defenders actively get out of his way, and the fact that Kobe's wearing a black jersey seems to emphasize that he's playing a different game from these celebrities. It's hard for anyone to score 68 points in 15 real-time minutes, but this show was built for Bryant. If you don't believe that, head over to Deadspin to see more videos of the scene, including Kobe playing an electric guitar (??????!!!!!!!) and several minutes of the other participants just standing around watching him shoot jumpers as the narrates the action with great excitement.
I can't explain everything that's going on here, especially because I can't stop imagining Kobe playing guitar solos in sold-out football stadiums. Sometimes, though, it's fine to witness a crazy scene and appreciate the singularity of such an event. Then wonder if there's any athlete who would be loved this much in an NBA city. Even Michael Jordan gets mocked for his jeans.
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