NBA legend Kobe Bryant announced yesterday that he would retire at the end of his 20th season, to the shock and sorrow of his legions of Chinese fans.
As the dominant and most distinctive talent of an era in which NBA games were starting to be shown more and more in China, Kobe has long been China’s favorite foreign star. Young ballers across the country lace up his sneakers, wear his jersey and clank his signature shots (Kobe!).
With a career that includes an NBA MVP, five championships, 17 All-Star selections, one 81-point game, thousands of Kobe assists and more Mamba jaws than you can count, the career Laker announced his retirement via poem on The Player’s Tribune yesterday. Bryant writes:
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye
Kobe has always cultivated close ties with his Chinese fans, making at least one trip to the mainland each year. Each visit draws out hundreds of thousands of frenzied fans trying to get a glimpse of their legend. He’s been known to drive grown men to tears.
He is also always interested in constantly expanding his brand in China, even opening his own Taobao store earlier this year and reportedly learning some Mandarin to better interact with his customers. He also has this statue in Guangzhou.
Many Chinese fans had held out hope for years that when Bryant retired from the NBA he would sign the most lucrative contract in CBA history to play in China. However, with his current lack of legs, this prospect seems more and more unlikely.
Chinese fans have flocked to social media and Internet forums to pay tribute to Kobe’s legendary career and to remember the good times. Bryant has his own Weibo account with nearing four million followers and thanked his Chinese fans for all their support.
Here are a few heartfelt comments left by fans, via CCTV News:
Dddwlbbb says: Kobe, my memory of youth. When I was at the age of 13, I started to watch NBA games as I knew little about the sport of basketball. He will retire at 37, while I am entering the age of 32 where I have my own career. Jordan is far away and James too near. Only Kobe accompanied me through my youth. As he is to retire, my heart is welling up. 19 years have passed. He will be the only basketball player who I have affection for.
Yoti says: When I see my idol is to leave, my heart feels bruised. 12 seasons have passed since I started to watch your games, when I was in the fifth grade in school. And now I have become a father. I doubt if I can enjoy NBA games in the future without you being around. Although I am hoping you can stay on court, I respect the choice you’ve made and may you be happy. Hope you can continue to visit China frequently.
While Kobe himself admits to playing like garbage this year, the season hasn’t been with out its nostalgic moments. For instance, check out this one from Sunday night:
“Growing up means watching your heroes turn human in front of you.”