LeBron James shared his memories with Kobe Bryant during the Beijing Olympics. The Kobe brand is arguably bigger than even Jordan in China today.
During Bryant’s first tournament with Team USA, for the Beijing Olympics, the team witnessed first hand the kind of work he put in. They also saw how rabid his fans were.
Kobe was the most recognizable US-based athlete in the world at the time. He had fans all over the globe eagerly awaiting his next shoe release.
How LeBron James was awed by fanfare for Kobe Bryant in China
The popularity of basketball in China took a tremendous leap when Yao Ming was drafted by the Rockets in 2002. The big man paved the way for penetration of the league into the most populous country on the planet.
LeBron James had conceded before the 2008 Olympics that Kobe’s fandom is China and all around the globe as unparalleled and that he felt like he himself wasn’t famous enough.
LeBron James In 2008: ‘I Thought I Was Famous Until I Got To China With Kobe.’ https://t.co/b5Xkmigh3M
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) October 21, 2020
According to a report by ESPN, fans were eager to find a new Basketball god to worship after the retirement of Michael Jordan. With Kobe’s playing style modelled around Jordan, it was easy to adore him, as for the fans, nothing had essentially changed in the player that they were watching.
Moreover, Yao Ming’s rise meant that Basketball fever was growing all around China and Kobe Bryant emerged as the man who was ruling it all around the globe.
China’s love for the NBA coincided with the rise of Kobe Bryant and hence his popularity in the country was unparalleled.
Therefore, it is hardly surprising that even a cultural icon from his teens like LeBron was stunned by the Chinese adulation for Kobe.