Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash on Sunday has left many of his fans around the world devastated.
Known not only for his basketball skills but also for his attitude towards his fans, Bryant has become one of the most beloved NBA stars worldwide.
In China, where basketball is extremely popular, the talented 41-year-old player is regarded as a basketball icon.
An enduring story of Bryant’s special relationship with Chinese fans was highlighted by a Nike executive during the company’s investor day in 2015, according to Business Insider.
Addressing the crowd, Nike Vice President Jayme Martin shared an incident when Bryant was in Beijing and doing his morning workout.
“Word got out and 19,000 people showed up outside just to catch a glimpse,” Martin narrated.
“So he came out to say hi, greeted everyone, then took off his shoes, signed them, gave them away. He then took off his shirt, signed it, and gave it away.”
The gesture, Martin explained, is the reason for Bryant’s lasting appeal that transcends basketball.
“He knew these kids had come from all over the country to see him in person and he knew what a rare and special moment this was, so he made it a point to make it personal and special for them. It is why he is one of the most loved athletes in all of China.”
Bryant’s relationship with Chinese fans goes way back, the athlete revealed in an interview last year.
“I’ve been coming here since ’98 and because of that I’ve built quite a following, so it’s always fun to come back,” Bryant was quoted as saying then.
In Nike’s investor day in 2017, it was Nike CEO Mark Parker’s turn to highlight Bryant’s appeal to Chinese basketball fans.
“Kobe continues to be one of the most popular athletes in all of China,” Parker said. “It’s like … going back to the Beatles when they were on tour, the fan base is incredible. He is one of the most amazing athletes I’ve had the privilege to work with.”
Feature Image via @kobebryant