When Kobe Bryant left the planet in a helicopter crash, the world was a very bereaved place. His daughter Gianna also met that same ugly fate.
Kobe was raised in Italy for 7 years in his childhood. No wonder, he was fluent in Italian. “Italy is my home,” he spoke to Gazetta Dello Sport, an Italian sports newspaper. He spoke at length how his ambitions grew of playing in the NBA in his Italian days. He learned shooting, passing and moving due to Italian influence.
When David Stern took over as Commissioner of NBA, his dream was to make NBA a global game. Kobe Bryant entered the NBA in 1996. At that time, the NBA was desperate for a global face. Michael Jordan’s charm was fading. When Yao Ming put the pen on the contract of Houston Rockets, NBA’s reach grew exponentially in China. Bryant fits the bill. Kobe with Shaquille O’Neal emerged as best men from the league to give it catalyst.
When he toured Beijing with the Gold medal-winning team in the 2008 Olympics, he was a celebrity. Fights for his autographs and photographs among fans were common scenes.
David Stern studied ways to popularize the league in the world. In the interest of the league and his own, Kobe accepted the new responsibility of becoming a global ambassador. No doubt, he was a global ambassador for last year’s FIBA World cup along with Yao Ming.
Kobe was most influential in East Asia. But his popularity broke all ceilings in China. Sales of his jerseys and shoes routinely hit dizzy heights in Nike’s stores. He enjoyed superstardom following his NBA wins in the most populous country in the world. He was the poster boy of the advertising industry. With Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou, he popularized ‘Sprite’ in 2011.
To amplify his reach, he frequently visited China. He was one of the most travelled stars of the league. He made promotional stops and some funny sessions for him and the NBA. He first visited China in 1998 for a basketball clinic. In 2001, he returned for Adidas. From 2006-15, he visited China every year on promotional tours of Nike. Stephen Curry came close to him in recent years but the senior maintained his charisma.
It also coincided with a few other factors. Facebook started in 2004. Twitter launched in 2006. NBA China was founded in 2008. Weibo launched in 2009. Instagram reached the public in 2010. The confluence of all these helped in the rise of Kobe’s on-court and off-court popularity.
His aura around the world can be matched by Johan Cryuff. Tributes came from all corners of the globe. Reggio Emilia was the place where he spent his years. Luca Vecchi, the mayor of that Italian city, posted her message on Facebook.
His rise made way for others. They quickly followed his footsteps. Dwayne Wade, Evan Turner, Michael Carter-Williams, CJ McCollum signed for Li Ning. Low Williams and Matthew Dellavedova got contacts from Peak. Gordon Hayward, Rajon Rondo, Kevon Looney became ambassadors of Anta.
There are some players whose aura goes beyond the game. NBA has several stars but few helped international expansion of the league like him.
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