Kobe Bryant didn’t score a single point in the Lakers’ 100-95 preseason loss Tuesday to the Golden State Warriors at MasterCard Center in Beijing. Bryant didn’t even play in the game since he’s rehabbing his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon.
But it didn’t matter.
He became the star of the night, earning the loudest cheers anytime the video scoreboard zoomed in on him and when he addressed the crowd before the game.
“I hope we put on a really great show for your guys,” Bryant said. “Hopefully I’ll get back there soon.”
The remark met plenty of applause, both because of Bryant’s presence and the Chinese fan’s apparent optimism surrounding his rehab.
“Most fans expect Kobe can recover 100%from the injury and get his sixth championship,” CCTV broadcaster Yu Jia wrote in an e-mail to this newspaper. “Other fans think he can recover, but can’t get the championship.”
In other words, the Chinese fans seem to have full faith in Bryant after visiting the country for eight consecutive years each summer to promote Nike, expand his philanthropic projects and to participate in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Kobe’s spirit matches the Chinese tradition in believing in hard work,” Yu wrote. “Every morning on his China tour, Kobe would go to the fitness room before his event. Even on his private flight, he was always known to do some push-ups. He’s somebody who practices so much, and the Chinese fans know and respect that.”
So much that Yu ranked Bryant as the second-most popular athlete in China behind only Yao Ming, the former Houston Rockets center who grew up in Shanghai. Yu considers Bryant more popular than Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese descent, because of his longevity and superior talent.
That’s why Yu said the Lakers’ 2009 Western Conference semifinals matchup with the Rockets drew the highest ratings in the station’s history. It pitted their hometown hero (Yao) against their favorite international sports figure (Bryant).
But the Chinese’s affection for Bryant goes beyond his talent and work ethic.
Despite Bryant facing heavy thunder and rain during a charity event in Shanghai three years ago, Yu recalled the Lakers star refusing to cancel the appearance because of the heavy turnout. In turn, Yu witnessed Bryant’s appearances both during the Beijing Olympics and following the Lakers’ 2010 NBA Championship over the Boston Celtics yelling endless “Kobe chants.”
“Some of the girls were crying from the beginning of the event all the way to the end,” Yu recalled about Bryant’s visit in 2010. “Some of them couldn’t even stand because they were so excited and weak.”
But many of them see Bryant as strong, intent on returning from injury to full form and leaving them more reasons to cheer. After all, the Chinese fans did so with Bryant simply sitting on the bench during an otherwise meaningless exhibition game.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org