Basketball fans in China have been tearing up and paying tribute after NBA star Kobe Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the end of the current season.
In a first-person story titled “Dear Basketball” on The Players’ Tribune website on Sunday, the 37-year-old LA Lakers star offered a rather poetic farewell message. “This season is all I have left to give,” wrote Kobe, adding that the sport had given “a six-year-old boy his Laker dream.”
“I fell in love with you. A love so deep I gave you my all. From my mind and body, to my spirit and soul,” he wrote.
“But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye… thank you for this incredible journey,” added Bryant.
Kobe was drafted out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, but was traded to the Lakers, which is where he stayed throughout his career. Over the years, he emerged as a stalwart of the game, earning a reputation as an ambassador for basketball around the world.
His career has been littered with accomplishments, including two Olympic gold medals, five NBA championships with the Lakers, an NBA MVP and 17 NBA All-Star selections.
The Lakers star has also scored a staggering 32,000-plus points in his over two decade long career so far, with the 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in January 2006 still ranking as the second-best in NBA history.
“Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement, following Bryant’s announcement. “I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”
For millions of Chinese basketball fans, the was shocking, with sports websites and discussion forums filled with fans paying tribute.
Over the past decade, Bryant has also taken steps to tap into the Chinese market and help nurture young talent in the country.
His visits to China have almost always include thousands of frenzied fans gathering to get a glimpse.
He is also among the many celebrities that have started online stores in China. Just a few months ago, in August to September of 2015, it was reported that he was also learning Chinese in order to interact with customers who had left comments on his store Kobe Inc. on Taobao, a Chinese e-commerce platform.
He had also signed a deal with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and web portal Sina, to promote the domestic release of his documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse.
For observers of the game, the fan frenzy around Bryant in China has been wondrous. This is how popular sports website Bleacher Report described the reactions that he gets in China, while they covered his August 2015 visit to the country.
“Kobe Bryant in China is a traveling Beatles concert wrapped inside a Muhammad Ali title defense. He is a basketball Lollapalooza with a Tomorrow World on top. He is hardwood Tom Cruise.”
That popularity is reflected on social media too, where Bryant’s Sina Weibo account boasts of more than three million followers, and many of his fans have also set up fan pages. Many of those people are today paying tribute to the star, recalling the very personal connection that they’ve enjoyed with him over the years.
Dddwlbbb wrote: “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.”
Bonawu wrote: “When I was freshman in university in 2009, I had gotten out of the university and flew to Los Angeles to watch your games when you were invincible on the court. Time flies, my son is learning to walk. I will take my family to watch your last game!”
Yoti wrote: “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.”
Story by CCTV News