The Los Angeles Lakers are currently in China for two preseason games against the Golden State Warriors. For most of the players, this is their first trip to the country and have already visited the Great Wall of China which unfortunately resulted in Chris Kaman injuring his finger while tobogganing.
For Mike D’Antoni, this is his second trip to China in recent years as he was an assistant coach for the US Men’s National Basketball team that won Gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While he would rather have his Lakers bond back home, D’Antoni shared his best memory of China via ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin:
“Probably the biggest one was when we walked into the stadium as a contingent, USA, and you had to march for about a quarter of a mile and they were three deep (surrounding us) – the Chinese were lined up, all workers, volunteers and probably fans – and when 550 athletes were marching, all you could hear was, ‘Ko-be! Ko-be!’”
While D’Antoni thought it was a cool experience, he believes it really ticked off LeBron James and the rest of the team to hear the fans chant Kobe’s name:
“That was pretty cool. I think it really ticked off LeBron (James) and those other guys (laughing), they go, ‘Wait a minute, am I minced meat?’ But, it was pretty cool.”
It must have been an eye-opening experience for these players that thought they would all receive loud cheers from the fans once they entered the stadium. Although most of the players on the 2008 team were at least All-Stars, they clearly didn’t realize how popular Kobe was in Asia, especially in China.
At the time, Bryant was one of the few players in the NBA who actually traveled to the country and gained a massive and loyal fan base. Since Beijing, some players like LeBron James have traveled to Asia, but clearly aren’t as popular as Kobe.
Kobe Bryant Was Asked If He’ll Play Opening Night. Find Out What He Said