Basketball fans around the world were heartbroken when retired NBA player Kobe Bryant, 41, passed away on January 26, 2020 due to a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. Thousands of Lakers fans gathered in Los Angeles the following week to pay tribute to the basketball icon. In light of his impressive accomplishments on and off the court—including five championships, four All-Star Game MVPs, and millions of dollars donated to charity—Bryant’s death had a major impact on the sporting world. 

It might come as a surprise, though, that the majority of Kobe Bryant admirers live not in the United States, but in China. Bryant received the title of “Cultural Ambassador” from the Asia Society and established the Kobe Bryant China Fund, a charity that donates supplies to impoverished children. Known as “Little Flying Warrior” to his Chinese fan base, he was adored by generations of basketball players and fans, who have continued to express their grief on social media since the tragedy. One hashtag on Weibo, #科比去世# (kēbǐ qùshì – #KobeDied), has accumulated six billion views and over two million engagements. Even “Xinhua,” China’s official state-run newspaper, published an article in late February calling Bryant “an inspiring player, husband, father, friend and philanthropist.” 

Kobe Bryant’s powerful legacy speaks to three cultural phenomena in China:



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Trey Sprouse