BEIJING – Some perspective on the global reach of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers:
A young lady called me by name at the Great Wall of China and asked to take a picture with me.
At the Great Wall of China.
Sunday was one of the most interesting days I’ve had with this team I’ve tracked for the past 14 years.
I signed autographs—a lot of them—outside the Lakers’ team hotel before going to the Great Wall. I posed for so many photos with delighted fans that the last person to get one said, “You’re very nice,” for me doing so many. Some other Lakers reporters on hand were so amused that they began snapping photos of the crush around me.
For my part, it was really quite fun, interacting with people in a different way than ever before in this job. I mean, autographs? Really?
I’ve had Chinese media covering the Lakers in the States tell me before that I have a big following in China and Taiwan, which I did not entirely believe, because of the combination of my ethnicity and the Lakers’ popularity.
Sunday was some proof. When I approached Bryant in a private moment before he headed to practice Sunday morning, he looked at all the Asian faces behind me and quipped to me with a grin: “No autographs. No pictures.”
I told him that the fans had been asking for autographs and pictures from me, and he actually didn’t seem too surprised. Bryant also told me he felt “pretty good” health-wise. He could be seen doing some dribbling shortly thereafter at Lakers practice, albeit remaining the only player who did not take full part in the workout at Beijing’s MasterCard Center.
But enough about him! Can’t he just let me have my day in the sun?
Maybe, actually. Bryant skipped the team excursion to the Great Wall and saved us all what would’ve been an incredible injury risk on those old, broken stone steps with a fan mob going crazy. It wasn’t ideal footing anyway for Bryant’s healing Achilles tendon to hike up the stony hill at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.
Kobe or no Kobe, some fans tried to guess that the Lakers would go to the closer and most popular section of the Great Wall (Badaling). They only missed by about an hour’s drive.
That’s just one indication of how big China is. For the record, there are 1.36 billion people in China compared to 315 million in the United States.
This place is massive—and massively far from home.
Yet there was someone there on that Great Wall who sort of knew me.
With the Lakers, it’s a big small world.
Kevin Ding is the Los Angeles Lakers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. He has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Lakers for the Orange County Register since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.