Kobe Bryant has ranked among the most popular players in the NBA for more than 15 years now, as his legendary scoring prowess, on- and off-court charisma, affiliation with the glamorous Los Angeles Lakers and near-constant exposure to massive audiences through nationally televised games and deep playoff runs have combined to make him one the sports world's highest-profile figures. He's also done quite a bit of work over the years to extend his mega-star status into the massive and hoops-mad nation of China — he's made annual offseason trips there to meet fans and host camps, and appeared in commercials airing in the nation. He's participated in exhibition charity games and even reportedly briefly entertained the idea of playing in China during the 2011 NBA lockout. He's built a Chinese social media presence and launched multiple charitable initiatives in the Far East. And so on.
Becoming the most popular non-native NBA player in the world's most populous nation isn't easy, but Bryant's done just about whatever he can to accomplish that goal. So it's not that surprising to learn, thanks to Lakers fan Eddie Robles, that there appears to be a sculpture celebrating Bryant in the Chinese province of Guangzhou:
Now China has a full backcourt of stationary art champions. Stephon Marbury, you need no longer
walk stand perfectly still forever alone.
We don't know precisely what precipitated the commissioning, building and placement of the towering Kobe, although we do know that Guangzhou's got a famous sculpture park featuring a wide variety of pieces of both ancient and contemporary figures, so it's possible that a local artist was looking to fete one of his/her pop-cultural heroes and found a nice public spot to display the honorific. Of course, it could also be the result of some behind-the-scenes work by the Kobester to, years after the fact, finally get even with former teammate/rival and Li Ning endorser Shaquille O'Neal for having his own statue in China. The Mamba never forgets, after all; he just waits.
The early reviews on the sculpture's likeness to the 15-time NBA All-Star have been mixed, with some folks digging the facial features and others wishing there was a bit more attention to detail below the neck. Either way, this seems like a fairly reasonable jumping-off point for the inevitable statue of Bryant that will one day join Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Chick Hearn as Lakers legends immortalized in bronze outside Staples Center. (Followed years later, if Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak gets his way, by one of Dwight Howard.) It's always nice to have an example to work off, you know?
Hat-tip to Lakers Nation.