Basketball fans in China were the first to get a taste of Kobe Bryant as a TV analyst for an NBA game, as the Lakers star gave pregame and postgame commentaries from Los Angeles on Game 3 Tuesday night between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
Bryant’s appearance on Sina Sports’ livestream NBA broadcast came after he recently formed a partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and the sports channel of Chinese Internet portal Sina. Kobe told Chinese fans that his documentary, “Kobe Bryant Muse,” which premiered stateside in February, would be coming to China soon and that he would be launching a dedicated website with Sina Sports.
Bryant came to a temporary studio setup by Sina Sports in Los Angeles and sat down with Chinese host Huang Shuo. When Huang nervously asked him to greet the “6 billion” basketball fans in China — only a slight exaggeration — Bryant calmly waved toward the camera and said “Ni hao! Ni hao!” which means “Hello” in Mandarin.
Bryant is well-known to Chinese fans and appears to be aiming to boost his popularity in the country as speculation grows that his NBA career is nearing its end. He has traveled to China every summer since playing in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. When the Lakers played preseason games in China in October 2013, Bryant traveled with the team despite being unable to play following his Achilles injury.
His presence was the biggest attraction of those two preseason games, with his every move on the sidelines receiving louder ovations from the fans than the actions on the court.
Bryant’s inaugural TV analysis Tuesday appeared to be well- received; over 78% of 12,800 fans voted “yes” in an online poll asking whether Bryant’s analysis was professional. The remaining 22% chose the answer, “I just came here to admire my god, it doesn’t matter if it’s professional or not.”
Bryant has about 3.5 million followers on Sina’s social media platform Weibo.com, and his appearance on Sina’s livestream NBA broadcast generated strong buzz. The three messages Bryant posted on Weibo about the broadcast received 9,347 comments; among the most popular was “Kobe is the most handsome.”
“I’m really angry when I saw Cavaliers won the game, but after watching your commentary at the end, I felt much better,” said a commentator from Xiangyang, Hubei, province. “Although I couldn’t understand what you said, just seeing you is enough. I can’t wait for the next season!”
In his opening statement, Bryant said both the Cavs and Warriors had been jittery in the first two games.
“In the first two games, both teams are in the excitement of getting to the finals. I think both of them were a little nervous to trust the system,” he said. “Because when you’re on that big stage, you want to make sure that you do everything right and tend to forget how to trust the system that got you there. I saw a lot of nerves.”
He noted that the Cavs' defense had looked a bit weak and that the Warriors needed to defend LeBron James better.
“Golden State will have to figure out how to defend LeBron on the mid-post, the elbow isolations, because he’s given them all kinds of problems from that,” he said. “Not necessarily scoring the ball, but creating double teams and getting shooters open shots on the weak sides.”
Though the Warriors ended up falling 96-91 to the Cavs, Bryant said the team was more “well-rounded and versatile” than Cleveland. He urged young Warriors players Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to “figure out how to shake loose at the start of the game.” He noted that lack of experience may have led them to become hesitant on a big stage like the NBA Finals.
“These guys gotta go back to playing the style of basketball that got them to the Finals, which is ball movement, moving off the ball, get layups at the rim and take their shots,” he said.
“Golden State should win. But they can’t play tentatively. They can’t play scared. You’ve got to step up and meet the challenge,” he said. “You really have to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you want to step up to this challenge. Right now, for Cleveland and LeBron, it seems they want it a lot more.”
Bryant gave a little update on his shoulder injury, saying he’s expected to start shooting the basketball in a month and a half.
“The strength of my shoulder is getting better and better by the day,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be shooting the ball in a month and a half. Then I feel like the fish has been put back in the water.”
And Bryant indicated that he plans to stay close to the game when his playing days are over.
“I wish I could play 20 more years. But I think there’re other fun things that we can do,” he said. “Stay close to the game and continue this great relationship that we’ve forged over the years. Teaching the game more. Teaching some more philosophies.”
On top of debuting his “Kobe Bryant Muse” film on July 31 in China, with an entire new chapter created especially for the market, the Lakers’ star also plans to launch a store on Alibaba’s Tmall.com to sell products inspired by the film.
Tommy Yang works in The Times’ Beijing bureau.