As a Lakers fan, you always hear about how much of an international following the team has, mainly because of Kobe Bryant.
But for a long time, I never thought that the people in other countries watched as many NBA games as fans do in the United States. But then, I saw this video of Kobe in Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics:
I was floored.
“Holy crap, the people in this crowd love Kobe even more than I do!”
I think of myself as a top-tier Kobe fan, but the people in the crowd cheering for him put me to shame.
A few years after watching this video, something else happened to help me come to the conclusion that as a Lakers and Kobe fan, I am a part of an international community. This happened in 2016 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa.
In December 2015, I went with a small group of volunteers in my cohort to Mozambique to celebrate New Years Eve. We spent almost two weeks staying in Airbnbs and hostels along the coast of Mozambique.
December and January are summer months in the Southern Hemisphere, so I was on the beach about 80 percent of the trip. My friends will tell you I hate going to the beach in Southern California — a cardinal sin, I know — due to the cold Pacific Ocean water, but the Indian Ocean is one of the warmest bodies of water I have ever been in. Each time you go it, it feels like stepping into a warm bath.
It was paradise.
And since we were in a touristy area, there were beach volleyball games going on all the time. I am a huge fan of beach volleyball, but do not get to play it very often due to my aforementioned dislike of the beach.
One day, my friend and I decided to join in on a pick-up volleyball game with tourists from all around the world. I joined the team with the two best players, Portuguese guys in their 30s.
For these two guys, this was not a casual game. They gave their best effort and talked a lot of smack. But they were also pretty funny people who used jokes to practice their english.
“KOBE,” one of the guys yelled as he did a full-stretch dive for the ball.
I was surprised at first to hear a phrase I have often heard on basketball courts in Southern California all the way in southwestern Africa. I was excited to meet someone who knew about Kobe and joked, “if you were Kobe doing that, you probably would have torn an ACL.”
I know that sounds mean coming from a fan, but by Kobe’s last season, he was dealing with a bunch of injuries that he has miraculously played through for a few seasons. Plus, he was just coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon the previous season, after tearing his ACL in 2013. The joke was a way to show my teammate that I also like the NBA.
The guy got up immediately, looked me in the eye and said, “don’t talk shit on Kobe.”
It wasn’t in an overly aggressive way, but I could tell he really did not like my comment.
I was both surprised and proud to see this Portuguese guy in Mozambique defend The Black Mamba. Kobe is an international icon and I saw proof of that with my own two eyes.
I had to explain to him that I was indeed a Lakers fan from Southern California and that Kobe was my favorite player. After spouting out a few factoids, I finally convinced him that I was not trying to disrespect Kobe and we became friends. We discussed our favorite Lakers moments for about an hour throughout the rest of the games and they we went our separate ways.
In that one instance, two strangers from different parts of the world became friends and it was solely because of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Moments like this are why I will always be proud to be a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers.