Kobe in China

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column-rick olivaresTHAT column by Marc J. Spears in Yahoo! Sports just set the basketball world on fire. Spears asked Stephon Marbury about his fellow National Basketball Association (NBA) 1996 batch mate (ouch, that sounds like a lifetime ago) playing pro ball if his swan song should be in China. And Marbury, who has found a second lease in his basketball life playing for the Beijing Ducks in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), said a mouthful to Spears: “They love him here. It is a little past love. It would be like the biggest thing ever in basketball here. It would be beyond huge. Beyond big. I would definitely encourage it. They love basketball here. You can’t control the excitement.”

And you know…why not?

It will be good for the world game. Kobe can still play as he is averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 23 games, while logging 30 minutes for the Los Angeles Lakers. While he isn’t as dominant as before, he can still contribute in a huge capacity.

While it is expected that Bryant will try to seek a slot on the United States National Team for the Rio Olympics, I am not so sure that he should even bother with that. The face of the US game is changing and it’s time to let the younger players earn that chance. If they can give us a new cast and a new direction with Star Wars then so should the American team. As for China…that’s something else.

Aside from the megabucks that will be paid, he will cast a spotlight on the Asian game. It will help improve the level of play in the CBA as Chinese players will learn from Bryant’s legendary work ethic, as well as his style.

For the second straight season, there are over 100 foreign players playing their trade in the NBA. That means over a quarter of the players in the world’s best pro league were born outside the United States (although a few come from the US Commonwealth). There hasn’t been a Chinese player in the NBA since Yi Jianlian returned to the CBA in 2012.

Chinese fans reportedly now root for Jeremy Lin and Emmanuel Mudiay. Lin, of Taiwanese heritage, has had a downhill career after Linsanity took root with the New York Knicks. Mudiay, the Congo native, played high-school ball in Texas but opted not to go to college but to play in China. After a year with the Guangdong Southern Tigers, Mudiay was drafted seventh overall by the Denver Nuggets during the first round of the 2015 Draft.

For the longest time, NBA basketball has fed and inspired the world until foreign players began taking their game Stateside. Over the years, many NBA veterans have gone on to play in China, not necessarily to extend their careers but also because they felt more comfortable playing abroad. Aside from Marbury, Steve Francis, Gilbert Arenas, Tracy McGrady, Al Harrington, Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Aaron Brooks and Shavlik Randolph, to name a few, have gone over.

But there hasn’t been anyone of Bryant’s pedigree; someone who is a certified star and Hall-of-Famer.

You can look at how Major League Soccer (MLS) has become a huge pro sports league in the United States. While many misguidedly view the MLS as where aging European stars go to collect one last paycheck, the quality of the game has vastly improved. They are the fifth major sports league in North America and they have been playing to packed houses.

CBA and Asian hoops? It can only benefit for the attention and game that Bryant will bring.