As his team nursed a double-digit deficit, Kobe Bryant heard the legions of fans chanting his name. They wanted Bryant to come back into the game. They wanted him to lead a comeback victory. They also simply wanted to chant his name because they adore him.
This kind of episode happens all the time at Lakers' home games at Staples Center, but the circumstances on Saturday were different. Bryant was in China as part of a weeklong tour sponsored by Nike.
He participated in a celebrity charity game that also featured Chinese pop singer Jay Chou. For unknown reasons, Bryant revealed on his Facebook account, fans were able to vote through text message that the Lakers star's team trail by an additional 20 points after already facing a nine-point first-half deficit.
"I wanted to play it cool," Bryant said on his Facebook page. "But what the heck, the place was packed with fans who'd sang an early happy birthday to me and really wanted to watch me go to work."
Bryant, who turns 34 on Thursday, did just that. He scored 68 points in 15 minutes. He swiped the ball numerous times from players that lacked any dribbling drills. With the opposing players all too eager to give him a clear path to the basket, Bryant attacked with ferocity. Having every advantage in terms of height, size and skill, he tried a wide array of post moves, pull-up jumpers and ducks.
Lakers fans shouldn't look to the exhibition for any evidence about Bryant's game two weeks after the London Olympics. They should just revel it in because it looks remarkably amusing -- Bryant in essence doing an individual basketball workout in front of a nation that marvels at his every move.
"I didn't want to disappoint them or the fans that had paid their hard earned money for a show so I took the challenge of really using the second half as a training session for my stamina," Bryant wrote. "I ran and ran and ran ... They are not basketball players by any stretch of the imagination. I was just having fun with all of them and loved hearing the crowd enjoy the show we put on."
And with that, Bryant returned to the United States on Sunday, doing something that's been foreign to him most of this off-season: resting. Once that's done, the real basketball awaits.