LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has signed a lucrative marketing agreement with Internet giant SINA.com to write a blog for their Chinese website.
The 30-year-old Bryant enjoys a huge following among the 1.3 billion people in China where his popularity rivals that of Houston Rockets star Yao Ming.
"As a kid growing up I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have this big fan base half way around the world in Beijing and Shanghai," said Bryant during a red-carpet reception Thursday at the Club Nokia bar to announce the launch of his new Chinese-language web site.
"They know everything about me and my family. We had such a great time at the Beijing Olympics. They treated us very well."
The blog will be featured on a website dedicated to Bryant and the Lakers. Under the terms of the agreement, the blog would be translated into Chinese and exclusive to SINA's readers.
"The only English version will be the one I type into my BlackBerry," said Bryant.
Upon his introduction Bryant appeared wearing a traditional Chinese-style jacket. He then stood in front of red-doored Oriental facade framed by hanging imitation firecrackers that lit up and crackled amid a swirl of confetti.
The only aesthetic glitch was the bandage over Bryant's right eye which covered a cut he sustained in a recent game against the Miami Heat that took four stitches to close.
The site will include interviews, pictures and video of Bryant. SINA and Bryant declined to reveal financial details of the agreement.
Bryant is the second National Basketball Association star to launch a website on SINA, following Chinese player Yi Jianlian. Bryant already has his own website in English, called kb24.com. SINA says 40 percent of the readers who go to its sports section are NBA fans.
SINA chief executive Charles Chao estimates there are 300 million NBA fans in China almost the entire population of the United States.
"It is hard to compare the two. But if you set aside Yao, then Kobe is the most important basketball player in China," Chao said. "He will have to come to China more often."
Bryant said he would like expand his online home and do something similar websites in other languages. A third-culture kid, Bryant was born in Philadelphia but moved to Italy at a young age where his father played professional basketball.
"We have been thinking about it," Bryant said. "I would like to do one in Italian. Italy is my home away from home. I have a great time going there to do basketball camps and I get to spend time catching up with my friends."
Bryant said growing up overseas has taught him to appreciate learning about other cultures and speaking different languages.
"I love it," he told AFP. "It is part of me. That's how I grew up. I take underprivileged kids on all-expense paid trips to Italy.
"Kids in Europe speak two languages. They get to see other cultures but our kids here in the United States don't get that.
"When I was growing up in Italy it opened up a whole new world to me and I thought anything was possible."
Except maybe learning Chinese. While Bryant is fluent in Italian, his Chinese is a work in progress.
"I am trying to learn to speak some Chinese," Bryant said. "I have a teacher who is teaching me one new word a day. But, now that I think about it, it seems like it is the same word each day."
Bryant said he's not worried about Chinese censors changing the meaning of his blog reports. Even though he won't be able to read the finished product he trusts that the translation will be accurate.
"You need to have respect for their culture and history and what their guidelines are," Bryant said.
SINA.com is the largest Chinese language information web portal with an estimated 94 million registered users.