Millions of fans around the world are mourning the recent death of NBA All-Star, philanthropist, and Oscar-winning filmmaker Kobe Bryant. Drafted for the Lakers immediately out of high school, Bryant quickly became an one of the sport's legendary players - 18-time NBA All-Star, Olympic gold medalist, and the 4th highest scorer in NBA history, among other achievements, with a reputation for persistence, discipline, and a tireless work ethic.
A hometown hero and L.A. icon, Bryant also attracted an enormous international fanbase, particularly in China. Basketball is hugely popular China, and Kobe Bryant, affectionately nicknamed Xiao Fei Xia (小飞侠), or "Little Flying Warrior," is by far the most beloved Western athlete, with over 9 million followers on the Chinese social blogging site Weibo. Bryant actively engaged with his fans online, most recently posting a video wishing his "dear friends in China" a Happy Chinese New Year. He also made multiple trips to China, calling it his "second home". After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bryant founded the Kobe Bryant China Fund, which sponsored youth sports, education, and cultural programs in China.
In the summer of 2011, the UCLA Confucius Institute partnered with the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to bring eleven American students to China for two weeks to study Mandarin and Chinese culture through the L.A. After-School All-Stars program. Kobe Bryant flew out to Shanghai and met with the students at the U.S. Consulate, where he gave an inspiring talk about how his own experience living abroad as a child gave him a broader perspective on the world and helped him understand other cultures. "I just want the youth to have the same feelings I had growing up," he said of his support for study-abroad opportunities like the After School All-Stars. For some students, this was their first opportunity to travel overseas, made possible by Bryant's foundation's generous support.
As news broke of the tragic accident, Chinese social media platforms flooded with messages of grief and tributes to Kobe Bryant - the Little Flying Warrior who inspired generations fans around the world.