Beverly Hills, California – The speakers blared, confetti streamed, fans yelled and players exclaimed with passion. All the while, Kobe Bryant walked off the parquet floor of Boston’s TD Bancnorth Garden as the Celtics celebrated its 17th franchise title.
That was June 2008. How much things have changed in 12 months.
What started with an enthralling patriotic victory during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China, Bryant completed a rigorous year of victory –- winning a gold medal in China and then an NBA Championship -– with an honor bestowed upon him by The Asia Society at its annual gala dinner on June 30th.
Just moments after announcing he would not opt out of his current contract with the Lakers, Bryant accepted the Global Ambassador Award by The Asia Society at the Beverly Hilton here in Beverly Hills, California.
“I am honored to receive this award from The Asia Society,” Bryant said. “It has been a privilege to work with so many young Chinese athletes and young people around the globe. Sports truly is a universal language, and bringing together the youth of China and the United States through basketball is extremely rewarding.”
Bryant was among several key guests attending the sit-down dinner event. Also attending was Tim Lieweke, CEO of AEG, an event sponsor; Liu Peng, head of China’s General Administration of State Sports and president of the Chinese Olympic Committee; sportscaster and former NFL defensive star Jim Hill; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villagairosa; and Houston Rockets star and Yao Ming-teammate Tracy McGrady.
In addition to the sit-down dinner and honor bestowed upon Bryant, there was also a silent auction featuring sports memorabilia and luxury jewelry donated by Nubeo, maker of Bryant’s Black Mamba watch collection. Also, the Laker Girls performed a dance number during the event.
As part of the honor to Bryant, the Asia Society designated a new fundraising entity in Kobe’s honor, entitled the Kobe Bryant China Fund. In announcing the fund, Asia Society Southern California chairman Donald Tang said the new collaborative money-raising effort would help establish goodwill and increase understanding between China and the United States.
“The newly-created Kobe Bryant China Fund will support and collaborate in the efforts of China’s Soong Ching Ling Foundation to bring education, sports and health programs to children across China,” Tang said during the dinner.
In conjunction with the honor, the Kobe Bryant Family Foundation announced it is about to launch a Mandarin-language program in conjunction with After School All-Stars. The new partnership aims to teach American youth of Chinese language skills and culture.
After promoting increased awareness of Sino-U.S. relations, Bryant also took a few moments to declare Los Angeles his “home” and spoke of seeking his fifth NBA championship here. Also, the basketball star presented a pair of his new gold-and-blue colored sneakers to Minster Peng.
In addition to honoring athletes, The Asia Society also recognizes some of the world’s top entertainers. For example, in January 2009, the organization hosted a musical program featuring famed Indian performer Anoushka Shankar. They also organize several events themed around Indian arts, culture and entertainment.
Photos Courtesy of Tejas Padhiar