Some of the world’s most historically significant figures, symbols and events have been immortalized in statue form: Lady Liberty in the U.S., Donatello's David in Italy, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil -- and each figure has had a uniquely profound cultural impact. In China, the country has been erecting statues of some of its modern-day heroes, too. They are American basketball players.
Most recently, a statue of Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant was discovered outside the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts’ Sculpture Museum. The statue, donning the number 24 Laker jersey, a number that has become synonymous with Bryant, and holding a basketball, can be found in the southern Guangdong province.
No one on Yahoo’s basketball blog Ball Don’t Lie is disputing that the 15-time NBA All-Star, five-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP is deserving of a statue, but many are finding the location of the statue peculiar. “When you’re a 15-time NBA All-Star, you probably deserve a statue -- maybe outside your home arena first, or in your home city, or even country, instead of halfway around the world,” Anthony Tao of China news blog Beijing Cream says.
However, as the NBA continues to gain popularity among Chinese, even after the retirement of hometown hero Yao Ming, commemorating one of the greatest players of China’s current basketball-watching generation’s time is not a surprise.
This isn’t the first time NBA players have been immortalized by the Chinese. Stephon Marbury has his very own bronze version of himself standing outside Beijing’s MasterCard Center, known locally as Wukesong, and the destination of the Beijing Ducks first-ever Chinese Basketball Association championship. Marbury, who began playing in Beijing due to the NBA lockout, was a pivotal part of winning the championship. Unfortunately for Marbury, the CBA does not award foreign players MVP awards, an honor that he surely would have won. As a result, Duck fans rallied together to show their gratitude to Marbury’s contribution to the team by immortalizing him in the form of a bronze effigy.
Bryant’s former teammate, Shaquille O’Neal, also has a statue of himself in Beijing, located at the East gate of the capital’s Chaoyang Park. The larger-than-life sculpture stands at roughly 50 feet tall and was part of an endorsement deal with Chinese athletic wear company Li-Ning.