harlem globetrotters

First Chinese Globetrotter Cherishes Kobe Bryant Connection

Kobe Bryant was--and still is--his idol.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Young jaws dropped.

Resonating to the soundtrack of "Sweet Georgia Brown," Tai Chi had just met basketball, and the winner was the audience of grade school kids treated to a show by the legendary Harlem Globetrotters, featuring their first player ever from China, spinning basketballs on fingertrips, elbows, even on a little girl's plastic cat ears.

In a grand tradition that dates back nearly a full century, the touring Globetrotters still squeeze in visits to schools in the cities where they have games.

And so, in advance of Sunday's game at Staples Center, a Globetrotter crew visited Castelar Elementary in Chinatown, where bilingual students got an extra treat when the newest Globetrotter star, Shan "Lucky" Jiang, spoke to them in his native Mandarin.

"They're so excited," said sixth grade treacher Yu Qui Situ. "When Lucky made his presentation to them in Chinese, they understood. They were amazed."

"Mind-boggling" was the adjective used by 5th grader Patrick Lei to describe the show.

Lots of fun and games, but also more: Jiang and two teammates brought a gentle and age-appropriate presentation on deterring bullying.

There was also talk of inspiration.

Jiang revealed much of his came from an American basketball player who had often traveled to China. Jiang recalls being fortunate enough to meet him three times, and even perform for him.

Kobe Bryant was--and still is--his idol, Jiang said. During Sunday's game inside what's come to be called "the House That Kobe Built," Jiang and all his teammates will wear Bryant's number 24.

That Bryant marveled at Jiang's freestyle tricks is something he will always cherish; more so, what he learned from Kobe.

"Hard work and perseverance," was the translation provided by NBC4 News photographer Kristopher Li, who is a native of Beijing like Jiang.

Jiang's big break came last fall when, at age 37, he accepted an offer to join the Globetrotters and move to the United Stations.

"We're so excited to have Lucky. He's amazing," said Globetrotter Briana "Hoops" Green, herself no slouch at fancy dribbling, trick passing, and balancing spinning basketballs.

Green and fellow Globetrotter Shane "Scooter" Christensen said Jiang's ball handling skills are tailor-made for the "magic circle" pre-game show--accompanied by the jazzy "Sweet Georgia Brown" theme--that has been a mainstay of Trotter performances for decades.

Jiang's command of English is a work in progress, but teammates say they have no trouble communicating with him.

"It's Globetrotter language," said Christensen. "We got it."

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