So many emotions stir whenever Kobe Bryant visits China.
One Chinese fan interviewed on live television last year cried uncontrollably moments after seeing the Lakers star in person.
Press photos of Bryant's public appearances in China capture crowds up to 25,000 people surrounding him, shouting his name, asking for autographs and hoping to touch what they consider greatness.
And the videos of Bryant's basketball clinics in China show the fans there listening attentively and watching observingly.
The Lakers have traveled to China this week for a pair of exhibition games against the Golden State Warriors in Beijing (Tuesday) and Shanghai (Friday), a trip where the team will see first hand that Bryant's star power elicits reactions well beyond "M-V-P" chants at Staples Center.
"It's harder for me to walk around here than in the states," Bryant told reporters Monday in China. "In the States, you get a lot of recognition. They say, 'Hi.' They want autographs and pictures. But here, it's uncontrollable. They rush you and surround you to the point where you can't go out."
Some already caught a glimpse.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, a former assistant coach for the U.S. men's basketball team, witnessed the buzz Bryant attracted during opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"All you could hear was 'Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!' " D'Antoni said. "That was pretty cool. I think it really ticked off LeBron (James) and those other guys."
It didn't tick off Lakers center Chris Kaman, who played for the German national team in 2008. He laughed as he recalled hundreds of Olympic volunteers swarming Bryant.
"They are all like little puppy dogs just like holding a picture out for an autograph," Kaman said. "And they don't know how to say it (in English), so they're like, 'Photo! Photo! Sign! Sign!'"
Bryant likely has plenty of time to sign autographs.
His rehab surrounding his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon will keep him out of both exhibition games. But Bryant's likely willingness to write his signature hardly involves just passing the time.
Since first hosting a clinic here in 1998, Bryant has visited China each summer for the past eight years. His latest stop marks the second trip he's made to the country this year. That gives Bryant a platform to promote more than just the NBA Global Games, which will boast a league-record 12 teams playing 10 games in 10 cities spanning seven countries.
Bryant also hosted two meet-and-greet events Sunday in Beijing, one sponsored by Nike and the other run by the Soong Ching Ling Foundation, a charity sanctioned by the Chinese government that raises money within the country earmarked for education and health programs. Bryant also will participate in other events in Shanghai later this week. He will attend another Nike-sponsored event Wednesday, and then participate Thursday in the NBA Cares basketball clinic for the Special Olympics as well as a fan appreciation event.
"When I came out here, the reaction and passion they have for the game, it's fun to be around," Bryant told reporters in China. "It's like teaching the game and people want to learn and have a thirst for it. Because of that, I started coming back."
Each visit entails concerns about handling those among the 1.36 billion people in China who are eager to see Bryant.
Even if Bryant didn't have injuries to monitor, he wouldn't have joined the Lakers during their visit to the Great Wall on Sunday because the large number of people following him would've made it difficult to successfully navigate, this newspaper learned.
Someone who's been present at Bryant's events in China recalled a similar incident playing out in August when he visited the Terracotta Warriors in the city of Xi'an, an archaeological sight full of sculptures depicting the armies of Quin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
"Literally, all Kobe could do was walk through one section," said the source, who requested anonymity. "He couldn't go to any other section."
Bryant's presence also caused commotion in other ways.
The same source noted Bryant often threw his shoes into the crowd following an event, leaving him with only socks to walk back toward his car as legions of Chinese fans chased him. Meanwhile, those fans sometimes turned against each other.
"Kobe did a clinic and threw a jersey out into the crowd," the source recalled. "Afterwards, about seven people held onto the jersey and no one would let go."
Not that it should be surprising.
Bryant has boasted the NBA's highest-selling jersey in China for six of the past seven years. Lakers guard Marcus Landry, who played with the Shanghai Sharks from 2011-12, recalled running into people there sporting Bryant's jersey "at least two or three times a day."
Bryant's looming presence in China also helped secure endorsement deals with Smart Car, Sprite and Lenovo. His countless trips promoting Nike has helped China become the franchise's second-largest market outside of the United States, according to the shoe company.
After creating an account with Sina (the Chinese version of the social media site Twitter), Bryant's followers morphed from 325,000 in February to a current 2.1 million followers. The NBA said it has issued a high number of credentials for Chinese media for the Lakers' exhibition games in Beijing (209 reporters for 133 media outlets) and Shanghai (205 reporters for 125 media outlets).
"Because of the things I played through and the work ethic I have, I think it struck a chord with the fans out here," Bryant told reporters in China. "It's something that inspired them."
Bryant isn't speaking hyperbole. Yu Jia, a sports commentator with China Central Television (CCTV), ranked Bryant as the second-most popular athlete in China behind only Yao Ming, the former Houston Rockets center who grew up in Shanghai. Yu considers Bryant more popular than Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese descent, because of his longevity and superior talent.
"Kobe's spirit matches the Chinese tradition in believing in hard work," Yu wrote in an email. "Every morning on his China tour, Kobe would go to the fitness room before his event. Even on his private flight, he was always known to do some push-ups. He's somebody who practices so much, and the Chinese fans know and respect that."
It appears Chinese fans have respected many things Bryant has done.
They marveled at Bryant participating this summer in a chopsticks competition. Bryant wowed crowds with his basketball skill both in Team USA's gold-medal win in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and an appearance last year in an exhibition game where he scored 68 points in 15 minutes. Five years ago, Bryant even hosted "Kobe Mentu," a six-episode reality television show that entailed finalists traveling to the U.S. and learning basketball from the Lakers star.
During filming, Bryant met a 14-year-old boy named Cao Yan with spina bifida, a medical condition stemmed from parts of the spinal cord and nerves coming through the open part of the spine. According to his foundation, Bryant paid for Cao to receive life-saving treatment. In 2009, the Kobe China Fund donated five million yuan (about $732,000) to the Sichuan province for earthquake relief efforts.
For the past four years, Bryant also has overseen a Mandarin exchange program with After School All-Stars that allows 10 Chinese students to go on a five-day cultural exchange program in the U.S. The students visit various L.A. landmarks, interact with students across 37 schools in Los Angeles County and learn the ancient martial art of Wushu, considered the most popular sport in China. Meanwhile, 10 American students travel each year on a two-week tour through China.
"The big talking point Kobe always raises is to dream big and to do something you're passionate about," said Ana Campos, the president and executive director of After School All-Stars. "He often talks about taking advantage of opportunities that come your way."
Kieman Gordon, a 17-year-old senior at William & Carol Ouchi High School in downtown Los Angeles, remembers nearly every detail from two years ago when Bryant instructed him and other students during a clinic in China through a series of ball-handling and dribbling drills with the same kind of stern expectations he shows his teammates.
"Kobe was like a coach," Gordon said. "He would say, 'Pick it up," or 'That's not a good pushup.' Kobe wasn't mean. But he'd tell us if we were doing things wrong."
It appears Bryant's doing plenty of things right during his China visits.
He sounds open toward the country's culture, posting on his Instagram account this summer his efforts to write in Chinese calligraphy. Despite Bryant facing heavy thunder and rain during a charity event in Shanghai three years ago, Yu recalled the Lakers star refusing to cancel the appearance because of the heavy turnout. That same year, the Asia Society honored Bryant as a "cultural ambassador."
"Kobe's team understands that to build that brand and be embraced by any culture requires a credible comprehensive approach," said David Carter, a sports marketing consultant and executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "He's getting that with the NBA's initiatives, the Lakers' global brand and his own international business projects. That's what sets him apart. Obviously there are a lot of players who could do exactly that, but they lack the athletic prowess that Kobe has. You have to have the entire package."
With that, Bryant has impassioned a loyal legion that cries and screams at his mere arrival, making his popularity here in Los Angeles seemingly pale in comparison. ___