I was in Shanghai, a week after the end of the Olympics, when I decided on my pick for Sportsman of the Year. I was touring an old neighborhood that served as a last refuge for European Jews during World War II, and the student/guide who was pointing out historical artifacts began asking me about the experience of covering the Olympics.
Had I seen
The next thing I knew, a half-dozen Chinese teenagers were huddled around me in the balcony of a 1940s Shanghai synagogue, the apparent venue for my impromptu press conference. Yes, he liked playing against China. No, he doesn't look that much like
At this point, with his halo having enveloped me by virtue of having asked him one question, it occurred to me that
Perhaps that news hadn't traveled. Or, perhaps, like the Redeem Team he captained to the gold medal, Bryant himself has been restored, at least to some degree, both off the court and on it. Since the sexual assault case was dropped, Bryant has kept his personal life out of the tabloids. Then, last season, he finally proved himself in the absence of
As if the MVP season wasn't enough, Bryant put off surgery on a torn ligament in his pinkie to lead the U.S. to gold in Beijing, where he delighted the Chinese fans from the first game, with his half dozen dunks against the host team, to the last game against Spain, when his 13 fourth-quarter points helped secure the gold. By the end of the Olympics, Bryant had done something almost unimaginable: He had overshadowed Yao Ming on the court, and was drawing comparisons to the great
I nominate Kobe Bryant as Sportsman of the Year, because this year he became a global symbol in a globalized sports world. A lot of great American players grew up wanting to be like Mike, and we might be wise to expect an influx of Chinese players in the generation to come, many of whom got their start trying to be like Kobe.