This article also appears on ChinaFile, a Tea Leaf Nation partner site.
Tea Leaf Nation editor David Wertime spoke today on Public Radio International’s The World about NBA star Kobe Bryant (@KobeBryant), who has recently opened an account on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. The full two-minute interview is available above.
Bryant has been a beloved figure in China for years, and it’s not surprising that his Weibo account has already amassed 200,000 followers since being opened just yesterday.
Many of China’s younger, more educated Internet users can likely understand relatively straightforward English language tweets, but they may lack confidence to reach out in that language. A Kobe Bryant fan Weibo account called “Kobe’s Home Weibo” (@科比之家微博), which has over 200,000 followers of its own, has volunteered to translate posts from Chinese into English to help netizens communicate with the NBA star.
Other American celebrities on Weibo often use English exclusively, or at least more than they do Chinese, so fans are not taking any chances, tagging their posts with the English-language hashtag #I want to speak to Kobe#. One wrote, “Finally, you set up your microblog account, I am so excited. The furthest distance in the world is not between you and me, but when you open a micro blog and I cannot speak English.”
Time will tell how engaged Kobe chooses to become with his adoring online audience in China. Bryant has been tweeting from the official Nike Weibo account since February 9, and just hours ago issued his first tweet from his own account: “Valentine’s day sneaks ready to break Clippers hearts. Big game tonight.” That tweet alone, which accompanies an image of Bryant with a pair of red sneakers, has already been shared over 25,000 times. If early response is any indication, he will have little trouble finding eager interlocutors in Chinese cyberspace.