stolen high school jersey took to get home
A Kobe Bryant superfan in China has returned the NBA great’s stolen high school basketball jersey more than two years after it was swiped from a display case in Pennsylvania.
ESPN reports that Liu Zhe, of Harbin, China, acquired Bryant’s maroon and white No. 33 Lower Merion High School jersey from an online seller for roughly $2,000 in October 2018, more than a year after it was stolen along with other items from the high school in Ardmore, Pa., just outside Philadelphia.
The purchase, Liu thought, would be a great addition to his already formidable collection of Bryant memorabilia, including both of his Los Angeles Lakers uniforms (No. 8 and No. 24) and Bryant’s No. 10 USA Basketball jersey.
## ## But once it was in his possession, Liu, 28, realized he had something questionable in his hands. The jersey was removed from a display case in the high school along with Lower Merion’s 1996 boys’ basketball state championship trophy and five pairs of Bryant maroon and white Nike sneakers.
Liu originally planned to return the uniform to Bryant during the star’s visit to China on March 16 to announce the FIBA Basketball World Cup field, but he agreed to mail the jersey back to Pennsylvania after connecting with reps from the high school, ESPN reports.
A professional basketball player in China named Saiyuan Bian, who met Lower Merion’s head coach in 2014 during a training camp for the Shanxi Brave Dragons in Philadelphia, acted as a go between to get the jersey back in its rightful place.
“We reached out to Bian and said, ‘I think that this guy may be demanding a meeting with Kobe, but maybe it’s getting lost in translation,'” Lower Merion assistant coach Doug Young told ESPN. “So Bian, our friend from China, became kind of the intermediary in all of this.”
In the end, Liu asked for no compensation for the returned jersey, aside from perhaps a mention to the former Lakers great that the uniform was back in Ardmore. Liu, who previously met Bryant several times during promotional appearances in China and the United States, said he was inspired to return the jersey because of an inscription Bryant wrote him on a photograph he received during a Bryant sponsored basketball camp last year.
“He signed, ‘Dream big! Live epic! Mamba mentality,'” Liu recalled. “What I did was my ‘mamba mentality.'”
School officials received the jersey last week before turning it over to police. A detective later took it to a memorabilia shop in New Jersey, where the signature on Bryant’s jersey was deemed to be authentic.
Young hopes the good karma connected to the jersey will be a harbinger of things to come for the team ahead of the postseason, which starts Wednesday.
“I’m sure the Kobe tourists who come to Lower Merion High School to check out the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium and the trophy case will enjoy seeing the jersey again,” Young told ESPN. “For our school community, it’s certainly bigger than that we appreciate that someone was generous and willing enough to give us back a little piece of our history.”