Kobe Bryant to Appear on Chinese Reality Show (Exclusive)

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Kobe Bryant

The show features Chinese celebrities engaging in basketball-related challenges against Mongolian strongmen, "Thai warriors" and the Court Kingz, the popular U.S. dwarf basketball team.

Kobe Bryant is exploring new opportunities overseas. The recently retired Los Angeles Lakers legend is set to appear on the debut episode of The Players, a new Chinese reality show.

Produced by Shanghai-based Dragon TV, The Players is an original reality format designed to tap into China's burgeoning love of basketball. The show features a group of celebrity contestants who face off in various basketball-related challenges against rival teams described by the show as qipa, a popular Chinese slang term roughly meaning "strange" or "unusual."

Among the example qipa teams listed in the show's decidedly non-PC promotional materials are a wheelchair basketball team, a street fighter team, an "American little giant team" (the popular New York-based dwarf basketball team Court Kingz), Mongolian strongmen, Thai warriors and a South Korean running team. If the celebs lose three games, they are eliminated and forced to engage in an intense training regimen of some kind.

Ever since Yao Ming entered the NBA draft in 2002, basketball has been a growing phenomenon in China. The NBA estimates that there are now over 300 million people who play basketball in the country — a number nearly equal to the entire population of the U.S.

Bryant, with Nike's support, has made a concerted effort over the past decade to engage his Chinese fans — and they adore him for it. No Western sports star has inspired quite the same level of adulation in China as Xiao Fei Xia (小飞侠), or the "Little Flying Warrior," as the "Black Mamba" is known locally.

According to Dragon TV — which is a subsidiary of Shanghai Media Group, a giant of the Chinese entertainment sector — Bryant will shoot his first episode in China later this month, and the premiere is set to air sometime in mid-July. The broadcaster said it is unclear at this stage whether Bryant will participate in further episodes. Dragon TV reps also declined to elaborate on what his appearance will entail, although they said Taiwanese star Jay Chou and Chinese actor Liu Ye also would take part in the episode.

"The participation of Kobe is going to inspire Chinese young people to play basketball, while conveying the beauty of sports," Zhou Jie, public relations director for Dragon TV, said in a statement.

Chinese basketball heroes Yi Jianlian and Yao will make special appearances on the show to dispense tips and provide inspiration. The Players' first celebrity team will include Chinese actors Huang Zhizhong and Su Xing, and Taiwanese stars Jam Hsiao and Chen Chien-chou. All of the contestants are said to have played basketball competitively at some point in their lives. Wang Fei, who played on the 1988 Chinese Olympic basketball team and later coached the Chinese national team, will serve as the show's resident coach.