The Olympian: On Monday, Apirut and Apichok Saekow left Bangkok, Thailand, on Thai Airlines Flight 960. In his checked Fila athletic bag, Apirut had packed a smaller Adidas bag. Inside that one was the reason for their trip.
Then, Apirut brought it out: A Kobe Bryant Nike Uptempo basketball shoe. First series.
“Just to have a look at him – that is my dream,” said Apirut, who runs an Internet cafe in Bangkok with his brother. “Just to see him. Chat, chat. Anything with him.”
Brother Apichok wore a white jersey that read “Los Angeles” on the front and “Bryant” on the back. It was a knockoff. Instead of the traditional Lakers purple and gold, the lettering was light blue.
“I just want to see him one time – it’s OK,” Apirut said. “He inspire me.”
While going to the gate at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium where they heard the U.S. men’s team might drive in for Tuesday night’s game with Angola – “Somebody told me North Gate,” Apirut said – the brothers ran into a kindred spirit. Wan, an 18-year-old who arrived in Beijing three years ago from North Korea, now a university student, stood by the gate with a camera hanging from her wrist. She explained her presence using the only English word she seemed to know.
“Kobe,” said Wan, who didn’t want to give her last name.
At this Olympics, Bryant is the matinee idol, inspiring rapture with a wave of his hand. Michael Phelps can win eight gold medals. Let Tyson Gay become the world’s fastest human. They’re all cruising in Kobe’s wake. In describing the mass shrieks and screams every day, his teammates use Beatles comparisons.