Kobe is Beijing's Borf
Before I get nasty comments from Borf lovers, sure, a few scattered bits of magic marker do not graffiti genius make, but still, the first thing you notice when you arrive outside the hotel Team USA is staying in (well, besides the security) is the Kobe Bryant graffiti love.
Look, there's his name on an official Olympic sign! And on a fence post! And another! What fun!
As everyone knows, the USA Basketball operation has set up camp at a luxury hotel far from the Olympic village, but they still have the same Olympic security operation. So when I tried to go into the hotel, just to see if anything was cooking, I was told that I needed either a reservation or a visiting appointment made at least 24 hours in advance.
That being the case, you'd think no one would bother standing outside the metal detectors, the check-in table, the armed guards and the large perimeter fence, but you'd be wrong. When I arrived, 19-year-old Wang Yi and 25-year old Sun Yang (in UNC basketball shirt) were waiting underneath the security guard's umbrella, just kind of hanging out.
"I'm here to see if there's any chance to see the American basketball team pass by on the bus," Sun said through a translator. "I heard some other fans have been here every day and stay here all day."
We didn't see members of that all-day brigade, but a few minutes later two teenaged girls arrived. Sun and Wang had seen the Team USA bus depart earlier in the day, and they claimed to have gotten a look at Kobe through the window. They told the new arrival this storys. The new arrivals put their hands on their mouths and squealed. I asked the girls how they know which hotel to come to.
"News reports," 19-year old Mika Chen said in English. "All knows, all knows they live here."
What exactly does one do outside the Team USA hotel? Wait, mostly. I saw an agent for some of the players a few blocks away; he said whenever he leaves the hotel, kids ask him for autographs. I saw some Jamaican fans who were staying there, and asked whether the security perimeter affected their stay.
"I should say so," one woman said. "It's mad."
I saw another guest of the hotel, who described the hotel as "like a high-security jail or something." But he wasn't put off by the security, and none of the Americans I talked to minded a bit. Steve Churm and his family came from Orange County for an Olympic vacation; his 17-year old son Logan worked out next to Candace Parker in the exercise room and rode in an elevator with Coach K a few hours before the U.S. opener.
"You gonna put on a show tonight?" Logan asked the coach.
"We don't put on a show, we play as a team," Coach K said, proving that coachspeak lives even in private elevator conversations with 17-year old teenagers.
What's Team USA's neighborhood's like? There's a mall a few blocks away with a Louis Vuitton store, a Gucci store and a Salvatore Ferragamo store. And there's another luxury hotel a block away that features a lobby bar called "Plush" where you can get a can of coke for about $5.75, which is more than I've spent on any meal in the past week.
I wanted to wait with the Kobe fans and see what would happen if the bus came back, but it was oppressively hot and there was nothing to do and we ran out of NBA players' names to say to each other. "This is my job for today," Sun said of his wait, but I didn't have eight hours of that in me, so I left.
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