Kobe Bryant, Olympic Gold & Comics

For the past two weeks, people from around the world have been watching with intense interest the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the ultimate sports competition. One group of athletes that have been watched with particular excitement not just in the U.S. but across the globe has been America's men's basketball team. Dubbed the "Redeem Team," the players are hoping to capture the gold after a disappointing and embarrassing bronze medal finish in the 2004 Olympics games in Athens. Featuring NBA stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Jason Kidd, the team remains unbeaten thus far.

Preparing for Olympic competition requires ceaseless practice and training, and for one Team USA member, that preparation included passing the time on the 13-hour flight to Beijing with a handful of graphic novels.

Taio Iwado was closing up shop at Lee's Comics a couple of weeks back -- his last day on the job at the San Mateo, California store -- when a knock came at the door. We'll let Iwado tell the story from there.

I looked up and saw a man in a suit with a silver mustache and military cut tapping at the glass. I continued to count dimes as I politely said, "I'm sorry, sir, we closed at 8:00pm and it's already 8:30."

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He then smiled back at me and stepped aside to say, "Well... Would you open up for him?"

There he was, standing in all of his 81-Points-in-one-game glory, wearing his blue and red NBA-approved sweat suit. The dimes fell from my hand onto the counter like copper and tin rain as I gasped out a meager, "Kobe!"

Kobe, his one-man entourage and bodyguard all snickered unsurprised at my reaction as I fumbled around the counter to open the door. As I took out my keys I heard Kobe's friend say, "That's one way to get them to open up."

I opened the door and shook the hands of the three men as they entered the store and said, "Welcome to Lee's Comics, how can I help you?" I must have been working on some sort of autonomous shock setting as I spoke with Kobe, stunned that he was in San Mateo and in Lee's Comics asking him, "So what kind of stuff are you into?"

Kobe happily replied, "I'm into that dark shit. I've got a 13-hour flight to China and need something good to read." Immediately I recommended my favorite author Garth Ennis and "Preacher" to him, explaining the intricacies of the faithless Reverend Custer, his assassin girlfriend Tulip, best-friend/Irish Vampire Cassidy, and his quest to make God pay for abandoning humanity. Kobe's eyes lit up as I told him the tale of Jesse and the reasons why Preacher would change his view on comics forever.

Volumes of "Preacher" and "100 Bullets" were among the comic books Kobe Bryant read on the plane to Beijing

He chuckled, saying, "My Man!" and giving me a high-five and taking the first two "Preacher" volumes. I also helped him track down the latest volume of "100 Bullets," of which he is an avid fan, as well as "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," "Across the Universe: DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore," "Batman vs. Two-Face" and "Batman: The Joker's Last Laugh." Quite the list of well-written stories (all of which can be found at Lee's Comics).

Kobe was nothing but a gentleman and was completely down-to-earth with this simple clerk as we joked about checking for his ID as he paid with his credit card. I once again shook hands with Kobe and his compatriots as they left the store, asking to pose for a picture before he left for Olympic glory. Kobe shook my hand again giving me a pat on the back saying, "Thanks again, my man." As he got into his black Escalade with his bodyguard and NBA cohort, I felt I had accomplished all I could for the world of comics by turning Kobe Bryant onto the works of Garth Ennis and keeping him entertained as he flew into the maw of the Great Red Dragon to represent our country.

This Friday, Team USA will meet Argentina in the Men's Semifinal match-up, and are heavily favored to win. From there, Bryant and company will go for the gold on Sunday against the winner of the Spain/Lithuania match.

Special thanks to Taio Iwado and Lee Hester for allowing CBR to share this story with Kobe Bryant fans, Olympics fans, DC Comics fans and Garth Ennis fans all around the world.

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