Southern California Center Gala Salutes Kobe Bryant for 'Building Bridges'

L to R: Donald Tang, Vanessa and Kobe Bryant, and China's Minister Liu Peng. (Dan Avila Photography)
L to R: Donald Tang, Vanessa and Kobe Bryant, and China's Minister Liu Peng. (Dan Avila Photography)
LOS ANGELES, June 30, 2009 – Asia Society Southern California’s 2009 Annual Gala Dinner honored Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and AEG President and CEO Timothy Leiweke. The special guest of honor was Minister Liu Peng, who headed the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and runs China’s General Administration of Sports.

More than 700 guests attended the gala held at the Beverly Hilton, including California State Controller John Chiang, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan, former NFL defensive star Jim Hill, and Houston Rockets forward Tracy McGrady.  

Dozens of reporters and photographers from ESPN, Fox, ABC, CBS, and Chinese newspapers lined the red carpet to interview Bryant, accompanied by his wife Vanessa. “It has been a privilege to work with so many young Chinese athletes, and young people around the globe,” said Bryant.  

The event featured a sit-down dinner, a silent auction, and performances by the Laker Girls and local students performing Chinese songs.

Asia Society Trustee Emeritus Thomas McLain welcomed everyone to the dinner to the sound of traditional Japanese Taiko drummers.  He highlighted the center’s past events and outlined plans to expand its programming in fashion, arts, media, and entertainment.  

Leiweke, President and CEO of AEG, received the Asia Society “Global Corporate Leadership Award.”  In keeping with the evening’s theme, “Building a Lasting Bridge of Understanding,” Asia Society Chairman Donald Tang explained Bryant was receiving the Asia Society “Global Ambassador Award” because the basketball star is deeply committed to creating goodwill and understanding between the US and China: “There are fans who do not care if he’s Italian, American, Chinese, or Japanese. They love his game, and basketball is a universal language.” Tang added, “he has more fans in China than we have people in America.”

Minister Liu Peng flew from Beijing to present the award. To further honor Bryant, Asia Society Southern California created the “Kobe Bryant China Fund” with the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, which will “bring education, sports, and health programs to children across China.”