Jordan Strauss/Associated Press
A 28-year-old man in China recently returned a Kobe Bryant jersey to Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, more than two years after it and other items were stolen from a display case.
According to ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, Liu Zhe said he bought the jersey from an online seller in October 2018 for $2,000. Liu is an avid Kobe fan who added the jersey to his collection of Bryant memorabilia.
Liu later became suspicious that he was in possession of a stolen jersey, so he reached out to a representative for Lower Merion’s basketball team. After making the connection, he mailed it back.
The jersey was then taken to a local memorabilia shop, where the signature on the uniform was confirmed to be authentic.
Liu originally planned to give Bryant the jersey personally at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup draw in Shenzhen, China, on Saturday. Instead, he sent it back to the school and asked for no compensation.
Despite wanting to hand Bryant the jersey, Liu said he was inspired by something Kobe wrote on a photo of the two of them from a Bryant-sponsored basketball camp in Los Angeles in 2018.
Kobe autographed the photo and wrote, “Dream big! Live epic! Mamba mentality,” to which Liu said, “What I did was my ‘mamba mentality.'”
Liu added that his only hope is for Bryant to know that the jersey has been recovered before he makes his trip to China.
The investigation regarding the other stolen items is ongoing, but Lower Merion assistant coach Doug Young—a teammate of Bryant’s at Lower Merion—knows people will be happy to see the jersey back on display:
“I’m sure the Kobe tourists who come to Lower Merion High School to check out the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium and the trophy case will enjoy seeing the jersey again. For our school community, it’s certainly bigger than that—we appreciate that someone was generous and willing enough to give us back a little piece of our history.”
Bryant’s No. 33 was retired at Lower Merion after he scored 2,883 points during his high school career from 1992 to 1996.
Following his success at Lower Merion, Bryant went straight to the NBA, where he was an 18-time All-Star and five-time champion across 20 seasons, all of which were spent with the Los Angeles Lakers.