Turns out Alibaba founder Jack Ma really is a Lakers fan — or certainly a Kobe Bryant fan. Last October, China’s richest man was spotted courtside at the Lakers’ season opener, sandwiched between WME chiefs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, during a week in which he made highly-publicized rounds of Hollywood. Today, some of what was perhaps percolating on that trip has become clear. Ma’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has entered into a wide-ranging agreement with Lakers star (and WME TV client) Bryant via his Kobe Inc start-up. The deal will include the distribution of documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse as well as the creation of a series of branded products. Those products will be sold through Alibaba’s retail platforms including Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com which have over 350M active buyers in the Middle Kingdom.
The feature-length Muse, which aired on Showtime in February, and was helmed by Gotham Chopra, will be released by Alibaba Group exclusively through its Tmall Magic Box on August 8. Bryant calls it “an intimate look at who I am as a person, not what I am. My dream is that others are inspired by my personal story and create epic life stories of their own.”
Basketball is hugely popular in China — Bryant himself has over 3M followers on the Middle Kingdom’s Twitter-like social media platform, Sina Weibo. To promote Muse, Alibaba will collaborate with Sina and Kobe Inc to create an entirely new social media platform to connect more young people directly to Bryant and his philosophies.
He and Ma actually met back in 2009 when the player visited Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou for a business event hosted by the e-commerce firm. At the time, Ma said, “Business should be about having fun, just like playing basketball.” Bryant said of Ma, “We just hit it off,” according to the South China Morning Post.
The legendary All-Star, who may be playing his last season with the Lakers beginning later this year, founded Kobe Inc in 2013 to “share the journey of others to unlock potential by being the leading global network of inspiration that provides content, products and services to youth.”
The series of Bryant-branded products will be created in conjunction with Alibaba film division Alibaba Pictures. Ma said he hopes the deal with Bryant will encourage young people across China “to dream big and reach for their potential.” Calling Bryant “an innovative entrepreneur who has established a legacy that extends far beyond the basketball court,” Ma added that he can bring “a positive impact to the players and fans of basketball in China.”