What does Kobe Bryant mean to Japan's basketball culture?

Simply put, he was the most popular player here since Michael Jordan retired for good in 2003. He was the biggest star of the 21st century, and the player whose presence was missed the most at the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship in Japan.

From Hokkaido to Okinawa, he was a fan favorite throughout his Hall of Fame pro career in the nation from whence his first name derived — in reference to Kobe's famed wagyu beef.