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March 13, 2019

Chinese man returns Kobe Bryant's stolen Lower Merion High School jersey

Theft Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant lower merion jersey Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

A replica of Kobe Bryant's Lower Merion High School jersey – the NBA great seen above in a file photo from 2018 – which had been stolen from a display at the school, has been returned by a collector in China who had bought the item online for more than $2,000.

More than two years after burglars swiped Kobe Bryant memorabilia from a display case at Lower Merion High School, one of the future Hall of Famer's missing jerseys has been safely returned — from China.

Lower Merion police had launched an investigation in February 2017 when items of "sentimental importance" were stolen from a display at his Main Line alma mater. Bryant went went straight from graduating high school in 1996 to the NBA.

The missing items included Bryant's framed high school replica jersey, the 1996 PIAA Boys Basketball State Championship trophy, a net from that championship game and five pairs of Bryant's signed Nike sneakers.

Authorities released surveillance photos of two suspects in the investigation, but still no arrests have been made.

A report from ESPN on Wednesday confirmed that Bryant's No. 33 jersey was returned to Lower Merion High School by a superfan in China who purchased the stolen item online for approximately $2,000.

Liu Zhe, 28, of Harbin, China, said he purchased the jersey to add to his collection of Bryant memorabilia, which includes the superstar's Lakers jerseys (Nos. 8 and 24) and his No. 10 USA Basketball jersey.

While Liu did not demand any compensation for the jersey, Lower Merion head coach Gregg Downer reportedly said he believed Liu may have been seeking a personal meeting with Bryant, whom he's met in the past. Liu had intended to return the jersey to Bryant on Saturday when he visits Shenzhen to announce the draw for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

To prevent any misunderstanding, Downer coordinated with Chinese professional basketball player Saiyuan Bian to act as an intermediary in recovering the jersey.

Lie said he was inspired to return the jersey because of a note Bryant had written to him on of the occasions the two had previously met each other.

"Dream big! Live epic! Mamba mentality," Bryant reportedly wrote.

"What I did was my 'mamba mentality,'" Liu said.

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