The signed No. 33  jersey disappeared from Lower Merion High School two years ago, and was recently found in China

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March 15, 2019 08:28 AM

Years before he led the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships with No. 8 and No. 24 on his jersey, Kobe Bryant wore No. 33 while playing basketball at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. And while it’s still easy to find Bryant’s Lakers jersey in retail stores, snagging a rare Lower Merion version requires a little more of a search.

That’s why Bryant superfan Liu Zhe of Harbin, China, jumped at the opportunity when he was approached by an online seller who offered him a chance at a rare autographed edition of the NBA legend’s high school jersey. The 28-year-old purchased the jersey from the seller for about $2,000 in October 2018, according to ESPN, and added it to his extensive collection of Bryant memorabilia.

But not long after receiving the package, Liu noticed something wasn’t right — the jersey seemed to match the picture of one that had been stolen from Lower Merion High in 2017, from a display case that also featured Bryant’s Parade All-American plaque and five pairs of his signature Nike sneakers, he told the outlet.

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After realizing he’d purchased the stolen jersey, and learning that Bryant was due for a visit to China in March, Liu hoped to personally return it to the athlete.

“Really hope to give this jersey back to Kobe Bryant when he come to China,” Liu wrote in February on his Instagram page, which features dozens of pictures from his Bryant collection.

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Instead of waiting, Liu reached out to Lower Merion High and agreed to send the jersey — which is a replica that Bryant did not wear during his time playing for the school — back to them with no compensation, outside of requesting that the school informed the NBA legend that the item was returned at long last.

Aside from his love for the superstar, Liu said he was inspired to send the jersey back thanks to a message Bryant wrote on a photograph to him when he attended a basketball camp in Los Angeles last year, he told ESPN.

“He signed, ‘Dream big! Live epic! Mamba mentality,’ ” Liu said. “What I did was my ‘mamba mentality.’ ”

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The school received the jersey last week and handed it to the Lower Merion Police Department, who then took it to a memorabilia dealer in New Jersey, who confirmed it was indeed the missing one, according to ESPN.

The school couldn’t be more grateful.

“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,” Lower Merion assistant coach Doug Young told ESPN.

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“For our school community, it’s certainly bigger than that,” Young continued to the outlet. “We appreciate that someone was generous and willing enough to give us back a little piece of our history.”

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