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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — When the Lakers tipped off Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, they had a very different kind of VIP in the stands.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa invited Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping to the game, according to aide Peter Sanders, making Xi the first Chinese leader to ever attend an NBA game.
Xi is said to be a huge basketball and Lakers fan.
Clayton Dube, associate director of the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, said Xi’s attendance at the game would be part of a symbolic message to China’s citizens that their leader is respected and worldly but can also be comfortable in the glittery city of Los Angeles.
“Xi is part of the first generation of Chinese leaders to come of age in a period of openness and prosperity in China,” Dube said.
Asked if he’ll attempt to arrange for Xi to meet Kobe Bryant and other Laker players, Villaraigosa said he would try.
“If all things go as they’re supposed to, then he’ll get a chance to see some of the Lakers,” the mayor said.
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)