The international market for 6ft 6in soccer players is only marginally better than the Saudi Arabian snowplow market. So, Kobe Bryant chose the right profession by turning to basketball and a Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
That’s not to say, however, that Bryant didn’t improve playing football as a youth while living across the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to developing coordination and stamina, soccer taught Bryant to see the big picture in a sport with a constant flow of action.
Joe Bryant moved his family to Italy in the early 1980s
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Besides being one of the greatest NBA players of all time, averaging 25.0 points and 5.2 rebounds over a 20-year pro career, Kobe Bryant was half a combination respectable father and son in basketball.
Joe “Jellybean” Bryant was a 6-foot-9 forward who entered the NBA in 1975 as a first-round draft pick. He played eight seasons in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and Houston Rockets, averaging 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in 606 games. In the summer of 1983, Bryant decided to play overseas instead, embarking on an eight-year career with four teams in Italy.
After retiring as a player, he returned to the United States and began a coaching career that spanned over two decades.
Kobe Bryant was born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia and moved to Italy with his family. It was there that he spent half of his childhood formative years and learned skills that would launch him into a professional career as a teenager.
Kobe Bryant honed his basketball skills playing football
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You don’t have to go far in many European countries to find young people kicking a football in a field or on quiet streets in small towns. Kobe Bryant was part of that culture growing up in Italy. He spent much of his youth in the northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia, about 75 miles southeast of Milan.
Young Bryant played a lot of basketball while soaking up the culture. He learned the language and spoke it fluently. In fact, a Washington Post The story noted that he had brief difficulties getting to grips with the English language after returning to the Philadelphia area in college.
While he didn’t return home with a full fluency in the language, Bryant brought with him an advanced understanding of team sports that a coach like Phil Jackson might later appreciate.
“A lot of the time, American basketball is only taught in twos: one-two, pick and roll, or give-and-go, or something like that,” Bryant said in a Yahoo! Sports interview in 2016. “Playing football growing up, you really see the game in a combination of threes, sometimes fours – and how you play in triangles.”
Bryant also explained how quickly knocking the ball over to the weak side opens up an entirely different perspective for finding the advantage while continuing to attack. This translates well to the basketball court.
“You see things in multiple combinations,” he said. “And growing up playing (football), my eye and my brain got used to seeing those combinations of threes and fours versus ones and twos.”
Kobe Bryant turned his football upbringing into stardom
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Another aspect of playing sports abroad served Kobe Bryant well later on. He said Online Slam that youth basketball practices in Italy had nothing to do with what Americans see.
“We played on smaller pitches and smaller rims at a very young age and that taught us how to shoot the ball properly and be fundamentally sound,” he explained. “Every week in training we never played. It was all the fundamentals. Pass, throw, move the ball, shoot. All the basics. And if we scrum we would play all over the court, no dribbling is allowed.
Bryant credited this discipline with the ease with which he dominated high school basketball. College coaches realized by his senior season that Bryant was so advanced that he would go straight to the NBA.
It was the start of a 20-year NBA career and a place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.