With each Kobe Bryant obituary comes a mention of his Italian adolescence. As someone who has recently spent a lot of time in Reggio Emilia -- the Italian region he lived and played in for seven years, from ages 6-13 -- I’d like to dive a little deeper into this part of his life.
(Joe Bryant, Kobe’s dad, played for Reggio Emilio from 1989-91, and in Italy from 1984 to 1991.)
We tend to forget that Kobe was, in some ways, as international as Manu Ginobilli, Tony Parker, or Dirk Nowitzki. Italy, I can tell you from first hand-experience, is basketball-obsessed.
Being there during the developmental phase of his body and mind was obviously a huge part of who he became. He last visited in 2016, forgoing a trip to Paris to instead surprise his former home.
Here’s how Il Resto del Carlino, a local newspaper, described his visit (excuse the imperfect translation):
“The one who was the best and most famous basketball player in the world materialized in via Franchetti, where hundreds of people were waiting for him, just from Reggio he wanted to leave, talking to the boys who sat in the center of the pitch.”
(The best and famous basketball player in the world doesn't just show up, he materializes.)
During his Italian childhood, where the Bryants early on were isolated by race, culture and language, Kobe picked up a love of soccer, perhaps as a way to conform. As recently as 2014, he called it “his favorite sport,” and has frequently credited the game for his creativity and vision on the court:
“Most of the time, American basketball is only taught in twos: 1-2, pick and roll, or give and go, or something like that. In playing soccer growing up, you really see the game in a combination of threes, sometimes fours--and how you play within triangles.”
He was a diehard fan of A.C. Milan, which paid tribute to him with armbands and a video in their league cup match on Tuesday.
By the time Kobe was 13, he was a bi-lingul basketball fiend living back in The States, trying to assimilate to a life of suburban Americana, trying to catch up with American slang while speaking with a foreign accent.
(Here’s a video of him, later in life, speaking effortlessly with an Italian reporter.)
People from Italy live very much in the moment. They enjoy every bite of every meal, give their all to each and every relationship they have. Nothing is done halfway. He obtained this approach, it seems, when he was young, impressionable, and Italian.
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