Mamba molded in Italy: How Kobe’s childhood overseas fueled his legend

When Kobe Bryant was six years old in 1984, his father Joe moved the family to Italy in an attempt to scrape by on a few more paychecks following an eight-year NBA career.

Mamba Alive long live! How Kobe Bryant became a legend after spending seven years of his childhood in Italy

Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, a 6-foot-9 forward, has played for the San Diego Clippers, the Houston Rockets, and the Philadelphia 76ers. He has since accepted a contract offer to play for Sebastani Rieti, a team located in the hilltop town of Rieti, some 50 miles from Rome. In alongside finding him a new BMW, the club also gifted him a cottage with a garden. For little Kobe’s use, they even constructed a basketball hoop on the exterior wall.

“Dude, it was strange.” Man, we were having fun.

Mamba Alive long live! How Kobe Bryant became a legend after spending seven years of his childhood in Italy

However, Mike Sielski notes in “The Rise — Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality” (St. Martin’s Press), which will be released on Tuesday, that Kobe’s formative years in Italy contributed to his eventual success as a superstar. According to Sielski, “the essence of the man before he truly became a man” is revealed in his interviews with over 100 people who knew Kobe as well as long-hidden interview transcripts with the late star, some of which were taped when he was a teenager.

Mamba Alive long live! How Kobe Bryant became a legend after spending seven years of his childhood in Italy

Kobe would watch his father play for his new Italian team on Sundays, frequently lending a hand by wiping the perspiration off the court in between plays. Being a bright youngster, he arranged his first sponsorship agreement with Olimpia Pistoia, Joe’s second club in Italy, to wear a sweatshirt bearing their company’s nаme when he cleaned, provided that they also purchased him a brand-new red bicycle.

After dominating the court, he would frequently grab a basketball and captivate the audience with his own version of the Kobe Show. He would only leave the court when the referees ejected him. Sielski describes him as “a miniature version of Joe, mimicking what he had just watched, dribbling between his legs, practicing his jumper, heaving shots from too far out.”

Mamba Alive long live! How Kobe Bryant became a legend after spending seven years of his childhood in Italy

The child was unfazed by the spectators in the arena who would just stand there and gaze. To restart the game, the referees would have to remove him from the court.

Within months of going to a new school, Kobe and his elder sisters were proficient in speaking Italian, complete with all of the swear words. Additionally, according to Sielski, the Bryant family was seen as “both curiosities and celebrities” while residing in Europe. Strangers would buy them coffee or pick up their check at a café whenever they went into town, according to Kobe.

“There, people treat each other as equals,” he stated in a Philadelphia Inquirer interview from 1996. They have no mistrust for one another. When they see you in the street, they sаy hi. Family is also very important there.

According to Sielski, the Bryant family also grew closer and stronger as a family, especially with his mother Pam, who was the real head of the household.

Mamba Alive long live! How Kobe Bryant became a legend after spending seven years of his childhood in Italy

According to the author, it was also there that Joe learned the true meaning of family after a previous controversy almost brought the father’s marriage and profession to an end.

She was a powerful Black Catholic woman who upheld the union of a married couple. “Explanation ends here,” writes Sielski.

Life was a revelation to Joe back in Italy. The incessant travels and nights spent in hotels far from home were over. He could now play once a week, usually with Kobe joining him on away games, and always return to the Bryant residence afterward.

In 1985, he declared to The New York Times, “I’ve become a family man.” “I was more of a traveling man in the US.”

Kobe was soon chosen to play for his father’s club’s junior teams, where he frequently faced boys who were two or three years older. Throughout the seven years the Bryants were in the nation, Joe was frequently present, courtside, to watch his son succeed.

“In his first game, he scored ten points in a row while dribbling, shooting, and dribbling so much that the other nine players started crying and their parents started yelling to get this spoilt little scuro off the court,” says Sielski.

Italy is also where Kobe developed his renownedly unwavering work ethic. He not only showed up at the gym at 6 a.m. when the other members of his junior squad did, but he also frequently played despite discomfort. According to Sielski, Kobe once made a three-point shot with his weaker left hand after breаking his dominating right hand.

Joe Bryant gave up playing hoops in 1992. When Kobe was thirteen years old, the family returned to the United States and settled in Lower Merion, Montgomery County, Philadelphia. Joe clarified that he didn’t want his kids to lose their command of the English language as one of the main motivations for moving back to Philadelphia. However, Kobe had trouble adjusting. He was unable to interact with other teenagers because he was unaware of the new lingo that they were using and since there were no common cultural allusions in TV shows or songs.

He was mocked even for the clothes he had brought back from Italy. For instance, all eighteen students—all but one—wear baseball outfits and are holding mitts in the school baseball team shot. Kobe is pictured on the far right, wearing a colorful sweater over a white dress shirt with a button up the top and a thick coat. According to Sielski, “He’s the one who doesn’t quite belong there.”

Nevertheless, Kobe was better influenced by the overseas experience. According to Sielski, he remarked, “I learned to play basketball the right way through a teaching of fundamentals first.” He had grown up in Italy.

Kobe guided the Lower Merion High School basketball team, the Aces, to their first-ever state title in fifty-three years. Bryant was free to choose from any college after that. His 1,080 SAT score wasn’t too bad either. However, Kobe made the decision to enter the NBA right out of high school at the age of 17, making history as the sixth player to do so. He wasn’t old enough to sign his own $3.5 million, three-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, so his parents did it instead.

His 20-year tenure with the Lakers brought in over $320 million in pay alone. In addition to being an 18-time All-Star (second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19), Bryant won five NBA championships. Along with being the first player in NBA history to record at least 30,000 points and 6,000 assists in a career, he also won two gold medals with the US basketball team during the Olympics.

Then catastrophe struck on January 26, 2020.

In Calabasas, California, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people perished in a helicopter crаsh. Gianna was just 13 and Kobe was 41. Kobe had been coaching the girl they called “Gigi” in the same way that Joe had coached young Kobe.

Joe once shared a prophecy his grandmother had made with a teammate while he was playing in Italy in the 1980s. According to Sielski, she expressed her belief that “someone would come along who would change the entire structure and direction of the family, who would accomplish great things and allow the family’s members to live new lives.”

After stating, “I know it’s not me,” Bryant gestured to his son. “However, it could be him.”

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