Back in 1984, young Kobe Bryant was only six years old when his father, Joe, took the family to Italy as he sought to make more money following an NBA career that lasted for eight years.
Joe Bryant, a tall and talented forward standing at 6 feet and 9 inches, had previously played for the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, and Houston Rockets basketball teams. He had recently agreed to join Sebastani Rieti, a club located in the picturesque town of Rieti, situated around 50 miles away from Rome. As part of his arrangement with the team, they provided him with a cozy cottage that came with its very own garden, and even gifted him a brand new BMW vehicle. Moreover, the team went the extra mile by installing a basketball hoop on the exterior wall of the cottage, specifically for Joe’s son, Kobe, to practice his skills.
The move was a surprise for Kobe, who departed from his hometown in Houston, Texas, with his mother, Pam, and two older sisters, Sharia and Shaya. He was aware that the transition would be a significant change, particularly in terms of the culture. In retrospect, he recalled being bewildered upon turning on the TV for the first time in their new home. They stumbled upon an Italian cartoon that was also popular in America, but it was dubbed in Italian. Despite the language barrier, Kobe and his sisters were amused and found themselves laughing uncontrollably.
Kobe Bryant’s formative years were spent in Italy, which had a profound impact on his personality and playing style. In his book “The Rise – Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality,” author Mike Sielski shares insights from over 100 people who knew Kobe personally, as well as previously unpublished interviews with the late basketball legend from his teenage years. Despite the initial culture shock, Kobe’s time in Italy played a pivotal role in shaping his future as one of the greatest players in NBA history.
Bryant spent his childhood in Rieti, Italy, where he lived with his family and had the opportunity to watch his father play in the Italian basketball league. Every Sunday, Kobe would eagerly observe his dad in action, sometimes even helping out by wiping the sweat off the court during breaks in play. Being a resourceful kid, he struck a deal with the owner of Olimpia Pistoia, Joe’s second club in Italy, to wear a branded sweatshirt while cleaning the court, provided that they bought him a new red bicycle.
Once the court was spotless, Kobe often grabbed a basketball and put on a show for the spectators with his impressive skills. He would only leave the court when forced to do so by the officials, after dribbling between his legs, practicing his jump shots, and attempting long-range shots similar to those made by his father. According to Sielski, he was a mini version of Joe, emulating his every move with perfect precision.
Joe Bryant played for eight years in the NBA, representing Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and Houston Rockets. Despite attracting attention from the crowd while playing, he never found it bothersome when game officials had to remove him from the court to resume the game. When Kobe and his elder sisters moved to a new school, they quickly picked up Italian, including profanities. Being a black family living in Europe, the Bryants were treated as both curiosities and celebrities, with strangers offering to buy them coffee or pay their bill at cafes whenever they visited town.
During a trip to Italy with his sisters Sharia and Shaya, a young Kobe Bryant came to understand the importance that Italians place on family. He noted in a 1996 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer that people in Italy treat each other as equals and greet each other on the streets. Family is also highly valued there, according to his observations. As a result of their time in Italy, the Bryant family grew even closer, with Kobe’s mother Pam emerging as the true leader of the household, as described by Sielski.
Upon his return to the US at the age of 13, Kobe rapidly established himself as a standout player on his school’s basketball team in Philadelphia. According to the author, this was also where his father, Joe, learned the true importance of family after an earlier scandal nearly ruined his marriage and career. In 1976, Bryant played for the Sixers and was caught in a parked car with his former girlfriend, Linda Salter, who was 21 years old at the time, in the Fairmount Park West area of Philadelphia. When asked for his license by the police, he drove away and collided into a road sign, clipping two other vehicles before crashing into a wall. The police discovered two plastic bags containing cocaine when they searched the car.
Kobe Bryant’s mother, Pam, was a devout Catholic who supported her husband, Joe, during challenging times. Despite being charged with resisting arrest, reckless driving, and drug possession, Kobe was eventually cleared of all charges due to an illegal vehicle search. Throughout this ordeal, Pam remained steadfast in her support for Joe. As a strong black woman of faith, she believed in the sanctity of marriage and stood by her husband. Meanwhile, a young Kobe demonstrated early dominance on the basketball court against Italian competitors, leaving his opponents in tears and their parents in shock. While Joe played in Italy, Kobe often accompanied him to games, enjoying the opportunity to spend more time with his father and return home after each match.
According to reports, Kobe credited his time in Italy for giving him an edge over his competition by teaching him the fundamentals of the sport. At just 17 years old, he was drafted by the Lakers in 1996. In a 1985 interview with The New York Times, he mentioned that he had become a family man after spending several years traveling in the US. During his time in Italy, he played for his father’s club’s junior teams, often competing against older boys. His father, Joe Bryant, was always present courtside to watch his son excel during their seven-year stay in the country.
In 2011, Kobe made a triumphant return to Italy, where he received a warm welcome in Rome. According to Sielski, he impressed everyone with his exceptional basketball skills, scoring the first ten points in his very first game. In fact, he was so good that the opposing team’s players started crying, and their parents yelled at their coach to bench him. Kobe’s relentless work ethic was also forged during his time in Italy; he would often hit the gym at 6 a.m., three hours earlier than his junior team mates. Additionally, he played through the pain of injuries, such as when he broke his right hand but still managed to make a three-pointer using his weaker left hand.
Kobe Bryant tied the knot with Vanessa Laine in 2001, and the couple had four daughters together. Tragically, their daughter Gianna passed away alongside Kobe in a helicopter crash in 2020. In 1992, Kobe’s father Joe Bryant retired from professional basketball, prompting the family to move back to the United States. They settled in Lower Merion in Montgomery County, Philadelphia, where Joe hoped his children would not forget how to speak English. However, Kobe struggled to readjust to American culture, lacking knowledge of slang and cultural references in television and music that other teenagers had. Even the clothes he brought back from Italy made him the target of ridicule, as evidenced by a school baseball team photo where Kobe stands out in a warm coat and multicolored sweater over a white dress shirt buttoned all the way up, while everyone else is in uniform with mitts in hand.
On the anniversary of his tragic death, Italy paid tribute to the legendary Kobe Bryant. A square and a stone were dedicated to the NBA superstar and his daughter, Gianna, in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Despite experiencing a tragic event overseas, Kobe viewed his time in Italy as a valuable experience that shaped him positively. He believed that growing up in Italy taught him the fundamental skills required to play basketball the right way. While attending Lower Merion High School, he led the Aces basketball team to their first state championship in over 50 years. Despite having a respectable SAT score of 1,080, he decided to join the NBA straight out of high school at the age of 17. His parents signed his three-year, $3.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers as he was not yet legally old enough to do it himself.
Back in 2016, Kobe Bryant was spotted doing warm-ups with his daughter, Gianna, at the NBA All-Star Game. The adorable father-daughter moment captured our hearts and showed the world just how much of a family man Kobe was. It’s moments like these that remind us of the bond between a father and his daughter, and we’re grateful to have witnessed it.
The parents of Kobe Bryant were present at the touching memorial service held in honor of their beloved son and granddaughter. This was a deeply emotional moment for everyone in attendance.
Kobe Bryant, known for his outstanding career with the Lakers, had a strong bond with his father as shown in a portrait taken in 1996. With a career spanning over two decades, he earned a whopping $320 million just from salary alone. He won five NBA championships and was an 18-time All-Star – only losing to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19 titles. Kobe was also the first player to reach 30,000 career points and make 6,000 career assists in NBA history and won two Olympic gold medals with the US basketball team.
At the age of 21, he tied the knot with Vanessa Laine, who was 18 at the time, and together they were blessed with four daughters. However, his personal life wasn’t always smooth-sailing. In 2003, he was arrested for sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman, causing a scandal. The case was eventually settled out of court. Like his mother Pamela Cox Bryant did in 1976, Vanessa Bryant stood by her husband through it all. Despite the setbacks, Kobe continued to inspire many and will forever remain a legend on and off the court.
In January of 2020, a devastating event occurred when a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others crashed in Calabasas, California. The world mourned the loss of a basketball icon at the age of 41 and a promising young athlete at the age of only 13. Kobe had been coaching his daughter, affectionately called “Gigi,” just as Joe had coached him in his youth. During his time playing basketball in Italy, Joe once shared with a teammate a prophecy made by his grandmother. She foresaw that someone would come along who would change their family’s future and allow them to live new lives. Though Bryant knew it was not himself who would fulfill this prophecy, he pointed to his son as a potential candidate.