Kobe Bryant is retiring this season. Bryant is without a doubt one of the greatest basketball players of all time. A five-time champion, perennial All-Star, MVP and a gold medalist, and is leaving the game with a remarkable legacy of success (despite recent Lakers struggles).
One of the things that I have always found so interesting about Kobe and one of the reasons he’s been so successful is his athletic background. Kobe was born in Italy and played soccer the first seven years of his life before moving to the states and learning about basketball. Kobe always harbored sentimental feelings for his first love. A childhood fan of AC Milan, Bryant is also a noted fan of FC Barcelona and has even gone so far as to visit them in training when the team is in the area.
Kobe has done everything from play in celebrity matches with USWNT stars Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, to feature in Nike’s social media campaign for the Magista boots alongside Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta to even draining half-court shots for EA’s FIFA 16 commercials with his foot.
Kobe Bryant: “I wear the number 10 Jersey for US Team, in honor of the Greatest athlete I have EVER seen: Messi” pic.twitter.com/GtfekUhsEq
— Lionel Messi (@TeamMessiHQ) December 5, 2015
What’s most telling of Kobe’s relationship with soccer is the way his soccer background influences his basketball game. Any fan of the two sports can note that Kobe, especially in his prime, does things like nutmeg Kevin Durant, to passing the ball in sort of Tiki-Taka way similar to Barcelona on any given day.
Kobe Bryant nutmegs Kevin Durant 🙈 https://t.co/oyDG9Whf0W
— Basketball Forever (@Bballforeverfb) January 9, 2016
Having played soccer has also positively affected Bryant’s vision on the court. He’s not always been a pass-first type of guard but has always had the ability to pick out a pass to an open teammate. Often times with the path being in his peripheral similar to the way a center-midfielder will pick out an oncoming forward.
“In playing soccer growing up, you really see the game in a combination of threes, sometimes fours – and how you play within triangles.” Bryant told Yahoo Sports’ Shahan Ahmed. “And growing up playing (soccer), my eye and my brain became accustomed to seeing those combinations in threes and fours versus one and two.”
Kobe’s greatest skill has always been his footwork. Even now, Kobe will put a marker on skates with just a jab-step and spin before hitting a jumper or driving through the paint.
— Roger Gonzalez (@RGonzalezCBS) January 18, 2016
With the Black Mamba’s days as a basketball player coming to an end, both of Bryant’s daughters play soccer and he cited the USA women’s national team as huge inspirations to them. If Bryant’s daughters are half as good at soccer as he was at basketball…well that’s an amazing (and scary) thought.