I wanted to get this post out to my readers earlier, even as early as yesterday, upon learning of the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and eight other people, including his 13-year old daughter Gianna, the news of which hit Italy last night about 8:00 pm, our time here. La Gazzetta dello Sport asked me to do a story on Kobe last night. Let me amend that, Andrea Monti, Director of La Gazzetta, called me personally for the story. When Andrea Monti calls you, well, you know it’s for something truly important.
In the article, I tried to say what I’ll try to say here. First of all, Kobe was a ‘product’ of Italian Basketball. He said so himself, many times. His father, Joe Bryant, played for four clubs here in Italy: Rieti, Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggio Emilia. Kobe, of course, was with him. As a result, he learned to speak Italian fluently and mastered the fundamentals of basketball quickly, as well as the mentality of the international game: team play, outside shooting, seeing the floor, etc. No one learned that better.
He remained attached to Italy. His first number in the NBA was 8 because that was the number worn by Mike D’Antoni for our Olympia Milan team, which Kobe loved. His 13-year old daughter, who perished in the helicopter accident yesterday, had two Italian names: Gianna Maria. Actually, Gianna is a nickname for Giovanna, which would be JoAnn in English. Kobe came back to Italy as often as possible, was a fan of the AC Milan soccer football team and a reader of La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Aside from that Italian influence, we have Kobe Bryant’s career in the NBA. First of all, he played his entire career with the LA Lakers, which speaks volumes about his loyalty to his club, his team, his city. Then, we have that perfect storm that only the great champions have: great physical ability, great athletic talent, great technical skill, great work ethic, great competitive instinct, all wrapped up in what coaches call ‘motor genius,’ the ability to invent an incredible play out of nothing.
One quality every great champion his is that he is driven. That is, his psychological motor is always turning over, always running, always working. His workouts were legend. He never took a day off. He had injuries but he played through pain many times. You could not get him off the floor. One last thing: he wanted the ball when the game was on the line. That is, he wanted the game-deciding shot. There were times that worked and times it didn’t but he wanted that ball.
Does that sound selfish? No, the great players think like that. Ask Larry Bird if he wanted another Boston Celtic to take that all-important shot. No way. They just figure they give their team the best chance of winning. Then, you’d be surprised how many outstanding players do not want the ball in those situations! Well, he’s gone, Gianna with him. We’re having a hard time getting our arms around it. Here in Italy, people are shaken by it all. He was 41 years old.