Kobe Bryant: How Italy and Growing Up Under Former NBA Player Shaped Lakers Legend

by Thad Mitchell

A year after his tragic death, the world continues to mourn the loss of National Basketball Association star Kobe Bryant.

Today (Jan. 26) marks exactly a year since the former Los Angeles Laker guard was killed in a helicopter crash. Along with Kobe Bryant, the crash killed everyone on board the helicopter including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

Bryant will be inducted into the NBA Hall-of-Fame this year and his legacy will live on forever. Many consider the former Laker to be one of the best, if not the best, players to ever step on a basketball court. Bryant has a list of accolades that rival any professional athletes to have ever played any sport. He was 41-years-old at the time of his passing with a lot of life ahead of him.

Bryant spent all 20 of his NBA season with the Los Angeles Lakers.  Spending an entire career with a single team is a rarity today among professional athletes.

With the one-year of anniversary of his untimely death, many are looking back on the “Black Mamba” and his life away from the court. He didn’t have a typical upbringing and spent a good portion of his childhood outside of the United States. His father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, moved his family to Italy when his son was only 6-years-old. The family, including Bryant’s mother, Pam, found themselves in Rieti in 1984.

Joe Bryant relocated his family overseas to the small town as he was selected to play in an Italian basketball league. The family would remain in Italy until Kobe reached his teenage years.

Kobe Bryant Hones Basketball Skills in Italy

Though soccer was the country’s most popular sport, Bryant took to basketball as if it were second nature. He would spend several hours playing basketball, often alone, at a nearby church playground that had a hoop. It was at this church playground that a young Bryant began building a foundation that would make him a legend.

At 12-years-old, Bryant joined a local youth basketball team in Reggio Emilia. Davide Giudici, a former teammate and friend of Bryant, says that it was obvious that Bryant was on his way to big things. In an interview with NBC News, he says Bryant appeared to be “from another planet” and was a “cut above us all.”

“When he often told us that one day he would become a professional NBA player, we would make fun of him,” he says.

Bryant would leave leave Italy in 1991 at the age of 13. Though he found much success on American basketball courts, he never lost sight of where he came from.

“I grew up here in Italy, it’s a country that will always be close to my heart,” he says in a 2011 interview. “Always.”