Kobe Bryant moved to Europe at the age of six when his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, signed to play for an Italian basketball team. As fate would have it, the move provided him with the opportunity to develop differently from most other players in the NBA.
This is apparent both on the court, where he possesses knowledge of the tactical peculiarities of both the European and North-American professional leagues, and off it, where this cultured and bilingual individual nurtures a passion for a sport other than that in which he regarded as an all-time great: football.
Five-time champion of the NBA with his Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe is far from your run-of-the-mill football fan. He talks about the sport enthusiastically and does not shy away from in-depth discussions, including those of tactics. Present at the Arena Fonte Nova to watch the game between Brazil and Italy, the decider for top spot in Group A of the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, Bryant conceded a short interview to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: What´s the main difference in the atmosphere at basketball and football games?
Kobe Bryant: Passion for football is at another level, without a doubt. It´s clear to see the fans arriving at the stadium here today are making a point of demonstrating their allegiance to their team, or country in this case. That only happens now and then in the NBA – in the play-offs and finals. Football is different. It´s more like a religion. Growing up in Italy gave me first-hand experience of the fans´ intense love of football from an early age. And I can guarantee you it´s unique.
As someone who follow football closely, tell us which player you think has the same killer instinct as the Black Mamba (Kobe´s self-proclaimed nickname).
Look, I´ve never seen Neymar play in the flesh, but I´ve heard great things about him. I´ve been watching (Lionel) Messi for some time now, and his ability to decide games and keep possession of the ball is amazing. I should also mention Cristiano Ronaldo, a player I think is brilliant. I think these guys view sport in the same way I do.
Football is different. It´s more like a religion. Growing up in Italy gave me first-hand experience of the fans´ intense love of football from an early age.
Do you think you regard football differently because you’re a professional athlete involved in another sport?
Absolutely. I played a lot of football when I was a boy, and that has helped me perceive a lot of things in relation to basketball. It´s different. The football I played as a kid helps me assess angles and situations on the basketball court in a different light. You think of each separate move as a manoeuvre involving three players, and not just two – which is what basketball coaches teach you.
Unless we´re talking about Phil Jackson´s (the coach under which Kobe won his five NBA titles) triangle tactics, right?
(laughs) That´s quite true. We´re talking about the same type of sequences of moves, which are clearly not the same, given we´re dealing with two completely different sports. However, they could easily be transferred to a football pitch.
Do you think Phil Jackson would make a good football coach?
I would have to say no, simply because he isn´t familiar with the particulars of the sport. But with regard to his ability to comprehend the systems involved in the game, to put them into practice and apply them to a football team? Oh yes. There´s no doubt about that.