In 1984, when Kobe Bryant was six, his father Joe and his family uprooted their roots to Italy to get more of their paycheck after an eight-year career in the NBA.
A 6-foot-9 striker, Joe “Gilbean” Bryant has played for the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and Houston Rockets, and has now accepted an offer to play for Sebastani Rieti, who is based in the hilltop town of Rieti, about 50 miles from Rome. The club found him a cottage with a garden and also gave him a new BMW. They even put up a basketball hoop on the outside wall for young Kobe to use.
The change continues to come as a shock to young Kobe, who left his home in Houston, Texas, with his mother, Pam, and two older sisters Sharia and Shaya.
He later recalls, “I knew it was going to be different, that the culture was different.” “The first time we entered our house and turned on the TV, there was an Italian cartoon, and my sisters and I were rolling. We were dying. It was in Italian but they had the same cartoons in America. It was the exact same cartoon, but it had Italian words.”
“It was weird, man. We were tripping, man.”
However, Kobe’s early days in Italy helped shape his future as a star, Mike Silsky wrote in “The Rise – Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality” (St Martin’s Press), released Tuesday. Silsky’s interviews with more than 100 people who know Kobe as well as transcripts of the long-hidden interview with the late star, some of which were recorded as a teenager, reveal “the essence of a man before he truly became a man,” he writes.
On Sundays, Kobe would watch his father play for his new Italian team, often helping him by wicking sweat off the field during breaks. A smart kid, he struck his first sponsorship deal with the owner of Italy’s second club Joe’s, Olympia Pistoia, to wear a branded sweatshirt with their business when he cleans – as long as they buy him a new red bike.
Once he cleared the field, he often picked up a basketball and stunned the audience with his “Kobe Show”, only leaving the field when the game officials kicked him out. “There was, mimicking what he had just seen, dribbling between his legs, practicing his jump, shooting shots from very far away, a miniature version of Joe,” Silsky wrote.
“The arena crowd was sitting and staring, and the boy was never bothered. The game officials would have to kick him off the field so they can resume the match.”
After settling into a new school, Kobe and his two older sisters learned to speak fluent Italian within months of moving there — all the curses included. As a black family living in Europe, the Bryants were considered “curious and famous,” Silsky writes. Kobe said that whenever they went on a trip to town, strangers would buy them coffee or take their check from the coffee shop.
“People treat others as equals there,” he said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996. “They don’t trust each other. They say hello when they see you on the street. And the family – the family is big there.”
The Bryant family also developed deeper bonds, becoming a much stronger unit with his mother, Pam, the true leader of the family, Silsky writes.
This was also where Joe realized the true value of family, the author says, after an earlier scandal that nearly ruined his father’s marriage and career.
In 1976, Bryant was playing for the Sixers when he was caught in a parked car with his old girlfriend, Linda Salter, 21, at Fairmount Park West in Philadelphia. When the police asked him for his license, he sped off, crashing into a road sign before mowing two more cars and crashing into a wall. When the police searched the car, they found two plastic bags, both containing cocaine.
Bryant was charged with resisting arrest, reckless driving and drug possession, but the chief judge was later acquitted of all charges, ruling the vehicle search illegal. Meanwhile, Pam stood by Joe’s side.
“She was a strong, black, Catholic woman, and a couple stayed together. End of interpretation,” Silsky writes.
Back in Italy, life was an inspiration for Joe. Gone are the endless flights and nights spent in hotels away from home. Now, he can play once a week – Kobe would often accompany him to games on the road – and always come back to Bryant’s house afterwards.
“I became a family man,” he told the New York Times in 1985. “In the United States, I was like a traveling man.”
Kobe was soon recruited to play in his father’s club’s junior teams, often against boys two or three years older than him. And Joe was usually there, on the court, to see his son thrive during the seven years that Bryants had lived in the country.
“He would dribble and shoot and shoot and dribble and score so many points – he scored the first 10 points in his first game – that the other nine players started crying and their parents started screaming for this spoiled little one. dark Out of court,” Silsky writes.
Kobe also coined the famous and uncompromising work ethic in Italy. Not only did he go to the gym at 6 a.m. when the rest of his little team showed up at 9 a.m., he often played through the pain barrier. On one occasion, after breaking his dominant right hand, Kobe grabbed the ball with his weaker left hand and went on to make three pointers, Silsky wrote.
In 1992 Joe Bryant retired from playing basketball. The family returned to the United States when Kobe was thirteen years old, and settled in Lower Merrion in Montgomery County, Philadelphia. Joe explained that one of the main reasons for returning to Philly was that he did not want his children to forget how they spoke English. But Kobe struggled to readjust. He didn’t know which of the new slang children to use and didn’t have the common cultural references in television or music to help him engage with other teens.
Even the clothes he brought from Italy made him the subject of ridicule. In the school baseball team photo, for example, there are 18 students, all wearing a baseball uniform with gloves in hand—except for one. Kobe is standing at the far right, in a warm coat and multicolored jacket over a white button-up dress shirt. “He’s the one he doesn’t quite belong to,” Silsky wrote.
However, the experience abroad shaped Kobe for the better. “By growing up in Italy,” he said, according to Silsky, “I learned to play basketball the right way by first teaching the basics.”
At Lower Merion HS, Kobe led the school’s basketball team, the Aces, to their first official championship in 53 years. After that, Bryant chose colleges. His SAT score of 1,080 wasn’t bad either. But, at the age of 17, Kobe decided to go straight from high school to the NBA, becoming the sixth player in league history to do so. His parents signed a three-year, $3.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers because he wasn’t old enough to do it himself.
This was followed by a 20-year career with the Lakers who earned more than $320 million in salary alone. Bryant has won five NBA Championships and was an All-Star 18 times (second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19). He was also the first player in NBA history to score at least 30,000 career points and make 6,000 career passes, and won two Olympic gold medals with the NBA team.
In 2001, when he was 21, he married Vanessa Lane, 18, and the couple had four daughters together – but his personal life was not without its problems. While Bryant learned the importance of family from his father, he also found himself mired in scandal when he was arrested in 2003 for sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman. Their case was settled out of court. Like Pamela Cox Bryant in 1976, Vanessa Bryant stood by her husband.
Then on January 26, 2020, tragedy struck.
Kobe Bryant was killed along with his daughter Gianna and seven others when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, Kobe was 41 years old; Gianna is only 13 years old. Just as Joe Kobe trained a young man, Kobe was also coaching the girl they named “Gigi.”
When he was playing in Italy in the 1980s, Joe once told one of his teammates about a prophecy made by his grandmother. “Someone will come along to completely change the structure and direction of the family, who will accomplish great things and allow the family members to live a new life,” Silsky said.
“I know it’s not me,” Bryant said before referring to his son. “But it might be him.”