Kobe Bryant was an athlete who transcended his sport, to the point where he became known simply by a single name, his name, Kobe.
At the peak of his career, the NBA legend became a basketball and cultural icon. Fans, celebrities, and even world leaders would stand in line to catch a picture, a moment, to share with one of the best players in basketball history. Some, surely hoping for some of his greatness would rub off on them… Bryant was a frequent visitor to the White House, and after the announcement of his tragic death, presidents, past and present, were quick to send their condolences.
‘Forever One of Us’
News of Bryant’s sudden death drew reactions of pure shock and deep sadness from all over the world, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, everyone loved Kobe. But the news hit the small Italian city of Reggio Emilia, particularly hard. After all, it claims among its best exports to educational philosophy, Parmesan cheese, and the Black Mamba himself.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t just a global figure but he himself was a product of globalization. He grew up in Italy during the country’s golden age of basketball, as his father, Joe, played for several local teams there. When Bryant Sr. came to Reggio Emilia in the early 90s, he became a local celebrity. “In Italy, in that period there was no people of color, so it was very easy to recognize a big guy like Joe,” said Davide Giudici, a former teammate, and friend from the town.
Young Bryant spoke Italian fluently and played on the city’s youth team, Cantine Riunite, during his formatives years. Giudici added “He was obviously already really good. We had a strong team, but he was better than all of us. At 11 years old, he was already very secure in his power and what he would become.” Anyone who saw him, Kobe, at that time knew that it was just a matter of time before he would become a professional player, little did that know that he would go far beyond, and achieve international success.