By: Julio Olmo
In 1984, after finishing his NBA career, Joe Bryant, his wife, and his kids moved to Rieti, Italy, where Joe began his European basketball playing career.
During the next eight years his son, Kobe would develop a romance with basketball that he might never have experienced in America.
Italians are impassioned believers in their basketball clubs, carrying team flags, scarves and wearing their colors.
Whether Joe was playing near Sicily or Pistoia – the sort of towns were Italian basketball thrives – he became a 30-points-per-game cult figure, the direct opposite role of his NBA career, where at its’ peak he been a second unit defensive specialist for the Philadelphia Sixers.
In Philadelphia, his birthplace, during his high school days that’s where Joe was baptized with the nickname Jellybean for his variety of moves despite being a big guy.
“It must be Jelly because Jam don’t shake like that!” Glenn Miller Song.
On weekdays after school, Joe would take his son Kobe to practice with him, something he couldn’t have done in the NBA.
While the team worked out, Kobe would shoot baskets in a corner and during regular games would also practice his shooting during halftimes and had to be shooed off the court as Joe’s games were resuming.
“The crowds would be cheering me, I loved it!” Kobe Bryant.
Kobe’s grandparents would tape the biggest NBA games – as well as TV shows and movies, and mail them to him as often as possible.
In all Joe and Kobe watched tapes of the Los Angeles Lakers approximately 40 times a year, Joe loved to see the fancy work of a particular guard his size named Magic Johnson.
Kobe proudly wore a Los Angeles Laker’s jacket with leather sleeves to school and in his room, there was a life-sized poster of Magic Johnson.
Because the games he saw were on videotape, he didn’t see them just once. He memorized them and the play-by-play analyst for these games was his father Joe.
Kobe would sit in front of the TV set and study what a player did with his shoulders, feet, head and balanced their weight without betraying their intentions.
After watching the tapes over and over, Kobe would go outside and practice their moves.
While in Europe, Kobe taught himself all the fundamentals of basketball and Joe was his first-hand experience.
Access to mailed videotapes, professional basketball courts and fundamentals teachings from his father, which would have had to go to college in order to learn, Kobe was more than ready when his family returned to the United States.
No eight grader in Philadelphia was ready for what he was about to bring to them.
My Growing Up Philly Brothers and I took The Original Voice One, to see Kobe play at Lower Marion High School a couple of times before he declared for the NBA, but the gym was always packed and sometimes we had to settle for watching him on TV at other places.
The old man – May He Always Rest In Peace!, was nevertheless thrilled to watch him play.
On rides back home would always say to all of us: