Kobe Bryant is no stranger to the international flavor of the game of basketball. He grew up in Italy, shaping up his game by combining his Americanized athletic abilities with the grace and beauty of soccer’s groundwork. His appreciation of the overseas style extends beyond his own flirtation with European baselines, as he’s said time after time that he’s the biggest Pau Gasol fan in the world. While the NBA’s big man becomes smaller and smaller, resting on his athleticism rather than his skills, Gasol is one of the few pillars remaining on the temple of the tall and talented. Because their bodies are bred differently, their developmental years are spent polishing up their skyhook instead of one-upping their basketball kin on HoopsMixtape highlight reels. Being someone whose worked his entire career to incorporate as many elements of the game into his own palette, Bryant recognizes the brilliance of foreign products.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising to read that Kobe would consider going overseas, specifically to his former home nation of Italy, once his NBA days are done to play another year or to cap off his storied career. From Yahoo! Sports:
“It would be natural for me to go do it. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all. I grew up here.”
Bryant plans to play out the final two years of his Lakers contract and reassess everything. He’s still performing on an All-Star level, and his knees are holding up with his 34th birthday approaching this month. As the son of Italian League star Joe Bryant, he lived in Italy for several years as a child. His memories of Italy’s pro league plush, Bryant still gushes over witnessing the scoring genius of Brazilian star Oscar Schmidt in Italy.
There’s so much sentimentality about Italy and so much more of a business acumen about his ability to push product in Europe. He’ll be selling Nikes forever here.
If Bryant ever wanted to make this leap at the end of his career, his decision on where to play would be an intriguing one.
“You’d have to look at the market and what’s going on in terms of the level of basketball being played,” Bryant said. “I understand there’s a high level of competitive basketball in Turkey now. They might have the best league in Europe. Spain has obviously been one of the top leagues for a long time.
“And Italy is a place that’s dear in my heart, I grew up there, but the level is not where it used to be. When I was growing up over there, that was the best league in Europe.”
The fact that Kobe would speak out on this topic makes it pretty clear that Bryant would go quietly into the night once his NBA days are done. His fire for the game will never go out. You’d imagine, with that being the case, that Bryant would suit up for the Lakers, who would never refuse to re-up Bryant for fear of an unprecedented series of fan riots, until his knees stopped working. The subtle message here, which isn’t so subtle since Bryant has said the same thing in oh so many words before, is that Kobe is very aware of his career numbers. Prolonging his NBA career for show would put those in danger, dipping his career points per game average unnecessarily. Michael Jordan came very close to succeeding his career PPG crown to Kareem because of his sabbatical with the Wizards.
So even though Kobe will be a Laker for his NBA life, don’t be surprised if he dawns another uniform in the future, even if it’s on another continent.