What You Never Knew About Kobe Bryant

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To many, Kobe Bryant will always be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His legendary Mamba Mentality has inspired people both on and off the court, providing guidance for people who live and breathe basketball and people who have never played alike.

Outside of basketball, Bryant was well-known as being a proud #GirlDad, a fact that was celebrated following his unexpected death in January 2020. As many know, Bryant died in a helicopter crash alongside his teen daughter Gianna, along with passengers John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan. The loss was devastating for people around the world, but no one felt it quite as strongly as Bryant's wife, Vanessa, and the pair's oldest daughter, Natalia.

In addition to the personal losses suffered that day, the world lost a man who was really beginning what many called his second act, following a career that was incredible but often plagued by scandal. Bryant had big, bold plans for making the world a better place, and unfortunately did not get the opportunity to live those out. Here are a few things you might not know about Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant's dad was a professional basketball player

When it comes to playing basketball, Kobe Bryant had someone close to him to look up to: his father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, who played professionally for the Philadelphia 76ers. His father wasn't just okay at the sport, he was pretty fantastic: In 1975, he was a first round draft pick for his hometown team. A few years later Joe ended up moving to San Diego to play for the Clippers, and ultimately left the NBA after the 1982-1983 season.

From there, Joe moved his family, which included Kobe and his two sisters, overseas, as he continued to pursue a career in professional basketball. While speaking on the "Scoop B Radio" podcast, Joe explained that it was his hope that the move would prove beneficial for his family in a number of ways. He said, "Well, I figure it is helpful in the sense that our children get a chance to meet or go places where the normal child doesn't get a chance to go to, you know?"

Kobe Bryant grew up in Italy while his dad played basketball

As a child, Kobe Bryant had the unique opportunity to live in a foreign country for several years. In fact, he and his family spent seven years living in Italy, where his father played basketball for Sebastani Rieti. The family lived in a cottage in the town of Rieti.

In the book The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality, Bryant tells author Mike Sielski that while he expected some differences, he wasn't fully prepared for what the practical aspects of living in Italy would be like until the day he and his family arrived. He says that even something as simple as turning on the TV was a revelation, explaining, "The first time we went in our house and turned on the TV, there was an Italian cartoon, and me and my sisters were rolling. We were dying. It was on in Italian but they had the same cartoon in America" (via the New York Post).

Bryant spent his weekends helping out at his dad's team's club, often following up cleaning the court by grabbing a basketball and impressing the crowd with his own burgeoning skills. Soon, Bryant and his sisters were fluent in Italian, and he eventually began playing for a local team. The family left Italy in 1992, after Bryant's father retired and moved everyone back to the United States.

He could speak at least three languages fluently

As someone born in the United States to American parents, Kobe Bryant was obviously fluent in English. However, many fans of the late basketball star know that he spoke several languages well, and was completely fluent in quite a few. Living in Italy for seven years gave Bryant the ability to speak Italian, and he was also able to switch easily from English to Italian to Spanish.

Additionally, several players who played against Bryant over the years have commented on his ability to trash talk in quite a few languages. Jusuf Nurkić, center for the Portland Trail Blazers, told ESPN that he personally witnessed Bryant's ability to speak Bosnian when the two were squared off against one another at a game. Nurkić shared, "He's shooting the free throws, Kobe, and I'm out there like, nobody can touch him, how is that possible? All night he was shooting free throws. He actually said a word in my language. I'm like, 'Nah I didn't really hear right; he can't speak my language.'"

The pair continued going back and forth, and then Nurkić heard the word again. He quickly realized Bryant had learned a few curse words in Bosnian, and had to assume it was only for him. 

Brandy was Kobe Bryant's date to prom

Kobe Bryant's senior year of high school at Lower Merion High School was big in a lot of ways. For starters, the 17-year-old was in the middle of deciding if he wanted to pursue the NBA draft right out of school — but he was also a regular teen, and had one big question on his mind: Who would he take to his senior prom?

At this point, Bryant was already making a name for himself around the United States and spending time with celebrities, so in many ways, it's not too surprising that he and the singer Brandy met at the Essence Awards that year and became fast friends. Bryant's mother even told the Philadelphia Daily News that her son and Brandy hit it off, admitting, "He came home from the Essence Awards and said, 'I met such a nice, beautiful, intelligent, sweet person'" (via E! Online).

Bryant knew he wanted to take Brandy to the prom, but he felt shy about asking her ... so he did what many a teen has done: had someone help him out. While the two had to jump through a few parental hoops to make the date happen, eventually it did (per E! Online).

Kobe Bryant went to the NBA right out of high school

Once the prom was over, Kobe Bryant could focus on bigger things, like that year's NBA draft. In 1996, Bryant announced that he planned to go straight to the NBA out of high school, a move that was pretty unheard of at the time (and in 2006, the NBA began requiring players to complete at least one year of college before making the same decision). 

While some might not have approved of the choice, Bryant never regretted it. In fact, he later told USA Today, "The best decision (I ever made was) coming straight to the NBA and skipping college. That's it — the best one." Bryant was also one of the most successful basketball players to skip college. When he was asked in 2016 about his decision, Bryant lamented the NBA's new rule and said that each player who is interested in skipping college should be assessed individually, instead of the league enforcing a broad rule for everyone.

As he put it, a player's ability to go right into the NBA depends on a number of factors, including the people who are guiding them. He said, "Ultimately it depends on the teachers that you have and the mentors that you have. You can go to college for four years and get horrible mentorship and be worse off than a kid who came to the league at 17."

Kobe Bryant wasn't immediately successful in the NBA

Despite that promising head start, Kobe Bryant didn't actually do too well during his first few years in the NBA. As noted by Sportscasting, Bryant spent a huge chunk of his first year in the league on the bench, starting in six games and averaging 15.5 minutes a game. While speaking on the podcast "All The Smoke," Bryant explained that if he had known how little he was going to end up playing in the NBA, he would have actually pursued a college education first.

Kobe explained that he felt his coach, Del Harris, wanted to avoid playing favorites. He says, "As a result, [Harris] swung completely in the opposite direction and doing things that weren't really fair." He then added a detail that might surprise many of us who know Bryant as one of the greatest basketball players of all time: "My first two or three years were a nightmare" (via "All The Smoke").

The basketball star was 20 years old when he met Vanessa Urbieta Cornejo Laine

As shared by The Knot, Kobe Bryant met the woman he would marry, Vanessa Urbieta Cornejo Laine, when he was 20 years old and she was 17 years old. The pair were introduced on the set of the music video "G'd up," and Bryant would later say that he immediately knew Laine was the one for him. As he told MTV News (via The Sun), "It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a person the one for you, but you just know. I mean, love is a funny thing. I can't explain it and I don't understand it. But all I know is ... she caught my heart and I just knew she was the one."

The two got engaged when Laine turned 18, and in the movie "Kobe Bryant's Muse," the basketball star explains that the pair did just about everything together. They were married on April 18, 2001, in Dana Point, California. 

Kobe Bryant's parents didn't attend his wedding

While Kobe Bryant and Vanessa Laine were thrilled to marry one another, there were two people who were less than enthusiastic: Bryant's mom and dad. In fact, his parents were so upset with his wedding that they chose to not attend. A friend later told The Sun that when it came to choosing between his biological family and his family by choice, Bryant would choose his wife and children every time, which led to periods during which there was little to no communication with his parents. The source explained, "Kobe and his parents endured tumultuous times and it impacted his family life. He always chose Vanessa and his children first."

The Sun also reported that part of the issue for Bryant's parents was that they believed he was too young to get married in the first place. The three didn't speak for nearly two years following the wedding, but the birth of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant's first daughter Natalia two years later helped diffuse the situation.

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant almost divorced after 10 years of marriage

In 2011, the marriage between Kobe and Vanessa Bryant very nearly shut down completely. Amid reports that Kobe had cheated on Vanessa, (following the infamous 2003 incident in which he was accused of sexual assault by a woman in Colorado after which Vanessa remained committed to her husband), multiple outlets reported that she planned to walk away from their marriage. At the time, a source close to the couple told TMZ, "She's been dealing with these incidents for a long time and has been a faithful wife, but she's finally had enough. This one is the straw that broke the camel's back."

The pair didn't sign a prenuptial agreement at the time of their wedding, and there was considerable speculation that Vanessa would receive half of Kobe's immense fortune if the divorce went through. The pair ultimately managed to patch things up and make it work, and in 2013 they each announced that they had worked through their problems and reconciled (per NBC Sports).

He was obsessed with being a dad

Kobe Bryant was dad to four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri Bryant, and it seems clear that he fully loved and relished his time with each of them. It's also always been clear that his daughters have loved him hard right back. 

As many people have pointed out, one of the more wonderful things about the fact that Kobe was able to retire at the age of 35 was that he was able to spend several years really pouring himself into family life. Following his unexpected death in 2020, numerous people around the world wanted to share stories that expressed just what Kobe's daughters meant to him, and few did it as well as ESPN's Elle Duncan.

In a "SportsCenter" video, Duncan shares that she met Kobe backstage at an ESPN event. She asked for a photo, but it was delayed because Kobe wanted to know everything about her pregnancy: how far along was she, and did she know the sex of the baby? When Duncan confirmed that she was having a girl, Kobe exclaimed, "Girls are the best!"

Kobe Bryant founded the Mamba Academy in 2018

After 18 years in the NBA, Kobe Bryant finally retired following the 2015-2016 season. In 2018, he announced plans to open the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. Bryant took over an existing academy simply known as The Sports Academy and rebranded.

In addition to training youth athletes, including Bryant's daughter Gianna, the Mamba Sports Academy also hosted summits for both NBA and WNBA players. The latter two groups each benefitted enormously from spending time with Bryant and learning how he approached the game of basketball. Washington Wizards player Kentavious Caldwell-Pope told USA Today that the experience was one-of-a-kind, explaining, "He tried to see every position and every option that he has. Just being there and getting that knowledge was great."

Sadly, the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant in January 2020 forced the sports academy to pivot only two years after Bryant took over. The center reverted back to its original name, ostensibly at the request of Vanessa Bryant, with the center's Chief Executive Officer Chad Faulkner explaining to USA Today, "We will always honor Kobe and will always honor the family in a respectful way, and in a way that is non-exploitive. If Vanessa and the family think there's interesting things to do with the Academy, we always stand ready to support and do work that way."

The basketball pro also wrote several children's books

Kobe Bryant also exercised his mind in quite a few ways following his retirement from the NBA. For example, he was the creator and/or co-author of quite a few books for kids, tweens, and teens. These included The Wizenard series, which Bryant created, with Wesley King serving as the author of the series.

Bryant shared with Barnes & Noble that sports and fantasy were two of his favorite genres, and that as a fan of the Harry Potter books, he was honored to create a Harry Potter-esque series that encapsulated both. He explained that putting the book series together was part of a larger goal to make sports better for the kids who participate in them, saying, "It connects back to my desire to want to bring joy back to youth sports, while teaching important life lessons. Fantasy and magic draw people in — especially kids. And in sports, the magic is inherently there — good and bad."

Bryant also made sure to put a lot of himself into the book series, as he felt that was a crucial part of the experience. As he explained, "Rain's weaknesses on the court are the same as mine. There's a vulnerability within him, an unwillingness to trust somebody else before he trusts himself."

Kobe Bryant planned to start an animation studio before his death

When Kobe Bryant died in January 2020, many people mourned a life lost too soon. The fact that Bryant perished alongside his young daughter (as well as several others) made the news all the harder to comprehend. In the months that followed, it became clear just how much the world would miss out on without Bryant in it. 

In November 2019, Bryant explained to CBS' "This Morning" that he hoped to be remembered as a storyteller more than anything. To that end, he planned to found his very own animation studio, with the hope that it would be staffed by a group of people who hailed from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. As he told the show, "That is the opportunity. I want young African American children to understand that there is a serious [entertainment] industry that you can pursue. We can't just talk about it. We've got to be about it."

Bryant was also preparing to leave Nike and start his own shoe company in 2020. As shared by Shervin Pishevar on Twitter, he had gone so far as to have a shoe designed for the Mamba shoe company, but sadly, the plans were never realized.