Kobe Bryant and his love for Italy
The Kobe or LeBron question
Two days before Kobe ’s helicopter crash, the NBA interviewed me on Madison Square Garden’s iconic court for a documentary about LeBron James’ legacy.
“We have been seeing you on these basketball courts for so many years, we want to know your opinion about LeBron’s strengths and how the public perceives him in Italy” NBA TV producer told me.
It was fun and I was put in the unfamiliar space in which, instead of being the one asking questions, I was the one answering them.
At last, the big and somewhat expected question: “Do you think LeBron is the best basketball player of our era? Did he get to become better than Kobe?”
“I have only good things to say about LeBron,” I answered “but I will never say he is better than Kobe. Besides being my favorite player of all times, Kobe and I have a special bond because of our Italian roots and souls” I explained.
Kobe’s Italian ties
I am 100% Italian, born and raised in Naples. Kobe was American, but he grew up in Italy, the country where he learned the fundamentals of basketball and the love for great cuisine.
The forbidden interviews
I will always remember my first interview with Kobe Bryant. It was 2007 and I had traveled to Los Angeles with my Italian camerawoman and friend to cover a playoff game. The Lakers were playing the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center.
In hindsight, I did two things I wasn’t allowed to do, but I had no idea at the time.
First, I interviewed coach Mike D’Antoni on the court before the game, something just the network broadcasting the game on that day is allowed to do. We spoke about his Italian heritage and the meaning of being Italian.
Then, I interviewed Kobe Bryant one-on-one in the hallway after he had left the locker room and was on his way home.
Little did I know…
You’re not really allowed to interview the players in the hallways. Before the game, I went to the locker room to ask him if he could do an interview with me and he agreed to talk to me after the game. Little did I know in LA Kobe was only speaking to the media in the press conference room and wasn’t doing any one-on-one.
He went to the press room while I in the locker room, expecting to do the interview there.
When I noticed him leaving, I literally stopped him in the hallway. In my mind, when you tell me you’ll do something, you then have to do it, even if you are a superstar.
I asked to do the interview in Italian and, at first, Kobe looked a little embarrassed. “I don’t remember it well, I’m not sure, it would be better in English” he said with a nice smile.
Kobe’s interviews in Italian
I insisted and got my first interview to Kobe Bryant in Italian. Since that day, he kept being extremely kind and available. Needless to say, his Italian was almost flawless. And he loved it.
It became our code language, a way to talk and be the only ones who understood what we were saying. Sometimes, people didn’t like that.
The children’s book
During the 2010 NBA Finals, I had the task to give Kobe a children’s book about him: The Mayor of Rieti – one of the Italian towns where the Bryant family lived when Joe ‘’Jellybean” Bryant was playing in the “Belpaese”- had asked me the favor. As I approached Kobe with the colorful book, I heard a lot of screams. Dozens of people ran in front of me to make a barrier between me and Kobe. “No autographs, you will get expelled,” they were saying, nervously. I explained I wasn’t going to ask for an autograph, but they weren’t listening. In the meantime, I told Kobe in Italian I had a book for him and he suggested I wait a few minutes as these people were infuriated and didn’t understand. “Wait, just let them talk, let them be,” he told me.
A bit of craziness
It wasn’t only Kobe’s bodyguards, who now are my friends, but also Staples Center’s security people. The latter kept not listening to my explanation, threatening me they’d contact the NBA to complain. In the meantime, Kobe called me to a corner and I got to give him the children’s book that featured him as the main character. He was happy and thanked me with his usual big smile. He was always so proud of his ties to Italy. I told his parents about the book as well and they were pleased.
In the meantime, the Staples center’s security contacted the NBA asking them to revoke my credentials. I explained what happened to the NBA communications manager and that was it. No big deal. They knew I had worked on NBA courts for many years and I’d never do something as stupid as asking for an authograph.
I do have a basketball signed by Kobe at home. How did I get it? For sure I didn’t ask for it. I will tell you in the next chapter of this story. For now: Happy birthday legend!
Check out some of my interviews with Kobe in Italian: