The international game is defined by its emphasis on skill and fundamentals. The U.S. game distinguishes itself with its athleticism and physicality. Rarely do both styles of basketball affect one player in the same way. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is the exception.
When you look at his background, it's easy to see why.
Bryant was born Aug. 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Penn. His father, a member of the 76ers at the time, spent the next five seasons in the NBA before heading to play professionally in Europe when Kobe was six.
Living in Italy and France, and attending school in Switzerland, Bryant was exposed to a new way of life. He accompanied his father to practice and caught nearly every one of his games. The fundamentals drilled into the players were drilled into Bryant as well. He could be found shooting baskets at halftime or alongside them during practice, always watching his father and Italian League star Mike D'Antoni closely while emulating a budding NBA star known as M.J.
from across the Atlantic Ocean.
Europe's love for soccer also rubbed off on Bryant. He played the sport regularly, developing his foot work. He learned to control his body's momentum and change direction at any moment. He learned to use his frame to protect the ball or defend his own goal. He learned how to space himself in relation to his teammates, while never forgetting where they were.
When Bryant returned to Philadelphia in 1991, he focused solely on basketball, as soccer "wasn't that big."
"The only problem was the play was different on the Philly courts from anything I'd seen in Italy," Bryant once recalled. "At first, I didn't understand the school-yard rules, the trash talking, the machismo."
Once Bryant did adapt to what the playground game was all about, the tremendous gifts he brought with him from Europe were able to be harnessed.
Combining the fluid nature of the international game with acrobatic and physical style of U.S., Bryant quickly became the best player on the court. His explosive yet controlled drives were unstoppable. His jumpers were dead on. His pump fakes and ball tricks deceived.
Today Bryant dominates defenders in the NBA with those unique abilities. And if you watch closely enough, you'll see the markings of his travels -- from the soccer fields and basketball gyms of Italy to the playgrounds of Philadelphia.
That's why Kobe Bryant is a unique, complete basketball player. That's why he's the HANNspree Innovative Player of the Month for July.