It sounds quite crazy, doesn’t it? Well, it did happen! Let’s start from the beginning…
For the ones who don’t know, Kobe Bryant sort of grew up (age 6 y.o. to 13 y.o.) in Italy, precisely in Reggio Emilia, during the 7 seasons (1984 to 1991) his father Joe Bryant spent in the Italian League, having moved from the NBA.
Due to that, Kobe is still able to fluently speak in Italian (really perfect pronunciation, as additional testament to his ability of chasing perfection in every skill he decides to possess) as confirmed for example by some of the videos you can easily find on Youtube (ex: query “Kobe Italian”).
After this necessary premise, let’s move to the actual tale itself and to some details about how I ended up talking with him live in a US radio show in Italian.
Easter 2008 - an Italian tv station named “SportItalia” (literally “SportItaly”, as you might have guessed) opened up the extraordinary opportunity to ask Kobe Bryant questions.
For the Italian media landscape, given the low coverage basketball tends to usually have in there (and due to the physiological and complete lack of fans interaction with the league superstars), this was a one of a kind event. Same as many other basketball lovers, I started flooding the given mailbox with my questions for the Black Mamba.
Easter finally arrived, the wait had been never-ending! SportItalia was going to broadcast the Easter Day match and then a video of Kobe answering to the questions selected among the ones received.
It turns out that all of my basketball related questions had been discarded and, in a unique opportunity to ask something to one of the best basketball players all-time, the questions that our soccer-centric country decided to ask were along the lines of:
• “Do you prefer Inter Milan or A.C. Milan?”
• “Had you been a soccer professional player, what role would you have played in?”
• “Do you like lasagne?”
• etc. etc.
I was so disappointed that I promised myself I would have definitely found another way. Few weeks later, a similar contest by Nike opened in US and I tried to be selected by sending my questions, chances to be picked being extremely lower due to the obvious different volumes of requests (basketball audience in Italy vs basketball audience in USA)…
Despite the odds, one of them was selected (actually one of the least interesting ones in my humble opinion, but it is an insignificant detail I’d say!) and I was going to join an American live radio show to chat with Kobe!
After a relevant number of pre-steps to be completed before being able to take part to the conference call, finally the day arrived (or rather the night I should say, given it was 2.00 am in Italy!): alarm clock had been set and, after the last recommendations from the presenter (such as “do not mention brands”), I “had the mic”!
In a fraction of a second, even if I’d have totally been able to do it in English, I thought it’d have been cool to interact with Kobe in Italian and, without thinking too much about it, I did so!
I can imagine, during those few seconds, the “terror” of the presenter who, after all of those meticulous recommendations, had no idea about what I was saying, without many chances to intervene, being the show live and without any filter!
Luckily everything went well, I made Kobe laugh and I have a basketball related memory which is a nice story to share.
Below you can find the exact words pronounced and aired live by the three of us (the presenter Rick Lopez, Kobe Bryant and I), with the English translation added in round brackets for the Italian bits:
• Presenter: “Now, speaking of Italy… We have Valerio on the line and he is calling from Rome, Italy”
• Kobe: “Oh, ok!”
• Presenter: “[…] here to speak to Kobe. Hey, what’s going on Valerio?”
• I: “Ciao Kobe, sei il più grande! Ti volevo chiedere…” (“Hi Kobe, you’re the greatest! I wanted to ask you…”)
• Kobe: “Grazie Valerio, come va? La mia città favorita Roma!” (“Thanks Valerio, how you doing? Rome is my favorite city!”)
• I: “Bene, bene. Qui é notte, é notte fonda!” (“All good. It’s night in here, the dead of night!”)
• Kobe: [laughs]
• I: “Ti volevo chiedere: chi é il miglior giocatore che ti ha difeso e invece quale é stato il più difficile da marcare? Sei il più forte!” (“I wanted to ask you: who’s the best player who has ever guarded you and who’s the hardest for you to guard instead? You’re the best!”)
• Kobe: “Aaaah. Devo rispondere alla domanda in Italiano? Non so se gli altri possono capire la risposta…” (“Aaaah. Am I supposed to answer the question in Italian? I’m not sure if the others would be able to get the answer…”)
• I: “No, no, io ti capisco anche in Inglese.” (“No need: I can understand you in English as well.”)
• Kobe: “Ok allora lo faccio in Inglese dai.” (“Ok, I’ll do it in English then.”)
• I: “Ok.”
• Kobe: “Yo, the question was: who was the hardest player to defend and also who’s the toughtest defender that I faced? I’d say the toughest defender, I’d say is Bruce Bowen I think. They have such a great defense philosophy and he is so committed to play defense that it’s extremely challenging when you face him. The toughest player to guard there is a myriad. I think Carmelo Anthony is a tough player personally for me to guard because of the size and weight… So that’s extremely challenging and I look forward to that challenge every time we match up. But there is a lot of talented individual players you have to be ready for.”
• Presenter: “Grazie, Valerio.” (“Thanks, Valerio.”)
If you want to directly listen to what happened in first person, here you have the video of myself, clearly super thrilled, having a word with the one and only Kobe Bryant!
None of us knew at the time we would have met in San Francisco in 2013, but that’s another story…