Kobe Bryant who was born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Joe and Pam, already had two girls, Sharia and Shaya. Kobe was their third and final child. Life in the Bryant family was not your normal everyday existence. Joe, a playground hoops legend from Philly’s John Bartram High School, was in the midst of a scattershot pro basketball career that took him to three different countries.
“Jellybean Joe,” a 6-9 forward with the skills of a point guard, never really found his place in the NBA. After three stellar years at La Salle University, he was drafted in 1975 by Golden State. When the Warriors refused his contract demands, he was dealt to Philadelphia. From there, Joe bounced from one team to another, appearing in a total of 606 games for the 76ers, San Diego Clippers and Houston Rockets and averaging 8.7 points along the way. He also played professionally in Europe. Some say Joe Bryant refused to go with the flow. Others insist he was a man ahead of his time.
Pam was by Joe’s side for every stop of his career. He had had his eye on her since childhood. Their grandparents lived on the same block in Philadelphia, and they often crossed paths during the 1960s. The pair rekindled their relationship in college in the early 1970s and got married soon after.
Kobe grew up eating, sleeping and breathing basketball. A year after his son was born, Joe was traded to San Diego. The Bryants loved being in sunny Southern California. Their neighbors were friendly, and rain rarely forced the kids inside. Kobe developed an intense love of hoops on the West Coast. By his third birthday, he was already telling people be would be an NBA star.
In the summer of 1982, the Bryants packed their bags for Houston, after Joe was dealt to the Rockets. Kobe, who was gaining a better understanding of what his dad did for a living, started following the NBA seriously. His favorite player was Magic Johnson, a point guard in a power forward’s body—not unlike Kobe’s dad. The youngster responded to Magic’s flashy style and winning ways, and adopted the Lakers as his favorite pro team.
Joe’s stay in Houston lasted only one season. When the Rockets didn’t renew his contract, he signed with a team in Rieti, Italy. The Bryant family’s basketball odyssey continued. For Kobe and his sisters, the move proved to be a meaningful bonding experience. Stuck in a foreign country and unable to speak the language, they relied on each other to get by. Every day after school they practiced new Italian words and phrases together. Within a couple of months, all three were fairly fluent in Italian.
Joe, meanwhile, finally hit his stride in the pro ranks. Encouraged to use all the talents and instincts he developed on the streets of Philadelphia, he blossomed into a star. Joe regularly poured in 30 to 40 points a game. He made a very good salary, and his family was treated well by the people in their town. What many NBA fans thought of as basketball hell was its own slice of basketball heaven for the Bryants.
Kobe’s world revolved around his father’s basketball schedule. He often accompanied Joe to afternoon practice and rarely missed a game. Kobe studied his dad’s moves, then tried to mimic the way he played. At halftime of games, Kobe sometimes entertained fans by shooting baskets.
On Joe’s days off, if the family wasn’t on a sightseeing adventure, they would spend time with the families of other American players. Among them was Harvey Catchings, whose daughters, Tauja and Tamika, would go on to stardom in college and the WNBA.
This lifestyle—particularly seeing his father thrill crowds with thunderous dunks and no-look passes—further inspired Kobe to dream of a career in the NBA. The soccer-crazed Italians, however, pushed Kobe in another direction. They told him more than once that with his long arms, quickness, and leaping ability, he would make a world-class goalkeeper.
Kobe kept tabs on the NBA thanks to his grandparents. In the days before international cable sports feeds, they recorded games and sent the tapes to Italy on a weekly basis. Father and son watched these videos together, as well as those Joe received from scouting services in the U.S. With Joe imparting his expertise, Kobe learned to see the whole court and read how the action unfolded during a game.
Kobe got a chance to hone his skills each summer, when the Bryants flew back to visit family and friends in Philadelphia. From the age of 10, he competed in the city’s high-powered Sonny Hill League and held his own against boys his age and older. His father and Pam’s brother, John, counseled him on areas of his game that needed improving.