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Kobe graces the cover of the October issue of L’Uomo Vogue!

Some of us aren’t as fluent in Italian as the Black Mamba, so we’ve translated the text into English below:

“If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will”. So says Kobe. Bryant’s like that. He’s not only one

of the best basketball players of all time, he also embodies a perfect balance of determination, ego and pragmatism. After all, he was already special even before he was born.

Joseph “Joe” Washington and Pamela, his parents, were in a Philadelphia restaurant when his mother announced she was expecting a baby. The happy father named his son after the amazing steak he was eating that evening. Kobe beef, from purebred Wagyu cattle, can cost up to a thousand euros a kilo. Experts consider it to be the finest beef in the world.

On this basis of excellence, the future legend of the Los Angeles Lakers entered the world via a Pennsylvania delivery room a few months later on the 23rd of August, 1978. He didn’t know that Italy would become a part of his life within a few years.

In 1984 his basketball champion father Joe (“Jelly Bean” to his friends) decided to leave the American professional league after eight seasons in the NBA, and to come play in Italy. First in Rieti, then in Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggiana: a tour lasting seven years. Kobe was only six when he arrived in Rieti but he quickly picked up the language. He learnt it well, so much so that he still speaks an excellent Italian with an appealing Roman accent.

Like all little Italian boys, he was immediately signed up for soccer lessons (he’s a fan of AC Milan and FC Barcelona and a friend of David Beckham, editor’s note) but the results were disappointing. “Yeah, they always made me play goalie and I wasn’t actually a sure promise…” Then Someone looked down, realised the history of sports was at risk of being subverted and set things right. Little Kobe moved onto the basketball court and began an upward curve that continues today.

He was 14 when he went back to the States, in 1992. It was no longer a case of being on neighbourhood courts imitating the moves he’d watched Earvin “Magic” Johnson or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar repeat so often on his tapes of the Lakers Showtime. Now he was playing it for real. Almost no one would have bet on him when he joined Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. Kobe spent more time studying, training his head, rather than building experience in the gym as his American peers did. And you can see the difference today: he’s not known for talking in platitudes.

As a teenager he worked hard, he proved everyone wrong and beat record after record. Legend has it that he would deliberately let the other team run up a score, only to win the game single-handedly in the last quarter. What is true, however, is that he won everything he could win, so he decided to pass on college and join the professionals. He was 13th overall pick in the 1996 draft: he went to the Charlotte Hornets, which, however, traded him to the L.A. Lakers in exchange for Serbian pivot Vlade Divac.

Bryant was the youngest-ever NBA starter (at 18 years, 2 months and 11 days) but he often warmed the bench, watching the others play. In 1999 Phil Jackson came to sit on the same bench, as a coach. It was a turning point for him. The “Zen Master” – the man behind the triumphs of Michael Jordan’s and Scottie Pippen’s Chicago Bulls – was ready for an encore. He took Kobe, added Shaquille O’Neal and created basketball’s new winning duo. The rest is history. Three NBA championship titles in three years, from 2000 to 2002. Then came a break in the winning series.

Kobe’s not superstitious (he only has the habit of picking at his jersey before every free throw), but he decided to change the number on his yellow-and-purple jersey from 8 to 24. In 2008 the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals. This year they got their own back. The rivals for this game of the century weren’t the Celtics, nor the super-favourites Cleveland Cavaliers – the team of LeBron James, King James – rather a complete surprise, the Orlando Magic, no talk and lots of action.A sweeping victory. Kobe got his fourth ring (the bejewelled prize adorning the hands of NBA champions, a typically American symbol replacing the more common “jug-handled” trophies treasured by Europeans), the one savoured the longest.

When the chips are down, Bryant lives up to his nickname, “Black mamba”, the African snake which is the fastest, most aggressive snake in the world. Black Mamba is also the name of the new wristwatch collection Kobe has launched in partnership with Swiss manufacturer Nubeo, of Basel. Limited-edition pieces whose prices range from $20,000 for the basic version to up to $500,000 for the super-luxury models, set with yellow and black sapphires.

A new adventure for the Lakers guard: he is not just the endorser, he was also involved in the whole creative cycle. “We worked closely with Nubeo to ensure that each tiny detail, from the design to the materials used, reflected my taste and the basketball spirit.” Even the names of the watches reflect his basketball triumphs: “81”, for example, evokes his record of points scored in a single match, against the Toronto Raptors on January 22nd, 2006. The undertaking captured his interest and he may repeat it. “Perhaps with Nike, for a new pair of shoes.”

He certainly isn’t keen to stay in basketball once he’s finished playing. “A coach, me? Positively not,” he laughs, “I’d never have the patience. When I say goodbye to basketball it’ll be forever.”

He won’t even reinvent himself as a movie star. Despite all the years he’s been a leading player in L.A., Hollywood will have to be satisfied with having him as a film-goer. “Have I ever thought of being an actor? No, absolutely not. Acting’s not for me. But I love movies.” The “Star Wars” epic is one of his favourites. “My favorite character? Luke Skywalker, I’d say. But Darth Vader, too, is fascinating. Great helmet, isn’t it?!”

Father Joe is back in Rieti this year to coach the Sebastiani team. To Bryant, it’s a “return home” that goes beyond just sports. “It’s wonderful. I’m so happy for him. A new adventure begins for him in a town that’s special to us.” Has he had any “thoughts of Italy” regarding his retirement? “Well, my ideal would be to have a home in all the places where I’ve been really happy. And Italy is certainly one of them.” If you ask him what he still cherishes of his time in Italy, his answer surprises you. “I still have that passion. Passion for life. Putting your heart into things.”

Not that he disdains memories of good food; quite the opposite. “Pasta alla carbonara is the greatest, man, no doubt about it. I’d also put cotoletta alla milanese high up in my ratings”. He has also maintained a taste for fashion and style and in fact he looks equally at ease in a tracksuit or a pinstripe suit, “with a preference for Gucci clothes”.

He already has two beautiful daughters but he wouldn’t mind a male heir. “Sometimes Vanessa (Laine, his wife, editor’s note) and I talk about it. I, too, am a third child, with two sisters.” He enjoys good music. “If I have to mention anyone I’d say Jay Z or Kanye West. Michael Jackson? He was something more, a true friend.” Bryant sat in the first few rows at Jackson’s memorial, broadcast worldwide from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “He wasn’t just a genius. Above all, he was a good person, who gave so much. He gave people values, he encouraged them to better themselves all the time. He was far deeper and more authentic than people could see. He was misunderstood too many times.” In his tribute, Magic Johnson reminded everyone of all that Jacko had done for African-Americans.

Will Barack Obama be able to put an end to racism? “I hope so, but it’s not easy. He’ll certainly do everything he can to fight it; it’s a cultural issue that’s hard to eradicate. I didn’t feel aware of it in Italy, but I was lucky. It’s absurd that in the third millennium there should still be people who think the colour of your skin is more important that what you really are inside.”