Oh, and he coaches his daughter’s youth basketball team, too. That’s what landed Bryant in some hot water this week.
What exactly did Kobe do?
Bryant posted a photo on Instagram on Wednesday of the players on his daughter’s team scowling after winning fourth place in a tournament. Bryant said he wanted to make the point that the girls were unsatisfied with fourth place, and he lauded the way the team has grown together and the commitment the players have shown.
“The beauty of coaching is growing the players from the ground up. That journey continues,” he wrote.
Why is it causing such hubbub?
Critics focused on the portion of Bryant’s caption that mentioned a girl on the team who missed the team’s game and thus wasn’t in the team picture.
“The 7th player (not in pic) missed this game for a dance recital so that should tell you where her focus was at this time," Bryant wrote. “Now? She eats sleeps and breaths the game.”
He later edited and added to the post, "She enjoyed dance more than ball which is fine.”
To a lot of people, all that read as though Bryant were criticizing a child for missing a basketball game for another event. And that in an era of overspecialization, that didn’t go over too well.
“Kobe Bryant shames girls basketball player for attending dance recital instead of playing for his team,” wrote Yahoo! Sports.
“Kobe Scolds Player on His AAU Team for Missing Game in Favor of Dance Recital,” read one viral tweet.
Another tweet called Bryant “a psychopath.” Wrote another critic: “I hope the whole team quits and finds a better coach. or ya know, does something else they love like dancing. kobe’s trash.”
And Bryant’s response?
As criticism poured in, Bryant made the case that he was simply trying to acknowledge why one of the players was not in the photo, and that he wasn’t trying to condemn a child for enjoying another fitness activity.
“I was just explaining why she wasn’t in the pic,” he wrote back to one Twitter user. “Most of my kids on the team played and still play other sports including my daughter so it’s all love. Don’t misunderstand the message.”
Oh, and about the scowling? That was the team’s idea, he said.
Does Bryant support kids playing multiple sports? Did he play multiple sports growing up?
Well, yes, and yes. Since 2018, Bryant has worked with the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.,-based think tank, to find solutions to problems facing American youth sports, including sport specialization, a lack of qualified coaches and the sky-high price to participate in some sports.
“Playing multiple sports is really important,” he told Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program in an interview in 2018. “One of the things Phil [Jackson] used to say is you always look for players who grew up playing multiple sports — because of their footwork, and their understanding of concepts is broader.”
That year, he published a list of “companion sports” youth basketball players should try during the offseason, because those sports are fun and will help players improve on the court. For girls, he recommended soccer, volleyball, softball, tennis, and track and field; for boys, soccer, baseball, tennis, track and field, and football.
And, yes, Bryant played multiple sports as a child. Growing up in Italy, he played soccer nearly as much as he played basketball. In recent years, he’s also been known to enjoy tennis.
Bryant dances, too. Or at least he used to. In a subsequent Instagram post, he said he skipped basketball for two weeks when he was 12 for dance rehearsals for a school show.
“I’m all about diversifying while young, then locking in on your passion,” he wrote.
He posted the video of the dance routine, set to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.” Did the rehearsal pay off? You be the judge.