In a recent interview with Mark Jones, Mike D’Antoni talked about playing basketball in Italy, where he was an inspiration to Kobe Bryant.
Between their time living in Italy to their two years together on the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant and Houston Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni crossed paths often. Before Bryant was even close to becoming one of the greatest players in NBA history, he was drawing inspiration from D’Antoni.
Mike D’Antoni began his playing career in the NBA in 1973 but ended up in Italy to begin the 1977 season, where he would become a star for Olimpia Milano until his retirement in 1990. It was there that he became a legend, leading the team to five Italian League titles.
In episode one of Basketball Jones, ESPN’s Mark Jones sat down with D’Antoni, where he spoke about his time around Kobe Bryant, beginning with his first memory of him as a kid.
“My first recollection of him — his dad played for Reggio Emilia, which is about an hour outside of Milan,” began D’Antoni. “At halftime, he had to get him off the court, cause he’s out there hooping.”
Jones also referred to Kobe Bryant’s now-iconic jersey number eight, and how D’Antoni played a role in that number choice.
“I think about Kobe saying that watching you play as a youngster and wearing number eight was part of the reason and inspiration for him wearing that,” said Jones.
D’Antoni wore the number throughout his time with Olimpia Milano and was named by them as the greatest point guard in Italian basketball history.
While Mike didn’t comment on the jersey number, it would make sense that Bryant was at least partially inspired by D’Antoni’s greatness as a point guard at a young age.
According to ESPN, Bryant wore number eight as a youth in Italy, then wore it as a nod to the number he wore at Adidas camp, 143. Those three digits, when added up, sum up to eight.
With his father, Joe Bryant, playing in such close proximity to Mike, who became a legend in Italian basketball, it makes sense that Kobe drew inspiration from the number. The two also bonded once Kobe joined the NBA while D’Antoni was coaching, as Mike further discussed: