Main Line Times – Sports Section
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Kobe still attached to Lower Merion
By David Block
ARDMORE – When Kobe Bryant played his first NBA game a decade ago (Jan. 28, 1997), scoring 13 points and dishing out five assists, there were still people who thought it was a mistake for him to go straight from Lower Merion High School to the pros.
However, Bryant who was 18, knew that they would shut up in the long run, and he was right.
Last Monday, in an exclusive interview with the Main Line Times, Bryant said his proudest basketball accomplishment has been winning three NBA championships.
“That was most memorable – it’s being the best team in the world at that time,” said Bryant. “We rallied together and played off of one another. To be able to achieve such a lofty goal, winning three championships, was I extremely special for me.”
Another was receiving the 2002 NBA All-Star Game MVP award.
“It felt good to be part of that tradition,” said Bryant.
Bryant is equally proud of his Lower Merion accomplishments, such as being part of the Aces’ 1996 squad that won the PIAA Class AAAA state championship.
Returns to LM
Bryant tries to return to Lower Merion every summer. “I miss the community,” said Bryant. “I miss my teachers and my friends. I really don’t have a chance to see them too often, so every time we [the Lakers] come to Philadelphia to play the 76ers, I always look in the crowd to see if I see some of my old friends.”
He likes returning to Lower Merion because the people he knew here don’t treat him any differently.
“That’s what I love about coming home,” said Bryant. “I’m still Kobe, the same Kobe that went to Bala Cynwyd, then Lower Merion. There’s no difference at all.
“A lot of kids after high school go off to college, but for me it was high school then straight to work. High school for me was my college.”
When Kobe returned to Lower Merion High School last July for the Kobe Clinic, sponsored by Nike, his intention was to give the next generation of basketball players some of the knowledge that he gained throughout his career.
“I set up stations, where there were a myriad of coaches – I walked around from station to station, and I gave the kids tips and advice,” said Bryant, who ran a similar clinic in Los Angeles last summer.
Bryant hopes to run another clinic next summer at Lower Merion, but it depends on his schedule, which will be hectic because he will try out for the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team in Las Vegas.
That will take up a chunk of the summer as well as training camp for the [Lakers],” said Bryant.
Even though his schedule is always full, he tries to keep up with Lower Merion boys’ basketball head coach Gregg Downer, especially during the Aces’ season.
“He keeps me updated on how the season’s progressing,” said Bryant.
Last year, before the Aces won the final game to capture the PIAA Class AAAA state title, Bryant spoke to the team.
“I gave them words of encouragement,” said Bryant. “I still feel like I’m part of the Lower Merion tradition. I have that sense of pride of going to Lower Merion.”
When not on the basketball court, Bryant spends time with his wife, Vanessa and his two daughters, Natalia Diamante, age 4, and nine-month old Gianna Maria-Onore.
“Natalia just learned how to ride a bike, so I’m teaching her how to pop a wheelie,” said Bryant. “She also plays soccer and basketball. She’s a good dribbler.”