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On Friday night, Kobe Bryant did a proper nutmeg on Kevin Durant during a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It’s just soccer,” Bryant responded when asked about the play. “Yeah, that comes from my days in Italy.”
Of course, Friday wasn't the first time the crafty veteran tossed a ball between a defender's legs. Earlier in the season, Bryant did the embarrassing move on another legend of the game, Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Bryant famously grew up in Italy and supported AC Milan as a youth and adopted Barcelona as an adult. Digging into the impact of the sport on his life, Bryant went on to explain why playing soccer as a youth helped him dominate the sport of basketball for two decades in rather technical detail.
“Most of the time, American basketball is only taught in twos: 1-2, pick and roll, or give and go, or something like that,” Bryant explained. “In playing soccer growing up, you really see the game in a combination of threes, sometimes fours—and how you play within triangles.”
Bryant also gave the example of being aware of the “backside” and reference switching the ball to the opposite side of the field to drive home the point that soccer provided him an advantage by increasing his awareness of his surroundings.
“You see things in multiple combinations,” Bryant continued. “And growing up playing (soccer), my eye and my brain became accustomed to seeing those combinations in threes and fours versus one and two.”
While Bryant may be best known for becoming only the third man ever to score 33,000 points, he also has 6,229 career assists to his name. Also, five NBA championships tell the story playing in the triangle offense focused on team spacing and movement as much as they tell the story of the enigmatic superstar who starred in the success.
“It’s very difficult,” Bryant conceded that the understanding of soccer best works when the entire team has the same type of awareness.
Likely, his partnership with Barcelona-born Pau Gasol benefited from both players growing up in Europe. Bryant and Gasol played as the pivotal playmakers and offensive orchestrators in Bryant’s past three trips to the NBA Finals and last two titles.
The 37-year-old completed his thought with a laugh, “It’s very difficult, which is why the (San Antonio) Spurs have nothing but Europeans over there that grew up playing soccer.”
The Spurs have appeared in two of the past three NBA Finals and currently have the second-best record in the NBA.