Kobe Bryant has broad shoulders and slim ankles, which support his swaggering walk along the corridors of the Maranello factory. He moves slowly, stopping from time to time and staring at something – a car, a place, a detail – as if wanting to record a memory of what he’s seeing.
‘Wow!’ is the expression he uses the most. He can’t contain it when Ferrari’s Chief Test Driver, Raffaele de Simone, shows him the power of the F12tdf on the Fiorano track. Later in the Classiche department and on the assembly line, there it is again. ‘Wow!’
In 20 incredible years, Bryant won five NBA titles, all with the LA Lakers, where he played 1346 games and scored 33,643 points, becoming all-time scorer for the Californian franchise. He had 18 call-ups to the All-Star Game and won two Olympic golds with Team USA. His playing career ended last year with a game against the Utah Jazz in front of a weeping crowd.
Not that Bryant is shedding any tears: ‘People ask me: “What? You’re not sad? Aren’t you sorry it’s all over? No more packed stadiums, no more games, no more public going wild every time you score – what will you do now?”
‘I always give the same answer: “No, I’m not sad. No, I’m not sorry.” Because a new phase of my life is beginning. As important and good as the previous one.’
It must be that famous “Mamba Mentality” of his, which he set out in five points: 1) passion; 2) fanatical and obsessive focus on detail; 3) drive to compete and win at all costs; 4) resilience, resisting adversity and getting up again after a fall; 5) the ability to overcome fear and anxiety.
There’s no doubt Bryant will apply this mindset to his new activities, whether it’s his venture capital fund in partnership with his entrepreneur friend Jeff Stibel, or as a designer for a Nike clothing range that bears his name.
‘That’s why my visit to Ferrari has special value,’ he says. ‘My philosophy is the same philosophy that drives those who work at Maranello: ongoing research and innovation, and attention to every detail with a precise purpose – to enhance performance.
‘Shoes, like cars, need to look good. Yet aesthetics cannot be an end in itself and everything needs a technical base. A sole produced in a certain way can earn a player a fraction of a second that may be crucial, just as an apparently minimal change to the aerodynamics of a single-seater racing car can prove decisive at the finishing line. Innovation is at the root of all this and this place is a prime example.’
There’s another special bond between the former Lakers player and Italy, in particular the Emilia-Romagna region. Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, was an NBA power forward, who started playing in the Italian championship in 1984, first at Rieti, then at Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggio Emilia.
Bryant was 13 year old when his father returned to the US, yet the special bond with the country where he grew up has never been broken. He still speaks excellent Italian and says he owes a lot to Italy: ‘I learned what passion, creativity and imagination really mean here. Growing up in these cities filled with history was a constant inspiration and developed my imagination. Italy is the place of art, of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
‘For an American kid it meant being constantly stimulated, always asking questions and looking for answers. On the basketball court, of course, but in other places too. Because you may have scored all the points you want, or won all the trophies in the world, but if you don’t grow as a person, you’re nothing.
‘The most important challenge for each one of us is always the one which is still to come.’