Editor’s note: This piece was written prior to Kobe Bryant’s untimely passing. We hope this serves as a positive remembrance of all that he was and all that he did.
Growing up as a Third Culture Kid (or TCK), Kobe Bryant faced situations throughout his childhood that dealt with visual diversity, hidden diversity and cultural fluidity — situations that ultimately helped shape his emotional intelligence.
A TCK Genesis
The former Los Angeles Laker (he retired back in 2016) became a TCK at 6 years old when his family moved to Italy — his dad Joe “Jellybean” Bryant had ended his own eight-year career with the NBA and set out to play in an Italian League.
While there, Kobe learned to speak Italian and began to create his own set of deep-rooted morals, values and beliefs — “Mamba Mentality,” as he calls it — giving him a foundation to become confident in everything he did. This confidence played into Kobe’s career work ethic, as well as his greater sense of self-assurance, and is one of the reasons he was seen as one of the most competitive players in the game.
A Culture Shock
Eventually, Joe Bryant’s basketball career overseas came to an end, and the Bryants moved back to Ardmore, Philadelphia where Kobe entered middle school. But American school was a “culture shock,” so he used basketball as a way to make friends, decode situations and recognize others’ emotions.
“I didn’t have anybody to lean on. It was kind of strange because, being away, I didn’t know a lot of the slang that kids used. Kids would come up to me and say whatever, and I’d just nod.”Kobe Bryant to the L.A. Times in a 1996 interview
The communication challenges Kobe faced allowed him to become more socially aware, so that he could manage himself and his relationships better. As for self-awareness, Kobe began to understand his motivations and what he does well — basketball, which became something he dedicated all his time to.
These simple but commonly overlooked cultural concepts that TCKs and Cross Culture Kids (CCKs) experience helped Kobe communicate with his team, relate to the diverse community in the NBA and become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.