Former players and coaches of Mulhouse remember the passage of Kobe Bryant with his parents in the early 90s.
« He was very nice and well-behaved: we would have liked to have him as a son! »: Kobe Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter accident, left an indelible memory for those who have been with him in Mulhouse, where he lived a few months with his family when he was a teenager. The young Kobe was 13 when he arrived in Alsace in August 1991 after seven years in Italy, where his father, a professional basketball player, had played after eight seasons in the NBA. « In 1991, I was loaned to Mulhouse by Limoges and we saw an American player of 2.06 m: Joe Bryant, who was a little bit the Magic Johnson of Europe, » recalls the former French international Jimmy Verove.
« He was staying with his whole family in the same hotel as me and at practice the kid was there regularly. I was 20 years old, I did a lot of extra work after the sessions and he stayed with me, he shot with me and sometimes we did some one-on-one before I took him back to the hotel in the evening », says the 1993 European champion with Limoges, now assistant coach at Pau-Orthez. « It lasted a few months, but I couldn’t know that I was having fun with the one who was going to become the best player in the world. He was very determined, always with his ball under his arm, » he continues.
At the American school in Basel
Thierry Jung works in the same hotel where the Bryant family stayed for several months. He is also the one who finds the school where Kobe and his sisters will go to school during their few months in Mulhouse. « Joe had asked me to find an English school for Kobe and his two sisters. Thanks to my wife who worked in Switzerland, I managed to find an American school in Basel to enroll his children », where they went by train, he recalls.
Little by little, Thierry Jung will establish a friendship with Kobe. Thanks to basketball of course. « I had set up a basketball board on a tennis court, it was fixed on one of the posts of the structure and I played there when the court was not used. One day Kobe saw me and asked if he could play with me. I gladly accepted. We played one-on-one, free throws… He always beat me, » says Mr. Jung.
Despite the language barrier, Thierry Jung and the young Kobe managed to communicate and share good times: « I spoke a few words of English so we managed to understand each other, and on the court we did not need to speak. » Although he saw the talent of the young American, he never imagined that he would become one of the greatest legends of his sport.
« I noticed right away that he had great technical abilities, way above average: he had ball handling and dribbling that were already impressive. But when he was taken four years later by the Lakers, at only 17 years old, I thought: this must be a namesake! »
💬 Thierry Jung, qui tenait l'hôtel où a vécu Kobe Bryant à 13 ans avec sa famille, raconte ses souvenirs avec celui qui est devenu quelques années plus tard l'un des plus grands joueurs de l'histoire. pic.twitter.com/ZGunBqzfsS
— RMC Sport (@RMCsport) January 28, 2020
« A legend »
Jean-Luc Monschau too briefly saw Kobe Bryant in action. He had coached Mulhouse for the previous six seasons but had just given up his position to Chris Singleton. Before leaving to coach Le Mans, he attended a few games of his former team in September 1991. « The interesting thing is that it was the young Kobe Bryant who was doing the half-time show. He was already showing off his skills at the age of 13, he was already very good with the ball. And so people at half-time did not go to the refreshment bar: they stayed in their seats to watch him », remembers the one who came back to coach Mulhouse-Pfastatt, today in National 1.
For all, the announcement of the death of the « Black Mamba » was a shock. « At first we thought it was fake news », says Jimmy Vérove. « He was a legend, and superheroes are not expected to die. He marked the history of basketball, he will mark it for a long time. « I sincerely believe that if he had played before Michael Jordan, he would have been the icon, » still believes Verove. « In addition, his end hurts even more because he was with his daughter, who was Kobe in little. Every dad can relate to that. »