As the FIFA World Cup kicks off, Lakers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash return to their first love: soccer. (Steve Nash Instagram)
Forget the Miami Heat, forget the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers super star Kobe Bryant is locked in to something else. After four years of waiting, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is here.
Bryant is no stranger to soccer having growing up in Italy; it was his first love before basketball.
“It’s my favorite sport to watch,” Bryant said in an interview with ESPN Brazil. “I enjoy watching fútbol more than I do watching basketball actually.”
Bryant isn’t the only Laker enjoying the sights and sounds of Brazil. Lakers teammate Steve Nash is also visiting Rio De Janeiro.
A few days into the games, Bryant is already adamant about who he has going to the finals and taking it all. He isn’t the only one.
“As of now I’m predicting Brazil-Argentina [in the] finals,” said Bryant, who recently picked Brazil to win it all during an interview on Power106 FM.
The last time Brazil won the World Cup was in 2002, but if the Lakers’ Pau Gasol has any say, Spain will win the cup once again. Spain defeated Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup 1-0.
As for Nash, he’s torn.
“My family’s English, so I’ve always rooted for England,” Nash told Sam Laird of Mashable.com. “Secondarily, I’m looking for Brazil. I love how they play. I love Neymar. I’d love to see them win it in Brazil. Especially with all the protest and everything, I’d really love to see them do well in their home country.”
In between games, both Nash and Bryant have immersed themselves in the culture.
“Just played fútbol at the top of Favela Vidigal in Rio. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been,” posted Nash on his Instagram account.
Being the competitor and athlete that he is, Bryant isn’t one to sit on the sidelines, even when he isn’t part of the tournament. Bryant showed off his soccer skills during halftime of a match between Manchester United and Barcelona at FedEx Field.
“I grew up playing fútbol … so from the age of six to the age of 15 I just played fútbol every single day,” Bryant told ESPN Brazil. “It’s just a part of my upbringing.”
Lucky for fans, they were able to witness Bryant playing in a street soccer game courtesy of Ruptly TV on YouTube.
Bryant missed the final 57 games of the 2013-2014 NBA season with a fractured knee, and before that, he was rehabbing his Achilles heel. However, Bryant looked injury free as he maneuvered with the soccer ball. Granted it wasn’t a full contact game or played at a high speed, but Bryant seemed well as he was running around the court.
Bryant has done nothing but preach about returning back to the court and bringing another championship to Los Angeles. I’m sure this motivation was intensified following the L.A. Kings winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. A championship banner will be raised in Staples Center at the start of the 2014-2015 season, and Bryant hopes to secure one for the Lakers by end of it.