By Eurohoops team / email@example.com
Vassilis Spanoulis was the first guest on the “Red Podcast” created by Olympiacos and the three-time EuroLeague champion shared his own stories about the late Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed last year.
“I was putting my kids down to sleep when my wife told me the news”, says Spanoulis about hearing the tragic news of Kobe’s passing. “At first I thought it was a lie, a joke, but it turned out to be a tragedy”.
“He was an idol to me like to millions of others. Just like Jordan, before him. This is how we got started in basketball; with posters of Jordan and later on Kobe on our bedroom walls”, recalls the Olympiacos veteran.
Spanoulis first met Bryant during the 2006 World Cup in Japan, when Greece achieved a historic win over Team USA and up until the 2019 World Cup in China, remained the only team to have defeated USA in the recent years.
“[Our first encounter] was when we beat team USA in Japan. When I went to the NBA, our first talk was during a game in Houston and he approached me first. He congratulated me for the previous summer and said he doesn’t understand, it’s a pity that I didn’t play, we truly deserved to win back then, and I deserved to play in the NBA”.
“For me, as a rookie back then, seeing Kobe in front of me was wonderful, and to hear such things from the best player in the world back then. And I truly appreciated his down-to-earth approach. You know, it’s rare for a player of his magnitude to come and say such a thing to a rookie like me. It was very important for a young kid like me back then”, tells Spanoulis.
“Our second meeting was in Beijing and the third came during a Nike event in Athens, and it was the best opportunity for me to get to really know him. We spent 2-3 hours together, at a restaurant. We discussed about everything, for me that was a dream come true, to sit at the same table and dine with Kobe Bryant”.
Despite not being close friends by any means, Spanoulis had his chance to decode the late Lakers legend through these meetings.
“He was an incredible figure and truly competitive. The fact that he didn’t want to lose and was so stubborn made him stand out, and maybe a bit peculiar for the rest of the world. As a player, I totally understand. He had such a winning mentality that it’s impossible for anyone else to understand. You cannot understand unless you’ve played [on a professional level]”.
“You can improve your shooting and your dribble, but your character is part of who you are, and Kobe was unique. You could admire a lot of things about him and learn a lot, but you couldn’t attain his stubbornness, his competitiveness and his willpower to win.”