When you are an athlete quickly climbing the superstar ladder, sports brands will inevitably notice you and offer you a multi-million dollar deal. This is what happened to Kobe Bryant in his first few years in the league, as well as others before and after him. What sets Bryant apart from most is that his first endorsement deal did not happen in the NBA or high school. It happened way back when Kobe was a nine-year-old kid in Italy.
In the book “Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant” by Roland Lazenby, Roland Maltinti — one of the owners of Pistoia, one of the teams Joe Bryant played for — shared that time when he negotiated a deal with a young Kobe.
“Maltinti recalled Kobe striking his first endorsement deal at age nine. The league held its all-star game in Rome, and Kobe offered to work it as a mop boy. Maltinti liked his offer but wanted Kobe to wear a sweater advertising a Maltinti business. Kobe agreed to do it, but he drove a hard bargain — he wanted a new bicycle.”
“Kobe phoned early the morning after the event. ‘I want the bike in red,’ he said”
Roland Lazenby, “Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant”
Maltinti and the young Kobe shook hands and proceeded with a gentleman’s agreement. Bryant wore the Maltinti sweater and did whatever was asked of him. In exchange, he got the red bicycle he had been eyeing. One would assume that Kobe used the bike to pass the time, go racing with his friends or go to the nearest candy shop. But this is the Black Mamba we are talking about and not your ordinary nine-year-old. The bike had one use and one use only: for Kobe ride to the mountainside to Ciriglio to ball with the older boys. If no one was there, Bryant would continue playing alone and pretend he was Dr. J.
Mamba Mentality from early days
This is a critical detail in Kobe’s upbringing. It is interesting how Bryant chose to match up with boys way older than him rather than kids his age. From the looks of it, the experience proved pivotal when he entered the league at 18-years-old (he was actually drafted when he was 17). Those heady days in Italy forced Kobe to mature as quickly as possible. It was not necessarily because he had no choice. Kobe wanted a tougher challenge and had that unquenching thirst for knowledge. The only way to satiate his hunger was to play on the Ciriglio courts.
We should also point out that Bryant used the little red bike the same way a professional athlete would use his resources. If you play a sport for a living, a chunk of your salary goes to your family, daily expenses, and afford the best things in life. A good amount of your salary also goes back to your body: trainers, a chef, a nutritionist, personal gym equipment, and the like. In short, the money you earn from basketball also goes back to basketball.
It is fascinating how Bryant already had the Mamba Mentality deeply embedded in him at such a young age. Young Kobe knew how to negotiate, and he used these skills to do what he loved the most: to play basketball from sun up to sundown.