What Would Kobe Bryant's Career Look Like If He Were a World Football Star?
The NBA legend was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 and immediately traded to the Lakers, where he has spent the last 20 seasons winning championships, scooping up MVP awards, breaking records and generally making the game of hoops look easy.
Bryant has plenty of love for the court, but in 2014, he admitted that his favourite sport is actually football. He credits his love for the beautiful game to time spent living in Italy as a child and actually believes it has made him a better basketball player. Evidently, he has some skills too.
As the curtain draws on a legendary career, we ask an important question: What if Kobe had chosen football over basketball?
To frame his achievements and attributes in footballing terms, we’ve compared Kobe’s highlights on and off the court to his soccer counterparts…
He Would Be a One-Club Man Like Ryan Giggs
After entering the NBA as a teenager directly from high school, Kobe holds the NBA record for the most seasons with the same team (20).
In that time, he's won 5 NBA Championships (including the "Three-peat" of 1999-2002), three MVP awards and two Olympic Gold medals with the national team.
Perhaps the most suitable one-club man comparison would be Ryan Giggs, who spent 23 years in the Manchester United first team, becoming the most decorated footballer of all time in the process. Giggsy certainly chose the right sport, as a basketball vest might not have been able to contain the Welshman's chest hair.
He Would Stay with His Team Through Thick and Thin Like Francesco Totti
Through the vast majority of Ryan Giggs' career, Manchester United were the undisputed best team in England. He had little reason to leave the confines of Old Trafford.
This was not necessarily the case for Kobe. He was a member of one of the most successful NBA teams of all time, but there were some seasons when the Lakers were not riding high—particularly during the rebuilding period of the early-to-mid-2000s.
Despite the drop in form and highly publicised clashes with Shaquille O'Neale (more on that later), Kobe stuck around. In that sense, one may compare him to Francesco Totti, who has remained with Roma for over two decades, through good times and bad.
He Would Be the Star Player of the League Like Lionel Messi
Ask someone outside of the United States to name a current basketball player and they will almost certainly respond with one of two names: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Conversely, ask someone in the USA to name a football (or rather, soccer) star and they will almost certainly respond with one of two names: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
As the reigning Ballon d'Or holder, it may be argued that Messi is the current star of the Liga. His megastar status transcends the country he plays in and the sport in which he competes—much like Mr Bryant.
He Would Be the Man Who Won It All with His Country Like Xavi
Up until last year, Xavi Hernandez was a one-club man with Barcelona. He was also an integral part of the Spanish national team during their dominant era, becoming the first Blaugrana player to represent his country in over 150 matches in 2012.
Xavi lifted the World Cup in 2010 and took home the European Championships in 2008 and 2012. He also has an Olympic medal in his trophy case after reaching the men's football final at Sydney 2000.
The USA Basketball team won gold that year, but Kobe declined to attend as he was getting married. His national team career finally began in 2007—some 11 years after he was drafted—and he proceeded to win gold at the Summer Olympics of 2008 and 2012.
He subsequently retired from international duty because, like Xavi, he had won it all.
He Would Have Flair Like Ronaldinho
Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the greatest basketball players in history, not just because of his accomplishments, but the flair and style he showed on the court.
He would pass to himself off of the backboard, he would beat opponents with reverse pivots and he would throw buzzer-beating three-pointers with his weaker hand—just because he could.
In this respect, he could be compared to Ronaldinho. The Brazilian continues to combine world-beating ability with delightfully entertaining flair, much like Kobe.
He Would Suffer the Injury Battles of Radamel Falcao
Kobe has suffered a few minor hand and finger injuries during his career, but his worst setback was the Achilles tendon tear he suffered near the end of the 2012-13 season.
It took nearly eight months for the Mamba to recover, during which his contract situation was put into doubt. Many questioned whether he would be the same player upon his return.
His play was limited upon his return, much like Radamel Falcao in the wake of his ACL setback. Bryant's reputation, however, has not declined quite as much as that of the Colombian striker.
He Would Feud with a High Profile Star Like Pele Did with Maradona
Pele and Diego Maradona have never seen eye to eye. Despite being the best players of their time, there never appeared to be the mutual respect between them that their talent deserved.
Kobe is no stranger to quarrels, and his highest profile one came with someone wearing the same shirt, as his famous feud with Shaquille O'Neal was one of the biggest in American sports.
The behemoth 'ballers won three straight championships together, but personal differences resulted in Shaq being traded to Miami in ugly circumstances.
He Would Be a World-Class Winger Like Arjen Robben
Kobe plays as a shooting guard or small forward, which are positions that do not translate naturally to the football field. Kobe would probably be a prolific forward, or perhaps more appropriately, a tricky winger.
Granted, there aren't many 6ft 6in wingers in the game, but Kobe's ability to work the channels, shoot from distance and produce predictable-but-unstoppable signature moves might put him in the mould of a terrifically talented wingman like Arjen Robben.
Bryant and Robben, however, would probably have pretty polarizing views on simulation.
He Would Have the Celebrity of David Beckham
Thanks to the intense scrutiny of the European tabloid press, it is remarkably easy for a high-profile footballer to raise their profile through the media. Through marrying pop stars, wearing sarongs, getting tattoos, changing his hair every five minutes and occasionally playing football, David Beckham achieved global celebrity.
In the beautiful game, Kobe would surely have a similar level of fame. According to the Sun, David Beckham has matched Lionel Messi's earning power in retirement—Mr Bryant can look forward to a similar fate.
He Would Have the Endorsement Deals of Neymar
David Beckham has made much of his fortune through his numerous commercial roles and the same can be said of Neymar, who, according to Forbes, makes more from selling us products than playing football.
Kobe Bryant, of course, is no stranger to a corporate shill, as he has featured in campaigns for fast food, technology companies, jewellery brands, computer games and much more.
Perhaps if Kobe was a soccer star, he'd be making cringeworthy underwear adverts too.
He Would Have the Music Career of Andy Cole
Kobe has dipped his toes into the water of music stardom on several occasions, most notably in 2000 when he was scheduled to release his debut album. The lead single 'K.O.B.E.' featured Tyra Banks singing the chorus hook, but it received such an underwhelming reception that the album was shelved.
Plenty of footballers have attempted to scale the pop charts—including Paul Gascoigne, Clint Dempsey and Slaven Bilic—but it might be most appropriate to compare Kobe's bungled attempts at producing mainstream hip-hop to Andy (sorry, 'Andrew') Cole, whose 'Outstanding' single was anything but.
He Would Have the Documentary Stardom of Cristiano Ronaldo
The 2015 documentary Kobe Bryant's Muse was marketed under the tagline: "A player finds himself always in the shadows of exceptional players."
That sounds awfully familiar to the circumstances of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is constantly trying to put distance between himself and a certain Argentinean Barcelona player.
He Would Join the Canon of Players with Arbitrary Names
Bryant's unusual Christian name has a very meaty origin: Apparently, Kobe was named after the Japanese style of beef, which his parents saw on a restaurant menu.
Plenty of football stars have equally surprising names, including Gylffi Thor Sigurdsson, Kagisho Evidence Dikgacoi and David Désiré Ginola.
Perhaps the best arbitrary football name though, is Emile Ivanhoe Heskey, whose parents appeared to be fans of Sir Walter Scott's classic tale.
He Would Exhibit the Philanthropy of Didier Drogba
Bryant has used his far-reaching appeal to benefit charitable causes on several occasions. He supports no fewer than six major charities, including the After-School All-Stars programme, which provides after-school activities for kids across the USA.