Kobe Bryant: Will He Follow Ochocinco's Path to MLS if There's an NBA Lockout?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2011

Kobe Bryant and Chad Ochocinco are two of the highest profile soccer fans in America.  

And with the NFL in the midst of a lockout, Ochocinco is trying to go from fan to player: He's currently trying out for Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer.  

Right now, he doesn't have the skill or experience to compete at such a high level, but he has physical tools that his potential teammates may already be jealous of.

As an NFL player, he's stronger than most soccer players.  And as a wide receiver, he may be as fast as anyone on the pitch.

Whether or not he makes the team long-term remains to be seen.  I for one, hope he does.  He'd bring great publicity to a game that has always struggled to attract mainstream American sports fans.

As you may have guessed from the title, this article isn't just about Chad Ochocinco.  

The NBA is on the precipice of its own offseason of labor negotiations.  If the league goes into a lockout, Kobe Bryant is another superstar who could bring much needed publicity to the MLS.

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His love of the game as a fan is no secret.  He's been on the cover of ESPN the Magazine in an FC Barcelona jersey, and he was one of the most prominent celebrities present at the 2010 World Cup.

Bryant spent much of his childhood in Italy while his father was playing professional basketball.  He played a lot of soccer with the local children back then.

Even when he'd try to find a basketball court, he often ended up handling a ball with his feet instead of his hands.

When talking about his days on the pitch, Kobe has said, "They just put me in goal because I had these long arms and long legs, and I just had to stop everything that came my way."

When the Bryants moved back to America (where soccer is nowhere near as popular), Kobe focused on basketball and laid the foundation for one of the greatest athletic careers in history.

He's now played 15 seasons in the NBA, and won five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. He's become one of the most recognized faces on the planet.

While Kobe has never played soccer at a very high level, he already has some physical tools that most soccer players can only dream of.

His length, jumping ability, and hand-eye coordination would all be essential if he looked to become a goalkeeper (like he was as a youngster).

If he played a different position, those same things combined with his speed, quickness, athleticism and killer instinct would help him all over the field.

With a few months of focused and intense training, he could become a very interesting asset for any MLS team.  And you know when Kobe does something, he doesn't do it halfway.

If he committed to playing soccer, he'd do everything in his power to be as good as he can possibly be.  With his attitude and athleticism, that could actually be pretty good.

In a practical sense, playing soccer at a high level would keep him in great shape.  

Assuming he did make an MLS roster (which would obviously be a long shot), he'd almost certainly head back to basketball as soon as labor issues were resolved.

Being in tip-top shape would be important in pursuing more titles with the Lakers.

Kobe has also hinted at possibly playing basketball overseas if there's a lockout.  That makes sense for him too.  But I think excelling at a different sport would do more for his legacy (Michael Jordan couldn't do that).

If Ochocinco makes Sporting Kansas City's official roster, tons of sports fans will pay a little more attention to the MLS.

And his impact would be nothing compared to what Kobe could do.  He'd bring a ridiculous amount of attention to the game, and maybe even inspire some young American athletes to take up soccer.

If we're ever going to compete with the world's soccer powerhouses, our best athletes have to be interested from an early age.

Kobe Bryant playing in the MLS would generate that kind of interest.

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