The story of Kobe Bryant and Tamika Catchings goes back to 1986, famously crystallized by a photo featuring the two of them at the Coliseum in Rome as kids while their fathers played basketball abroad. It continues with both of them being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at the same time — but not together.
Speaking Friday ahead of her induction Saturday, the 41-year-old Tennessee and Indiana Fever legend reflected upon her childhood friendship with Bryant and the unlikely path the two took during their basketball careers. “It’s a blessing,” Catchings said.
“A lot of people will ask, ‘What was it like when you were growing up?’ And I’m like, ‘We were just kids.’ I don’t think either one of us, at that point in time would have ever dreamed about the role that we were in and just the opportunity that we had, both of our father’s playing, being in a foreign country.”Catchings and her father moved back to the United States after one year in Italy. Bryant, whose family moved to Italy in 1984, moved back in 1991. The two had gone their separate ways. However, it wasn’t long before Catchings saw Bryant’s name again — during the 1996 NBA Draft. “I just remember, at that point in time, when he got drafted, calling my parents like, ‘This is the Kobe that we were just in Italy with, right?”
Catchings says that her and Bryant’s time living abroad was far from a typical experience for kids their age, but helped pave the way for an unlikely basketball story. While Bryant went pro, Catching spent four years in college before hitting the WNBA as one of the first great players of that league, going on to be a 10-time All-Star as well as an MVP and league champion. “Lives intertwined,” as Catchings described it. That story took a tragic turn in January 2020, when Bryant died in a helicopter crash in California along with his daughter, Gianna.
“It’s almost like a book. When you see the book and you start filling it with the words then the chapters keep coming. This was going to be the storybook ending,” Catching said. “You close one book and you start a new book. Really for me, that’s why I imagine.”