Age and injuries robbed Bryant of some of his physical ability. But as time went on, Bryant improved on one skill that became increasingly noticeable: his Spanish. He built on the language foundation that began as a child in Italy, where he became fluent in Italian. The basic Latin structure that language shares with Spanish makes understanding grammar and pronunciation easier. Bryant was also able to practice Spanish at home with his wife, Vanessa, a Mexican-American.
And there was Bryant's friendship with former teammate Pau Gasol (a native of Spain). Bryant also got to see firsthand how the Spanish-language media and Hispanic fans reacted favorably to Mark Madsen (former Lakers player, now assistant coach) speaking Spanish. Then there's soccer. The sport Bryant learned to love in Italy features many games broadcast in Spanish and interviews with great players, like Lionel Messi, who feel comfortable speaking in only Spanish.
The Lakers star is now willing to conduct extended interviews in the language, relating stories like the one that had him putting together a Barbie Dream House for his daughter on Christmas Eve with a game looming the next day.
Speaking Spanish so well has endeared Bryant to Latino fans even more as his career draws to a close. They're able to hear him explain in the language native to many of them how much his last season means and how he has finally relaxed and enjoyed the tributes to his career once he decided to retire.
"Ahora tengo una calma muy diferente que antes," Kobe said in Spanish -- explaining he has a calm that's very different than before.
Thousands of Hispanic fans will no doubt tune in to the broadcast of his final game on ESPN2 or stream on WatchESPN on Wednesday. After all, Bryant might even say a few final words en español.