Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant played soccer as a kid, and it likely helped his footwork in basketball. The New York Times (Jonathan Abrams) reports:

Bryant took baby steps toward learning those moves while playing soccer in Italy, where he spent a chunk of his childhood and his father, Joe Bryant, played basketball. Playing soccer, his feet touched the ball as much as a basketball now meets his hands. … “I’ve always worked on it, always worked on it since I was a kid,” Bryant said. “I just watched different players — Olajuwon, Michael, Charles — and just all kinds of footwork and just tried to emulate them. Playing soccer, I think, had a lot to do with it as well. It’s just growing up overseas.”

Bryant is currently up against the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. Here’s Magic swingman Mickael Peitrus, as quoted by the New York Times:

“He has great footwork; he has great body control,” said Pietrus, who guarded LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals only to have his hands full again with Bryant. “He has great everything. Compared to LeBron, he’s very different because he’s moving a lot and he knows how to get you unbalanced to make his shot. He’s Kobe Bryant, so I’m not surprised.”

Watching what Bryant does on a basketball court is a thing of beauty. Be sure to catch the rest of the NBA Finals, before the long off-season begins.