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AC Milan fan Kobe Bryant reveals his love of soccer

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Kobe Bryant excited by World Cup
  • Basketball star Kobe Bryant grew up in Italy supporting Serie A giants AC Milan
  • Five-time NBA winner visited football center in Soweto hoping to inspire future sports stars
  • American says the Lakers' recent series win against the Celtics is their best yet

CNN -- Basketball star Kobe Bryant has revealed his love of soccer while doing charity work in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup.

The five-time NBA champion told CNN that he was introduced to the sport while living in Italy as a child.

Bryant, who helped the Los Angeles Lakers retain their NBA crown this month, moved to Europe when he was six after his father Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant decided to play professional basketball in Italy.

The Philadelphia-born Bryant, who speaks fluent Italian and Spanish, grew up supporting Serie A giants AC Milan, with his favorite player being former Dutch striker Marco van Basten.

They just put me in goal because I had these long arms and long legs
--Kobe Bryant

"AC Milan was always my favorite team growing up," he said. "It actually started in Italy when I used to go to the basketball courts to play by myself and you used to have the little goalposts underneath the basket.

"I'd show up wanting to play basketball and there would be 12 kids waiting to have a match.

"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.

"Then as months went on, they finally let me out on the field a little bit."

With the World Cup well under way in South Africa, Bryant took time out to visit a new football center in Soweto during his first visit to the continent.

The center provides a football life skills program to 20,000 children in South Africa each year, offering them the chance to develop their talent.

South Africa has the world's largest HIV-positive population and so, more importantly, the program will also give the children access to a HIV/AIDS education which involves counseling and testing.

Speaking to CNN's Pedro Pinto, the NBA star said that sportsmen have an important role off the field in helping to inspire future champions around the world.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to come and see the World Cup and to come and see South Africa," he said.

"Even though I'm a basketball player, the messages remain the same because I was a kid just like they were -- it's all about accomplishing the dream.

"I think it's only right and it's important that once you've reached a certain level you give back and you help the next generation of players and kids accomplish their goals too."

Bryant continues to prosper on the basketball court after his Lakers team won a 17th title this year, defeating the Boston Celtics 4-3 in the finals.

When asked to compare the Lakers' most recent title with his previous four, Bryant said this year's triumph was his favorite.

"It's the top, because it was so hard to get," he said. "We really had to work extremely hard. The championship is about how guys come together as a group to accomplish a goal."

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