Coach Bryant? Akiba Once Led by Kobe’s Dad

By Rob Charry

Published February 27, 2004, issue of February 27, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When news spread that Akiba Hebrew Academy had hired Joe Bryant, a number of alums began scratching their heads, trying to figure out why a former Philadelphia 76er would take a job coaching the Akiba girls’ basketball team. As it turns out, Bryant had just returned from a successful post-NBA career playing in Italy, and he wanted his teenage son to play high school basketball in America. So Kobe Bryant was enrolled at Lower Merion High School in 1992, and Joe Bryant kept an eye on him — and kept busy — by coaching Akiba, which was only a few miles away in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Joe made quite an impression on the girls over the course of his one season there. They played their hearts out for him, and the end result was the best season an Akiba girls team had ever had. Amy Malissa, a 6-foot sophomore at the time, said that she was a bit antsy when she first heard that Joe Bryant would be coaching her team. “It felt like, this is a real person who played basketball in the real world, and I want to be a good player for him,” she said. “After one or two practices, though, you realized how warm and encouraging and nurturing he was, and you played better because you really wanted to please him, because he was so nice.”

Malissa said the girls immediately took to Joe. “He was like an uncle,” she said, “a completely beloved mentor for all of us.” That year, Akiba played in a league made up mostly of small Catholic schools. The girls figured out a way to use that to their advantage. They gave their plays Hebrew names, and had Coach Bryant call them out as they played. “We taught him the names of the plays, and it was hilarious to hear him screaming the plays out in Hebrew,” she said.

Joe left Akiba after one season to be an assistant coach at his alma mater, La Salle University in Philadelphia. As for Kobe, he would eventually lead Lower Merion to a state championship before heading straight to the NBA. Today, Kobe is an NBA all-star who also happens to be awaiting a trial on sexual-assault charges.

But back when he was a standout freshman for Lower Merion, Kobe would come to watch the Akiba girls practice. On a few of those occasions, Kobe and Joe would scrimmage against the girls, two on five. “It was ridiculous,” Malissa said, “they wiped the floor with us. But it was still really fun. Sometimes, I’ll tell people, ‘I scrimmaged against Kobe Bryant,’ and they’ll say, ‘No way!’”






Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.