- Late NBA legend Kobe Bryant and WNBA icon Tamika Catchings have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
- A photo of the two basketball superstars together as children went viral after Saturday’s ceremony.
- Bryant and Catchings became childhood friends while their dads played pro basketball in Italy.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Basketball icons Kobe Bryant and Tamika Catchings are officially Hall of Famers.
The late Los Angeles Lakers legend and retired Indiana Fever superstar were both inducted on Saturday in recognition of their extraordinary professional basketball careers.
As fate would have it, the two stars’ paths first intersected some 35 years earlier, before they became two of the most successful players in the history of their leagues. Bryant and Catchings were childhood friends when they lived in Italy as young kids. Their fathers both played professional basketball overseas in the mid-1980s after stints in the NBA, so the American expats and their families naturally gravitated towards each other.
A surreal photo from those days in Italy went viral this weekend as their story came full circle. The pictures shows a 7-year-old Catchings and 8-year-old Bryant posing outside of the Colosseum in Rome:
—ESPN (@espn) May 15, 2021
“A lot of people will ask, ‘What was it like when you were growing up?'” Catchings said before the induction ceremony, per Mass Live. “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 even noted that it was soccer, not basketball, that captured the pair’s attention most often during those days in Italy.
“Soccer was our sport,” Catchings told the Chicago Daily Herald.”We weren’t even thinking much about basketball back then.”
Catchings left Italy one year after she arrived, parting ways with Bryant in the process. But as she told Mass Live, their “lives intertwined” were just beginning. When Bryant was drafted to the NBA with the 13th overall pick a decade later, Catchings recounted “calling my parents like, ‘This is the Kobe that we were just in Italy with, right?'”
By then, Catchings was a standout baller in her own right. She was recruited to the University of Tennessee, where she spent four years thriving for Pat Summitt’s Lady Volunteers. The team won a national championship and went undefeated in Catchings’ freshman season.
While Bryant made a name for himself in the NBA, Catchings joined the still-new WNBA. As the league found its footing, she developed into one of its foremost superstars. An MVP award, a league championship, and 10 All-Star selections later, the Indiana Fever forward was a WNBA icon.
Her childhood friend, of course, became one of the best ever on the men’s side of the game. So it seemed fitting that the two would enter the Naismith Hall of Fame in the same class.
“This was going to be the storybook ending,” Catchings said.
Bryant died in a helicopter accident in January 2020, just months before he was eligible to join the Hall of Fame. His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, and seven others were also killed in the crash. On Saturday, Bryant’s eldest daughter, Natalia, accepted the iconic orange Hall of Fame jacket on her father’s behalf.
Catchins told Fox Sports it felt like “the main character [was] missing” from this weekend’s Hall of Fame proceedings.
She added, though, that she sees it as “a blessing” that she and Bryant were enshrined in Naismith’s hallowed halls at the same time.