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How Tap Dancing Made Kobe Bryant a Better Basketball Player

Kobe Bryant, who tragically died in a helicopter crash last weekend along with his teenage daughter and seven others, was one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived.

But even the greats deal with injury, and go to creative lengths to stay healthy.


Bryant's injury prevention routine was particularly unique—and involved taking tap classes to strengthen his ankles. (You've probably heard of football players taking ballet, but this one was new to us.)

During the 2000 NBA finals, Bryant suffered the worst sprained ankle of his career, he wrote in his book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.

That summer, he researched ways to make his ankles stronger, and landed on tap dancing. "I worked on it all of that summer and benefited for the rest of my career," he wrote.

Though Bryant continued to suffer from ankle injuries, tap helped him learn to keep his ankles loose and active, which helped prevent injuries elsewhere.

In 2018, Bryant talked about his tap dancing experience on Jimmy Kimmel, saying that it was "kept secret for obvious reasons" during his NBA career. "My first class I walked into the studio and there were all these six-year-old, seven-year old kids," Bryant told Kimmel. "These kids were looking at me like, what in the world? What is this grown-ass man doing in here learning tap dance?"

Bryant also shared that he had to get his size 14 tap shoes custom-made. Though he stopped dancing after that summer, he says that "for a year there I could tell my feet to do this and they would actually do that."

Tap classes weren't Bryant's only foray into the dance world. The longtime Lakers star was known for befriending greats in other fields to share secrets to success—and one of these was dance legend Debbie Allen.

Allen spoke about Bryant backstage at Sunday's Grammy Awards: "He was in the middle of creating an entire universe for the world to share. Books and theater and movies and everything, a legacy that will still emerge. He was a tremendous supporter of young people in the arts. He was a tremendous supporter of young people everything. It was what his whole life's work was about, and I am just feeling such pain today to have lost that big light."

Our thoughts go out to Bryant's family and friends.

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Photo by Ema Peter, Courtesy University of Southern California, Glorya Kaufman School of Dance

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July 2021