reporting from johannesburg, south africa — — Now that Lakers star Kobe Bryant has a little free time, he has decided to spend it in South Africa, with the sport he grew up loving.
On his first trip to Africa, Bryant took in the U.S. loss to Ghana on Saturday — former President Bill Clinton and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger were there too — then spent Sunday visiting young soccer players at a training center in Soweto, where he answered questions.
His favorite player? Didier Drogba, the powerful forward of now-eliminated Ivory Coast.
The team he admires? Brazil, which he hopes to watch against Chile on Monday.
"They have so much individual talent, but they play as a unit," he told reporters. "That's beautiful to watch."
And his choice to win the World Cup? So far, so good. Bryant said he'd picked Germany — a 4-1 victor over England on Sunday — before the tournament.
Bryant came to Soweto, the vast township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, to visit a state-of-the-art soccer training center recently opened by sports footwear and apparel maker Nike.
There he evoked a budding rivalry by comparing Brazil's overall World Cup titles with his own career NBA championships.
"If they win the World Cup, they will have six," he said. "If we win next year, we'll have six. We'll have something in common."
Bryant's language skills were impressive — he needed no translator to field questions in Italian and Spanish.
One reporter asked who Bryant favored in Tuesday's Spain-Portugal match.
"Spain — because of Pau," Bryant quickly answered, citing his friendship with his Spanish teammate Pau Gasol.
Times wire services contributed to this report.