In a new post on Thursday, the retired NBA player shared a throwback video of himself dancing in a school show in middle school, and told his followers that he had “skipped basketball” for the occasion — drawing a parallel to the young athlete on his AAU basketball team who missed an important game for a dance recital.
“When I was 12, I skipped basketball for two weeks so I could dance in a school show,” Bryant, 41, wrote. “I’m all about diversifying while young, then locking in on your passion.”
The former Los Angeles Lakers star has been on defense since social media users criticized him for calling out one of the players on his daughter’s basketball team for missing an important game in order to go to a dance recital.
He claims that the intention behind the post was not to shame or embarrass the middle school student, but to point out why the player was not pictured in his team’s fourth-place photo.
The controversy began after his AAU basketball team, the Mambas, won a game 115-27 on Monday against an opponent they had previously lost to two years ago, and Bryant shared a series of motivational messages about his team’s journey Instagram.
However, in one of the posts, the former pro-basketball star pointed out that one of his players had missed the game from two years ago in order to attend her recital.
“Here’s our fourth place ‘winners’ picture lol six of the kids in the picture stayed with me and worked every single day to get better and continue to work to this day,” he captioned the shot before editing his message. “The 7th player (not in pic) missed this game for a dance recital so that should tell you where her focus was at this time.”
Fans immediately called Bryant out for his apparent dig at the young girl, one writing, “Imagine being in 8th grade and getting roasted by Kobe.”
Meanwhile, another person wrote, “How you about to call out a seventh grader for not being committed to what YOU want. The other girls are committed, fine, but that recital could mean a lot to that girl. Can’t put her on blast on social media like that.”
Bryant was quick to address the backlash, first responding to a comment left on his Instagram post, and later taking his apology to Twitter.
“That wasn’t shade. She enjoyed dancing more than hooping at that time and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just pointing out that ball wasn’t the primary focus,” he responded to one fan on Instagram. “Now? She LOVES basketball.”
On Twitter, Bryant responded to a fan: “Nah fam I was just explaining why she wasn’t in the pic. Most of my kids on the team played and still play other sports including my daughter so it’s all love. Don’t misunderstand the message.”
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“Sorry if it came across as a slight, trust me it wasn’t. I was just giving the reason for her not being in the pic. They chose not to smile for the pic I actually followed their lead. Our team has become family and this includes the 7th player,” he added to another user.
He previously told PEOPLE that coaching has been a great way to teach his daughters about “what it means to pursue excellence and the commitment level that comes with that,” while also being a lot of “fun.”