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Monday, January 4, 2016

MGS Chat: Kobe Bryant

On the occasion of Kobe Bryant's retirement announcement, I was able to do a sit down with arguably the greatest Laker of all-time and top ten NBA legend...
MEDIA GUY: You said in the past you didn’t want a farewell tour when you retire. Now that you have announced you’re going to retire at the end of the season, a farewell tour is basically what you are getting every time you go outside L.A. How is it feeling?

Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
KOBE BRYANT: It was feeling – it feels great, actually. I mean, you know, I don’t really consider it much of a tour. I think it – like the way it’s been going has been so beautiful. I mean just like I’m paying my respects to the fans and they’re doing the same in turn. I just think it’s just a beautiful moment that takes place. After 20 years of playing to be able to – for me to say thank you to them and them to say thank you back, I couldn’t have imagined it any better than it is.

MG: In the past 20 years building your legacy, when you step off the court for the last time as a player, what did you leave behind for yourself, and more important, what would you take with you?

KB: I think what I leave from behind, I don’t know if I leave anything behind outside of just the physical representation of what my 20-year career has been, right? So, you know, the training, the actual act of going out and playing and scoring and defending and doing those sorts of things. Kind of like the shell of who I’ve been for the last 20 years, I think that’s what I leave behind. But what carries on with me is the spirit that represents those physical manifestations. So, the understanding of perseverance, of how to deal with failure, how to handle successes, understanding how to communicate with others, understanding how to understand others, empathy, compassion and things like that. Those are things that I’ll carry with me forever, so as I’m leaving behind kind of like the physical shell of what I’ve been for 20 years, everything else I’m carrying with me forever.

MG: Adam Silver said last week that he would very much like to have you involved in All-Star weekend. With no disrespect, if you’re not voted in by the fans or selected by the coaches, would you like some sort of honorary role in the last All-Star Weekend of your long career?

KB: You know, I think I’ve been very fortunate to have played in so many All-Star games. For me, to not be voted in, I know it’s hard really to process but when I say that I’m completely fine with that because I’ve had an amazing run, right? And at some point you have to be able to be okay with letting that go, you know, and you have to be okay with passing the game along and doing all you can to help the game continue to grow and continue to evolve, right? So that’s my way of letting you know that I’m completely fine with whatever role I’d have at All-Star weekend.

MG: What were the top five best players and the best teams you’ve faced in your career in the NBA?

KB: Let’s see. Top five teams that I’ve faced, I’d probably say San Antonio Spurs were always tough. Sacramento Kings in the playoffs were tough. The Boston Celtics in 2008 were tough. Detroit Pistons in 2004 were tough. I’d say the Chicago Bulls, obviously when I first came in the league they were tough.

Top players, let’s see: Hakeem Olajuwan, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Clyde Drexler. I have to – players is a little tougher for me because I came in the league where there were so many great players playing like John Stockton was still playing; Clyde Drexler was still playing. Gary Payton, Anfernee – I mean it was a lot of – so the top five players is a little tough for me.

MG: The first thing when people hear the name of LA Lakers is the first thing they think of is Kobe Bryant. So what do you think of the Lakers will be like as a team after you’ve left? Are there any guys you consider being the next potential big star for the Lakers? Second, could you imagine coming back to the Lakers one day as a trainer or mentor?

KB: I’ll answer the last question first. I think I’ll always be around and not just from a Lakers’ standpoint but also just with players around the league just to be a mentor to continue to talk and help them out through things and I’ve done that for a while now and I’ll continue to do that.

In terms of the Lakers, I mean the Lakers are going to continue to represent what they’ve always represented which is excellence. I mean they’ve always stood for that. They’ve always stood for winning championships and that being the most important thing. You know, Magic represented that. I happen to represent that and the next player will represent that as well. So I don’t see that changing much at all. I mean we’ll obviosuly go through periods of rebuilding and things of that nature but the core of the organization and the franchise will always be the same which is winning.

MG: The last time you were in Africa was in 2010 for the World Cup. With your retirement would we be seeing you more at the NBA’s global events in Africa?

KB: Well, yeah. I definitely plan on helping the game spread and helping kids all around the world understand the kind of the metaphors that come along with the game, right? When I was growing up, I was a product of that growing up overseas. So, you know, when I step away from the game I definitely look forward to visiting places like Africa and being able to teach the game and all that surrounds it. So, yes.

MG: When you do retire, will there be a certain relief that you won’t have to put your body and your mind through all the pressures that come with being a great basketball player, or will you actually miss the tension of being of an elite athlete?

KB: That is a very complicated answer. You know, it’s not the healthiest of choices to make to be able to live this way, you know what I mean? I think I’m one of the people that actually enjoy it and a certain aspect, like when the summer time comes around, for example, when you’re not in that frame of mind, you realize how peaceful and how relaxing life could be. But then you’re also not comfortable because you’re used to and you like being that feeling of constant pressure and constant training and body being sore and always, you know, worrying about the next game or whatever, right? So, there is something that is like an adjustment period I think to not being able to have this type of pressure, not being able to have those moments that I think is going to be a bit of an adjustment.

MG: Given the way you handled the expectations so well throughout your career, I wanted to know what sort of advice you’d have for someone like Ben Simmons who is coming in as a potential number one draft pick next season. Also, if you’ve had a chance to watch Ben, what are your impressions of him?

KB: So, I think he’s a fantastic player. I think he has obviously a tremendous amount of potential. I think the key really is just loving what you do. I mean that’s the magic of it, man, is really loving it and you know you love it when you actually enjoy the process of it all. So, you know, if you love getting ready, if you love training, if you love preparing just as much as you love the end result of winning or even moreso than the end result of winning, then you know you have something truly, truly special and that’s something that you can’t beat. That’s something that you can’t bring out of a person. You either love that thing or you don’t.

MG: After you retire do you have more specific plans to come back to Shanghai or China to do more activities?

KB: I do definitely plan on coming back more and continuing to teach the game, continuing to help the kids not just about the game of basketball but understanding all that surrounds the game of basketball and the potentials that are there as well. So, you know, I definitely look forward to coming back there more than I’ve been able to do in the past because of schedules.

MG: Allen Iverson said a few days ago there will never, ever be another player like Kobe Bryant. Do you agree with that? And if you do, do you see someone close to you among the young players, for example?

KB: Well, I mean, you know, we’re all different players, you know what I mean? We’re all different players, we’re all different people. There’s never another Magic, there’s never another Bird, there’s never another Michael, now there’s never another me just because we’re just different people. I mean the way I went about it is different. The way the next player will go about it will be different as well, right? So, you know, we all kind of do things our own way.

I think there’s a lot of young talent in this league today. I think there’s – the game has been skewed a little more towards point guards and there being a tremendous amount of – you know, that being said, I think there’s going to be a player that over the next ten years is going rise above them all, maybe, right? He’s got to be a player that comes out and wins more championships than everybody else and maybe they’ll be that player and maybe there won’t be. Maybe there will be so much parity around the league. Maybe one player will win it one year, another player will win it the next year and then kind of go back and forth. So that remains to be seen.

Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
MG: Do you think in these past years with all your injuries, do you think if the basketball gods have treated you unfairly, and if there’s any chance – you said in the past that you would like some time playing with Pau in Barcelona. Is there any chance that we see that?

KB: So, I’ll answer the last question. I would have loved to have played overseas for a season but it’s not going to happen. I wish I could have done it but I can’t. Body won’t let me and that’s completely fine.

In terms of the basketball gods, no, I think we have a very good relationship. I mean we understand each other very well and I think it’s our responsibility as athletes to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, good, bad or indifferent. So, whatever comes my way I’m absolutely able to pivot and to handle those situations and deal with those situations. You know, the injuries that I’ve had, I’ve always been able to look at those from a positive light and learn from those things, and also take advantage of opportunities that come as a direct result of those injuries – other things to focus on, other things to plan for. So, no, I don’t think the basketball gods have treated me unfairly. I think they’ve given me a fantastic opportunity.

MG: What’s changed in the past six games since you announced your retirement? Prior to that you were shooting below 30% and now you’re shooting almost 50%? Has there been just more relaxing, a more enjoyable tour for you?

KB: No, I don’t think so. I think it was a matter of my legs catching up and I think it’s a matter of my timing catching up too. I mean it’s very easy for us to kind of get caught up in the emotionality of it all and kind of forget to look at the tactics of it all. And what my body has been through for the last three seasons, I mean my body has been through a lot; physically, it’s been through a lot. Then on top of the fact it’s very easy to forget that I haven’t played because of it, right? So, the last three years I haven’t really had a chance to play that much in the NBA and so the timing is off, rhythm is off, things like that, so it was really just a matter of me being patient with myself, continuing to train, continuing to trust the training that I’ve done all summer and continue to do during the season and believe that eventually the timing will come back. I think really that’s what happened.

MG: Are you are coming to the Olympic Games in Rio and repeat what Magic Johnson did in ’92? If you would like to end your career playing alongside LeBron and Curry?

KB: I mean we’ll see. I mean it’s not something I’m absolutely pressing for but being part of the Olympics is such a beautiful experience. I grew up overseas. I grew up in Italy so to be able to see how basketball became such an international sport firsthand, it would be a beautiful thing personally to be able to finish my career on an international stage. But that being said, we’ll see how everything goes.

MG: Which place do you think you will occupy in NBA history after your retirement; Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and everybody, what place do you think you will have in history? Behind them or next to them?

KB: You know, the way I look at it is I try to look at my legacy and how it impacts the future of the game. So I’m not looking at my legacy from the standpoint of where do I fit in with the greatest of all time; to me that’s a moot point and for me personally it’s much of a shallow argument. I think the most important thing and the most beautiful thing is how does your legacy impact the generation of players to come or the generation of players that are currently playing. If I feel like what I’ve done and what I’ve stood for for these 20 years has impacted the players today and the players tomorrow in a positive way in the way that they can then carry that legacy on themselves and impact the generation to follow, I think that’s much more significant than where I stand in history.

MG: You talked about growing up in Italy and being kind of a soccer fan. I wanted to get your take on the eight-year bans handed down to Platini and Sepp Blatter today. How much do you follow the game now and do you think this is – just the corruption thing going on is a big first step to maybe cleaning house and getting world football in a good place?

KB: Yes. Yes, I think that’s always a touchy thing, right, because you’re dealing with such big business. It’s impossible to monitor and manage everything every step of the way, so I think this is an important first step to clean up the sport. You know, we like to think in our society and in our culture with life being as tough and as brutal as it is sometimes that we can escape all of that stuff through the purity of sport, right? Sports is supposed to be an escapism for us all and when something like this happens, you know, it really damages kind of the emotional Shangri-La that you get from enjoying sport, right? So I think it’s the first step. I think there’s much more to do but I’m sure they’re on top of it and I’m sure the sport will be as pure as we once believed it to be.

MG: What was your teammates reaction when you dunked on Clint Capela. After all you’ve achieved in your career, what did you make of that? Secondly, what do the Lakers need to do to move on after Kobe Bryant?

KB: How they reacted is pretty much how I was feeling inside. I mean in the things that I’ve accomplished, you know, being able to drive and dunk like that after all that my body has been through was one of the special moments of my career. My body has been through a lot, man, so, you know, to be able to get to the basket and to elevate and finish like that for me was like a – it was personally gratifying. It was like it was a reward for all of the hours that I spend training and working and stretching and, you know, so it felt good to see that hard work pay off. So, I was – you know, I was very excited to see them excited. You know what I mean?

Then your follow-up question was about the Lakers and what they can do going forward. I mean what we do going forward is just make smart decisions, make smart choices. Build the team; that’s what we have to do. We have to build the championship caliber team. We have to get talent. We have to make smart decisions, smart trades, creative acquisitions, things of that nature. We just have to make smart choices.

MG: When you do look back on your career, the respect that you’ve got across the league, you’ve got a big game coming up in Boston and, you know, even though the fans have given you a fair bit of criticism over the years, I guess, there’s also that respect there. Are you looking forward to playing there?

KB: I am looking forward to playing there. That’s always been one of my favorite places to play. The fans are so knowledgeable about the game and there’s so much history in that city, so much history. They’re extremely conscious of that, as am I, and so it’s always been a special place to play. Playing them in two Finals, you know, as a kid I dreamed about having those moments countless times.  So to go there one last time and play and be in that city one more time is going to be a beautiful, beautiful moment.