Q&A: Kobe Bryant opens up about his career, life after basketball, recruiting for the Lakers and more

Q&A: Kobe Bryant opens up about his career, life after basketball, recruiting for the Lakers and more

Interview

Q&A: Kobe Bryant opens up about his career, life after basketball, recruiting for the Lakers and more

Recently, NBA legend Kobe Bryant was a guest on The HoopsHype Podcast and he had a wide-ranging conversation with Alex Kennedy. They discussed his influence on today’s NBA players, whether he’ll help the Los Angeles Lakers recruit free agents, his success away from basketball and much more. You can listen to the episode below. But if you prefer to read what he said, a condensed and edited transcript of the conversation is below.

There are so many young NBA players who grew up idolizing you and pretending to be you. Some of them have even said you’re the reason they fell in love with this game. What does it mean to you that you’ve had such a big impact on this generation of players?

Kobe Bryant: It means a lot. It’s not something that you think about when you’re playing. But as you get older, you become a little more conscious of that kind of stuff; you start looking at the next generation and how you can help in some kind of way. So to hear something like that from the players who are playing today, it means a lot, man. Because at some point, it has to become about something more than just winning championships, right? It has to become about something more – about how you’ve helped the next generation and how you’ve given back to the game.

You’re known for your intense work ethic. There are many epic stories about your training. Over the years, which players have impressed you the most with their work ethic?

KB: Well, I think you see a lot of the players who are playing today have that same work ethic – the guys like Kyrie [Irving], James [Harden], Russell [Westbrook]. Also, Kevin Durant and LeBron [James] obviously. I mean, these guys really get in the gym and spend a lot of time in there. It’s something that they’ve all done over a long period of time. For younger players out there: It’s not good enough to go out there and work really, really hard for just two months [and then ease up]. It’s more important to work really, really hard over the course of 10 years and be consistent with that work. We have players in the NBA today, like the guys I’ve named, who have certainly done that.

I used to love talking to rookies when they were playing against you for the first time because they’d usually be a mix of star-struck and scared. When you were playing a young guy, how often could you visibly see how intimidated they were?

KB: Oh, I could tell. I could tell. From playing for so many years, you can sort of sense that kind of stuff. You can feel that nervous energy all over them (laughs).

Is there a specific player or instance that stands out to you because the player was so scared?

KB: Hmmm. Let me see… Well, we had a player in training camp actually named [Mickael] Gelabale. He was a young player, but he had been in the league before. He joined us for training camp and I could tell he was really nervous. We’d had a little altercation when he was playing for Seattle and now he was in training camp with me on the Lakers and he’s face-to-face with me every day, knowing that I hadn’t forgotten what happened and that I was never going to forget. I don’t forget that stuff. I could tell that he was really, really nervous and I made it a point to make his training camp absolute hell. [Note: Gelabale didn’t make the team that year].

You had your retirement tour and you went out with the storybook ending, scoring 60 points in your final game. But NBA executives often try to lure stars out of retirement because they’re trying to improve their roster. For example, the 2007-08 Boston Celtics tried to sign Reggie Miller after he’d been out of the NBA for two years. Did any teams reach out to you to ask about a potential comeback?

KB: No, not seriously (laughs). I’ve known Bob Myers, the general manager of the Warriors, forever. Like, I remember the day he was going to go take his bar exam! We used to hang out together all the time. At my last All-Star Game, we had a chance to catch up. We were staying in the same hotel and I had a chance to tell him congratulations on everything. Then, he said, “Hey listen, if there’s any chance you want to change your mind and come back and play another year, you can always come over here [to Golden State].” But it’s all tongue-in-cheek, man.

There are people who spend their whole life trying to win an Oscar. You had an all-time great NBA career and then won an Academy Award shortly after you retired like it was no big deal! We’ve seen what you can do when you lock in on something, so I’m curious what are some other goals that you’ve set for yourself?

KB: Well, the goal for us here at the studio is always the same: It’s about quality above quantity… quality above all else. That’s our focus every day. We have novels that will be coming out here in March of 2019. With the Detail show [on ESPN+], we’re working on extending that into different sports. We have a really great children’s podcast that will be coming out in late August. So we’re really hard at work, trying to create content for kids and for families. It’s stuff that is going to inspire them and also educate them to a certain extent. We’re insanely focused on those things right now.

Do you have any interest in playing in Ice Cube’s BIG3 league at some point?

KB: No. (Long pause)

No interest?

KB: No. Cube is a good friend of mine and he’s asked me repeatedly, but the answer is always going to be no.

This is a big offseason for the Lakers. Their general manager Rob Pelinka was your agent and, for people who may not know, he is also the godfather to one of your daughters. I know you’ve said that the Lakers are such a storied franchise that they don’t necessarily need your help recruiting players, but your voice and presence are certainly impactful. If Rob and Magic Johnson ask, would you be willing to attend their free-agent pitch meetings this summer as they try to attract stars like LeBron James and Paul George?

KB: Well, no. I mean, I’ll call, but I’m not going to be in the meeting. Listen, I’m not part of the organization in any kind of professional way, right? If the players themselves have questions, [I’ll talk to them]. Or if the Lakers want me to reach out and call a player or something like that – if they want me to talk to the player and give my two cents on what it was like to play here and what this market is like – I’ll certainly do that. But in terms of being part of the meeting in any official way? The answer is no.

But Rob and Magic both have great flexibility when it comes to the cap and they have great young talent. And I’ve known Rob for a long time; this dude is as smart as they come, so he’ll figure it out.

You know what it’s like to win championships in Los Angeles and be beloved by this fan base. You sort of know what any incoming star player would experience. Putting yourself in their shoes, why should LeBron James and/or Paul George sign with the Lakers?

KB: From a basketball standpoint, you have to make decisions based on the organization and who you feel is going to put you in the best possible position to win championships. I mean, that’s always the No. 1 thing, right? It’s not the glitz and the glamour, or the market. It’s about winning championships. And [if you’re a free agent], you have to look at the management and whether they’re capable of making sound decisions that are going to put you in a position to win championships. Plural. Championships. Your decision has to be based largely on that. It’s always about winning, man. It always comes down to that. And the truth is, if you want to be beloved in Los Angeles, you have to win championships. That’s it. I mean, you can be the greatest guy in the world, but if you don’t hang banners here in L.A., then you’ll just be a good guy who is forgotten the next year or whenever you retire. If you want to be beloved here, you have to win.

You learned Bruce Lee’s style of martial arts (Jeet Kune Do), took tap-dancing lessons and studied how great white sharks and cheetahs hunt their prey because you felt those things would help you improve as a player. Are there any other unconventional things you studied or did in an effort to hone your craft?

KB: Well, I called John Williams in 2008 and talked to him for a while about the way he conducts his orchestras. Because, if you think about it, it’s such a difficult thing to do – there are so many instruments and all these different sections, from the woodwinds to the percussion to the horns and all sorts of stuff. And he has to lead all of those sections, all of those people, to create one harmonious sound. So, how do you do that? I sat down with him for a bit and picked his brain about it because I felt like there were a lot of similarities between what he does and what I have to do on the basketball court. And some of the things he said to me were fascinating. One thing he said was, “Kobe, if I hear something is off, I can just interject and give them the answer. But I’ve found it’s better to ask them questions [about fixing what’s off] because most of the time, the answer I’ll get back will be a better answer than the one I had.” That really helped me from a leadership standpoint and how I handled the guys on my team going forward. This was coming off of our loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. But I showed up to training camp for the 2008-09 season and changed my approach to leadership, just based on the way that John Williams conducts his orchestra.

You obviously spent your whole career with the Lakers, but there were a few times when your future in L.A. seemed a bit up in the air. During those somewhat uncertain times, were there players trying to recruit you and steal you away from Los Angeles?

KB: No. See, when I was coming up on free agency, that was before all of this super-team stuff, so that wasn’t even a thought-process that any of us players had. It was just about looking at the organizations that were expressing interest and considering their management and then trying to make the best possible decision on where I should continue the rest of my career. That was before all of this super-team stuff, so I didn’t have anyone recruiting me.

You’re having so much success away from basketball since retiring, but do you think you’ll ever return to the NBA as a front-office executive, coach, broadcaster or owner? Do any of those roles interest you?

KB: No. (Long pause) I mean, I’m really happy and I love what I’m doing right now. I love coming to the office every day and coming to the studio for writing and editing and building. I love assembling creatives and giving them the freedom to create. I love everything that I’m doing, so… no.

One of our listeners has a question: What are the pros and cons of being someone who’s obsessively hard-working and competitive? And what advice would you give others who benefit/suffer from this same mentality?

KB: (Laughs). You have to take the good with the bad (laughs). It’s hard because you’re always working, you’re always fine-tuning things, you never believe anything is as it should be and you always want to continue to re-work things. Sometimes, I refer to it as, like, a disease or a curse or an affliction (laughs). It can feel like that! But you know, that’s what we’ve been blessed with and I’ve found that it’s much better to just try to embrace it and work on things that may help the person next to you. I try to use that focus on something that’s not individual in nature but rather something that can reward people at large. I’ve found that’s the best way to deal with it. I think that’s the best form of therapy for it.

During your recent conversation with Shaquille O’Neal, you confirmed that you were 100 percent ready to be traded to the Chicago Bulls in 2007 – to the point that your family was looking at houses and schools. Had that trade happened, that obviously would’ve changed NBA history. Do you ever wonder how different your career and your life in general would be today if that transaction actually happened?

KB: No because, you know me, once I’ve made a decision I don’t really go back and think about the what-ifs. But we can think about it right now. And, ah, yeah, it would’ve changed things a lot. I believe we still would’ve won championships in Chicago. That’s what I think, but I do feel like everything happens for a reason.

Honestly, the biggest shock to me was that Shaq didn’t know that [I was 100 percent ready to be traded]. That was the biggest surprise to me, that he was unaware of that! I think, had he known how serious I was about going someplace else, he never would’ve demanded a trade [and he would’ve stayed in Los Angeles]. But when he got traded, that stopped me from going anywhere else because there was no way that Jerry Buss was going to lose Shaq and me in the same summer. So if he had known how serious I was about leaving, I don’t think he ever would’ve demanded a trade.

If you and Shaq never split up, do you feel like you would’ve been able to cement yourself as the greatest dynasty of all-time? What do you think would’ve happened if you remained teammates?

KB: Well, look, I’ll take that 2000-01 Lakers squad we had against any team in the history of this game. Against any team.

But I will say, in terms of our run, I think it was going to come to an end. I think Shaq was having health issues that would’ve prohibited us from going on these big runs. If you think of his body – you think about the size of this man with his agility – at some point, it starts chipping away. Whether it was the toe injury or the knee injury, it was chipping away. While it’s fun to say, “If they stayed together for another three or four more years, what could they have been?” But I think the reality is that the health issues would’ve really prohibited us from having that kind of huge run. I mean, his health was already affecting us in those last two seasons that we had together.

A lot of people submitted questions asking what you think of the Lakers’ young core and their development, especially Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.

KB: I like them. I think it’s really early right now. They’re young players, so it’s really hard to tell what’s going to be what. But the most important thing, the biggest question, is do they have the commitment to be in the gym all day long, all summer long? Or will they be pulled in a myriad of directions? Whether it’s sponsorships or the limelight or distractions with social media, there are a lot of different things that can pull you in different directions [and take you out of the gym]. Are they able to edit out the noise and focus on what really matters, which is their craft? That’s the big question. The players who can do that are the players who will reach their full potential.

Brandon Ingram has said that he wants to train with you this offseason. Are you planning to work out with him?

KB: He and I had talked about it, but I haven’t heard from him yet [this summer]. But I do know that’s something he wants to do, so we’ll see.

I’ve gotten several calls from players already [who want to train with me] and I’m trying to work them into my schedule. I want to get some guys out to O.C. and work out with them for a bit. I have a handful of requests in so far.

In addition to training players and helping them with their game, you’ve also become a mentor to a lot of guys – giving them advice and guidance. For example, Kyrie Irving talked to you quite a bit after he requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers and was waiting to be dealt. He said you really helped him a lot. How often do you talk with players and why did you decide to take certain guys under your wing?

KB: The mentorships are an on-going thing; it’s almost like a big-brother type of thing. They know I was in the league for so long and I’ve seen so many things, so there’s hardly any scenario that they can throw at me that I haven’t come across; either I’ve been through it myself or I’ve seen one of my teammates or close friends go through a similar situation, so I can help. I get called a lot, man. And it’s not just from NBA players; I get calls from athletes in a bunch of other sports as well. It’s fun to play that role. I really enjoy it.

Your ESPN+ show “Detail” is so good and it’s super in-depth. You put yourself in a specific player’s shoes and break down film, saying how you’d attack the opposition if you were that individual. Can you walk me through how an episode of “Detail” gets made? I want to know each step, from how you choose which player you’re going to focus on, to finding the game film you’re going to watch, to providing the analysis.

KB: Well, I typically pick a player who I believe is going to have some serious challenges in the upcoming game or series. That’s generally how I decide which player to focus the episode on. I didn’t want to do a show that just highlights things that [players] have done well. I don’t want to highlight games where a player goes off for 45 points and I just show all the good stuff he did to score 45 points because that’s not how I watched film [when I was playing]. If I had a game where I had 60 points, I wouldn’t look at the things I did right; I’d try to find every little thing that I did wrong and look at the issues I might have in the next game. Let’s say we were playing the Boston Celtics, I’d be watching film of the issues I had against their defense to see how I can potentially solve those issues. That’s what the Detail series is.

As far as how it comes together, we sit and watch the game and we’ll pull all of the clips that we need. Then, once we pull the clips, I go into a room here in the studio. I have a microphone in front of me, I hit the play button and then what you see on the show is me reacting to the film in real-time. There’s no pre-written script, there’s no thinking ahead of time about what I’m going to say. What you see on the show is me watching the film for the first time, right then and there – just like how I’d break down film back in the day when I was playing. That’s the experience that you’re getting.

In addition to everything else you’re doing, you have a book coming out on Oct. 23 called “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.” Can you preview what’s going to be in the book?

KB: Yeah. The book is actually split up into two sections: there’s Process and then there’s Craft. In the first section, I dive deep into the details of the process of getting ready to play – from physical therapy, to conditioning, to injury prevention and all of that stuff. Then, in the second section, I get into the craft – from the little details in a game, to the nuances of certain moves like a drop-step, to the timing, to reading defenses and all that good stuff. It’s a book for basketball nerds. It’s a book on basketball specifics. Just like I say on Detail about how the show isn’t meant to be entertainment, the book is the same way. It’s for the basketball purists and nerds.

For years, we saw your incredible basketball IQ. Now, in retirement, you’ve already won an Oscar and created so many great things. You’re a genius on and off the court, so I’m curious: Who are some fellow geniuses that inspire you?

KB: Well, first of all, thank you. I don’t see “me” and “genius” going hand in hand, but I really appreciate that. I had a lot of role models and people I drew inspiration from when I was growing up, and they go across many different industries. John Williams, who I mentioned earlier, was one of my muses growing up. Obviously, there are the usual suspects: Magic [Johnson], Michael [Jordan], [Larry] Bird, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and [Hakeem] Olajuwon. But there’s also Oprah Winfrey and [television showrunner] Shonda Rhimes and [Apple’s Chief Design Officer] Jony Ive and [Apple’s CEO] Tim Cook and [Disney’s CEO] Bob Iger and [Nike’s CEO] Mark Parker. These are all people who I look up to and who have mentored me in one form or another, and continue to do so.

To listen to this interview in its entirety on The HoopsHype Podcast, click here.

The HoopsHype Podcast is sponsored by the BIG3. Ice Cube’s three-on-three league is back for season two with even more former NBA stars competing this year! Get your tickets to BIG3 games at BIG3.com/tickets or tune in LIVE every Friday night on Fox or FS1.

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