Kobe Bryant: ‘The most beautiful thing is how your legacy impacts the players of today and tomorrow’

REAL SPORTS SCENE - Anthony Suntay (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2016 - 9:00am

In sports, there are stars, and there are players that are considered icons. In basketball, Kobe Bryant is one of those rare players who transcend their sport. He just competed in his 16th career Christmas Day game, a National Basketball Association (NBA) record! It is a special occasion for the league where they feature premier players and classic match-ups.
He is loved by the fans in Los Angeles, and despised everywhere else because he has caused them all so much grief in his 20-year career. But after announcing his retirement, he has played to packed stadiums, which isn’t surprising, the tremendous applause and support were an eye opener!
The STAR was part of a group of international media who had a brief chat with the five-time champ.

PHILIPPINE STAR: You once said you didn’t want a farewell tour when you retire. After your announcement, a farewell tour is basically what you are getting now. How’s it been?

KOBE BRYANT: It feels great, actually. I don’t really consider it much of a tour. I think 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.

When you step off the court for the last time as a player, what will you leave behind for yourself, and what will you take with you?

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.

Commissioner Adam Silver said last week that he would very much like to have you involved in All-Star Weekend. 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 career?

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, it’s because I’ve had an amazing run, right? And at some point, you have to be able to be okay with letting that go, 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.

Who were the top five best players and the best teams you’ve faced in your career?

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 Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Clyde Drexler. I have to — players, that’s 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.

When people hear the name of the Lakers, the first thing they think of is Kobe Bryant. What do you think the team would be like after you’ve left? Are there any guys you consider being the next potential big star for the Lakers? And do you imagine coming back to the Lakers one day as a trainer or mentor?

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, they 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 obviously 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.

When it’s over, will there be a certain relief that you won’t have to put your body and mind through all the pressures that come with being a great basketball player, or will you actually miss it?

This 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 that feeling of constant pressure and constant training, and the body being sore and always 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.

Allen Iverson said a few days ago there will never, ever be another player like Kobe Bryant. Do you agree with that?

Well, 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. The game has been skewed a little more towards point guards, I think there’s going to be a player that over the next 10 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.

Do you think in these past years, with all your injuries, the basketball gods have treated you unfairly?

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.

What has changed in the games since you announced your retirement? Prior to that, you were shooting below 30% and now, you’re shooting almost 50%? Has the game been more relaxing and enjoyable for you?

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 emotion of it all and kind of forget to look at the tactics. What my body has been through for the last three seasons, I mean my body has been through a lot physically. Then on top of the fact it’s very easy to forget that I haven’t played because of it. 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 to do during the season and believe that eventually the timing will come back. I think really that’s what happened.

What place do you think will you occupy in NBA history after your retire?

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 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.

What do the Lakers need to do to move on after Kobe Bryant?

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.

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