Kobe Bryant UnpluggedKobe Bryant returned to action on Friday night, producing 23 points, six assists and four rebounds in a 118-112 Los Angeles Lakers win over the Seattle SuperSonics. The Lakers are now 3-0 after winning their first two games without Bryant as he completed his recovery from offseason knee surgery. It's early, but the Lakers could surprise a lot of people this year--at least those who didn't read my Western Conference Preview, in which I predicted that the Lakers will finish fourth in the conference.
Recently, Fox Sports aired an interview that Chris Myers did with Bryant. Here are some choice excerpts:
>>>Asked his thoughts about last season, Bryant replied: "It was a great season for us. Being a young team, no one expected us to be in the playoffs, let alone make some noise in the playoffs.*"
>>>Bryant shared his thoughts about his relationship with Phil Jackson: "Our relationship is beyond great." Bryant added, "The relationship that we've always had when it came to the game is we knew what we had to do to get the job done, period. Now that relationship has gone beyond just the strategies and schematics of the game of basketball--it's a deeper respect that goes beyond our profession." Jackson wrote some negative things about Bryant in his book The Last Season but Bryant insists that all is forgiven and forgotten: "I didn't need an apology from him--coming back to the Lakers was enough."
Myers asked if it is necessary for a player to like his coach. Bryant answered, "No, I don't think that you necessarily have to like the coach...the relationship that we had previous to him coming back was rocky but we still won three championships. Now our relationship is great, so we look forward to making even more noise."
>>>Bryant said that he neither roots for nor against Shaquille O'Neal because he is focused on what the Lakers are doing. He is not surprised by what the Heat accomplished because Pat Riley put an excellent team together and then the emergence of Dwyane Wade created a powerful duo with Shaq.
>>>Myers asked Bryant if he thought that he should have finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Bryant said, "I never thought about being an MVP. Coming into the season, I didn't even think about it. The two things that I wanted to accomplish--these were goals of mine--were to improve as a team and to get back to the First Team All-Defense. Those were the things I really focused on. The MVP stuff doesn't mean anything to me. At the end of the day, it's all about championships."
>>>Bryant told Myers that he has always been sociable but that the dynamics of the team were different when he came into the league because he was so much younger than his teammates. Now, he is the "big brother" based on "mileage" but the age difference is not that great. He added that by the time LeBron James came into the league straight out of high school "the playing field had levelled," meaning that the league itself had gotten so much younger that there was not the same generation gap between James and his teammates that there had been between Bryant and his teammates in Bryant's early seasons. Bryant has mixed feelings about the rule that prevents players from jumping straight from high school to the NBA, citing the success that he James, McGrady and others have enjoyed but also acknowledging that many players failed miserably when they tried to make the jump.
>>>Bryant does not believe that it will be possible for someone to duplicate Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game but cannot rule it out, either. He said that, while he may make scoring look easy, such a feat would be "very difficult" and that a lot of things have to come together at once to produce such a performance. Bryant added that during his 81 point game everything seemed to slow down and he felt like he could see what would happen in advance. Bryant said that he sometimes has a feeling before a game that he could score a lot of points but that he tries to restrain that thought because "if you embrace that feeling too quickly, by the time game time rolls around it's gone."
>>>Myers noted that Bryant was criticized for not scoring more against Dallas (the game when he outscored the Mavericks 62-61 for three quarters and then sat out the fourth) and for scoring too much in his 81 point game versus Toronto. Myers asked Bryant what he thinks about that and Bryant replied, "I just do whatever is required, whatever is necessary." That is similar to the response that Bryant gave to me when I posed that question to him during the 2006 All-Star Weekend: "The object is always to win, so whatever that means for me to do is what I’m going to do.”
>>>Bryant talked about his renowned work ethic: "I'm seeking to improve my level of play. I'm constantly asking questions about the game, trying to learn the game more."
>>>Bryant said, "Winning is the ultimate goal" and "The thing that I'm afraid of is not winning another championship. That really drives me."
>>>After he came to the United States from Italy, Bryant felt that other kids viewed him as soft and he used that as motivation to earn their respect.
>>>Bryant described some of his philanthropic endeavors, including working with the East L.A. Boys and Girls Club and the United Negro College Fund. He is providing the funding for a number of college scholarship winners to travel to Italy; he feels that growing up overseas broadened his horizons and opened his mind to many possibilities and he wants others to have a chance to experience such things. He said, "I've had a pretty good career, but I want to feel like my life has had more purpose besides putting a ball in the basket."
>>>His choice for most enjoyable teammate? A tie between Chucky Atkins and Caron Butler.
*--This is not entirely true: Before the 2005-06 season began, I wrote that the Lakers would win at least 45 games and make the playoffs.
posted by David Friedman @ 11:49 PM