Kobe Bryant on Rome is Burning: "There is No Greater Sense of Enjoyment You Get Than Representing Your Country"Kobe Bryant was Jim Rome's in studio guest on the Tuesday episode of "Rome is Burning." Here are most of the questions and answers from that interview:
Rome: "You're an MVP, you're a three-time World Champion and now you've got the hardware--how does this one (Olympic gold medal) rank compared to everything you've accomplished?"
Bryant: "This is right at the top because we always talked about it on the team: the sense of honor that you have playing for your country can't be matched. In the NBA you are playing for a particular brand or a particular region but when you are playing for USA you are playing for the sum total of it all and that's pretty cool."
Rome: "Seriously--better than an NBA title?"
Bryant: "Better. There's no greater sense of enjoyment you get than representing your country. Plus, it's cool when you go to the Opening Ceremonies or you hear the Star Spangled Banner being played and you look up in the crowd and you see everybody waving USA flags; they could be Celtics fans, they could be Pistons fans but I think that it is so neat for them--for everybody--to just bond together for one common goal. That's pretty awesome."
Rome: "So much went into this. (Team USA Managing Director) Jerry Colangelo said we're going to pick the right team and guys are going to make a three year commitment. We can't have happen what happened in Athens. So you get there and you roll right through the entire tournament and then you get Spain in the championship game and they come back on you. They cut that lead to two. At that point, what were you thinking?"
Bryant (big smile): "This is fun. This is fun. That's the thing I remember thinking."
Rome: "Really? Because I was thinking something bad is going to happen."
Bryant (laughs): "No, no, no. We talked about that moment when we would get tested and my point was, this is what we do. This is the most fun. We have a two point lead here, we called a timeout because we needed one and we have to regroup--now let's get back at it. Let's make it happen."
Rome: "Coach K called a timeout and he pulled you aside and he had something to tell you specifically. What was his message to you?"
Bryant: "He wanted me to get after it and to assert myself--not necessarily to score the ball but to make plays and I was able to do that and read the defense. I saw some gaps and some things that I could take advantage of."
Rome: "The question coming in was if you are at the end of the game, who gets that last shot? Who does the ball go to? Should I assume that because of that conversation in the final analysis you were the guy? He wanted you to take care of it."
Bryant (laughs): "Yeah, it kind of fell into my hands in terms of being able to make the decisions down the stretch and because I am probably the one who has the the most experience on the team in those pressure situations. I made a couple plays, kicked it to a couple of our guys and they made some big shots."
Rome: "Ultimately, how do you divvy up leadership? If you have a room full of alpha dogs, guys that everybody is used to looking to and you're all in the same room, how do you divvy that up and who do the guys follow?"
Bryant: "You know what, it just kind of happens, to be honest with you. Jason (Kidd) was there. He's been a tremendous leader for a while. I forget what his record was in Olympic basketball and international competition but it was something crazy like 48-0. So he's been there before. LeBron's leadership is more vocal. He's constantly going all the time and his motor is never off. Myself, I'm more of a quiet guy but I get things done just by leading by example and the level of intensity that I play with."
Rome: "There was speculation that after you got the gold, OK, it's time to get the surgery and it looked like you were set to do it and then you decided not to get surgery on your pinkie. How come?"
Bryant: "Originally, when we talked about it during the season, we thought that it would be a three or four week process of recovery. We said that the perfect window is after the Olympics, get it done, miss maybe a week of camp and then get back at it. But after further due diligence we found out that it is six weeks minimum just to get the hand back to moving and touching the ball and things like that. So, total it would be a 12 week process and I can't miss that much."
Rome: "Can you make it worse by playing with it?"
Bryant: "No, there's nothing worse that can happen. It's gone; it's broke. I'm going to have to have surgery to fix it eventually but right now it's just not that time."
Rome: "But what if you do have to shut it down? What if you are not there when they need you the most?"
Bryant: "That's always a risk that you have to assess. My feeling on that is that I am pretty conscious when I play the game of how to protect myself, particularly my hand. I feel like that is something I can manage."
Rome: "You go and win the gold medal. Does that take away the sting of how the Finals ended?"
Bryant: "Yeah, it does but it makes you want to win a championship that much more because you see the champagne bottles and all this other stuff in the locker room--jumping up and down, singing and having a good time. You want to have that same feeling again. We just had an opportunity, we didn't make the most of it but we still gained valuable experience."
Rome: "Do you find yourself going back to game four? Obviously, you have 12 other championship caliber guys that are on that same team--five on the floor, the rest on the bench. They weren't going to give in. But, you're at home, game four, 24 point lead, how are you not able to choke them out in your house in a game that is that important?"
Bryant: "I think that in a series the better team is always going to win, no matter what. That's something that I've always learned. I feel like we were a great team but they were better and they were better in areas that we need to improve in: defense and rebounding. That gets it done every single time. We were a good defensive team--inconsistent, but we were good. This season we are going to be much better in those areas."
Rome: "Defensively, they were good. I mean, watching you the entire year when you won the MVP, it just seemed like when you wanted to, when you chose to, you could take over at any time. Personally, I kept waiting for that to happen in the NBA Finals and it never really happened. What did the Celtics do to make things so challenging for you?"
Bryant: "They had a rule, which is to put two, three, four guys between me and the basket at all times. That is the kind of defense that we saw. They were willing to give my teammates open looks, which is a defense that we have seen before but I think that the thing that really hurt us is those moments or stretches when we were scoreless and they came down to the other end and knocked down two, three, four threes and all of a sudden a four point game is a 12, 15 point game and it is tough to recover from that."
Rome: "They were so physical, too. Probably, you guys need to get more physical--or, is that not the case and do you just need to get Andrew Bynum back?"
Bryant: "We'll get stronger. I think those are areas that we know we have to get better at. I think having Andrew in the middle will help tremendously. They got a lot of layups. On top of hitting wide open threes, they were driving down the lane and getting finger rolls. I think having him in the lane is going to help us out a lot."
After a commercial break, Rome did one more bonus segment with Bryant.
Rome: "Kobe, you turned 30 recently and you are now 13 years in. Is your best basketball still ahead of you or maybe, at 30 with 13 years in, have you already played it?"
Bryant (wry smile): "No, I think it's still ahead of me. I hear that a lot but it makes me want to drive that much harder. Obviously, you have to be a little smarter with your training. It's all part of challenge."
Rome: "Training is going to factor into it but now do you pick your spots during games when before you just went?"
Bryant: "Oh, yeah, but that just comes with experience. Even when I was 22, 23 years old, I tried to pick my spots but as you get older you start to learn more about the game. You figure things out more. Things just come a little bit more easily than they did at that age."
Rome: "So what is your relationship with Phil Jackson like right now? There have been some ups and some downs."
Bryant: "It's incredible. We actually communicated pretty often during the Olympics, with him just saying good luck and being supportive."
Rome: "Kobe, how did you make that right? He wrote some things in that book that were not very favorable. How did you see clear of that to get back on the same page with him?"
Bryant: "Who am I to judge? Everybody makes mistakes. When he called me and said that I want to come back and coach and help you turn this thing around I'm not going to sit there and hold it over his head. I'm going to look at it as water under the bridge and move on and that's what we were able to do."
Rome: "Would you approach your relationship with Shaq the same way?"
Bryant: "I always have. In fact, before the latest incident we actually talked on the phone. He actually called me and said that he was proud of the way that I was playing and how I was playing in the playoffs and that sort of thing. I've always approached relationships that way, you forgive and you just move on and give people a second chance."
Rome: "What do you make of that? Was he being insincere when he picked up the phone and called you and said I'm proud of you and then laid down that rap?"
Bryant: "I don't know. I try to focus on things that I can control. At that time, I had the gold medal to focus on. Now it's about trying to get a championship. So I try to keep my eyes on the prize and not worry too much about what is going on over here."
The next few questions concerned the possibility that a foreign team would put together a big enough deal to tempt a top NBA player to move overseas. Bryant kept his options open, saying that it "is not out of the realm of possibility" that this could happen. The interview concluded with this question:
Rome: "Have you thought about how this whole thing ends? When it's all said and done, the final chapter of your career?"
Bryant: "I've thought about it before. I'd love to be remembered as a guy who just loved to play the game, who worked extremely hard at it and won. If people can say that about me I'll be very happy."
posted by David Friedman @ 1:13 AM