Simers' Interview Provides Insights Into Kobe Bryant's MindsetT.J. Simers' work is usually too irreverent and/or irrelevant for my tastes but his recent Kobe Bryant interview contains many valuable insights. Here are some highlights:
1) Bryant said that he has been misunderstood by the general public: "I just happened to grow in front of everybody and a lot happened. Maybe one day in like 15 years or so some people will come to realize we didn't quite get him when he was playing." Bryant expressed a similar sentiment when I interviewed him during the 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend: "The truth always comes out, so I don't worry about it. I don't think about it. It's going to shake out. People who talk about me in a negative manner don't know me. They don't know me. If they had a chance to be around me and kick it with me and get to know me, then they can judge. I think that will come out as years go by. People will see how I truly am and what I'm truly about and everything will be all right."
2) Bryant himself is taken aback by how much he has grown and matured, laughing as he told Simers, "I find myself talking sometimes and I can't believe what I just said. Realistically I have only one year left, so I'm trying to enjoy myself." Bryant's competitive fire still burns as brightly as ever but his public statements and public persona are much calmer; he gets his message across without losing his cool.
3) Bryant admitted that he is "a little bit" worried that Dwight Howard might leave the Lakers as a free agent after this season but instead of dwelling on that possibility "I want him thinking about being our defensive stopper so we can ride him into the playoffs." Bryant dismissed concerns about any possible tension in his personal relationship with Howard: "I've been through much worse. Shaq and I honestly didn't like each other. At least Dwight and I do like each other." It is refreshing to hear someone tell the truth about the much-discussed (and misunderstood) O'Neal-Bryant dynamic. The real story is that, even though Bryant was young and immature in some ways, he also was much more focused on working hard and competing for championships than O'Neal, who famously put off toe surgery by declaring that he got hurt "on company time" so he would get treated "on company time"--exactly opposite the attitude of Bryant, who has repeatedly played through injuries that would have sidelined any other player. O'Neal's lackadaisical approach resulted in the Lakers trading O'Neal and winning two championships with a team built around Bryant. Four years after the O'Neal trade, Bryant and O'Neal shared the 2009 All-Star MVP and they probably get along as well now as they ever have or ever will but--contrary to O'Neal's oft-spoken revisionist history version of events (which stars O'Neal as the hero who stirred up some kind of so-called creative tension in order to spur the Lakers to greater heights)--Bryant and O'Neal have never been close personally and Bryant not only resents O'Neal's jealousy but he has vowed to treat his younger teammates better than O'Neal treated him, a vow that Bryant has kept first with Andrew Bynum and currently with both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
4) Bryant told Simers, "I know I drive a very hard bargain. I was reading the Steve Jobs book, which was enjoyable because it made me seem like a Magic Johnson-like character." Bryant added, "Winning takes precedence over all. There's no gray area. No almosts. It's a very unbalanced way to live and I know that. It's not healthy. And I can't justify it, but someone has to win and why not me and the Lakers organization."
5) Bryant offered a very candid explanation for his recent series of double figure assist games: "This team needed it. In the meeting we had in Memphis we were talking about doing things that maybe were not what we do best. What I do best is shoot, maybe passing is the best way for us to win now.
I tried it in the seventh game of the  playoffs against Phoenix. I scored 50 in Game 6 and we lost. I scored like 17 in the first half, and took a gamble. I decided to pass to try and get everyone else going. It didn't work. I took the same gamble here and if it hadn't worked out, what would people be saying now? Kobe isn't shooting so he can prove some point?
What I'm doing now is being selfish. I'm trying to help the team because I want to win a championship."
6) Bryant said that he wants to be remembered as "a winner and overachiever. A guy who worked and played hard like he was the 12th man on the roster."
Bryant, like Scottie Pippen more than a decade ago, is highly respected by coaches, players and knowledgeable basketball people even though he is a polarizing figure to casual fans. It is no coincidence that great players work hard and want to be appreciated more for their dedication to their craft than just for their statistics or accolades. Here is what Pippen replied when I asked him how he would like to be remembered: "A gym rat. A guy who worked very hard to make sure that his game was complete in every area and wanted to be looked at as one of the best players in the league. Even though I probably never was (the best player), because I played with a great player, but that was my approach to basketball as a whole, being a guy who came from a small college. I wanted to be the best player in the game. Even though I played with the best player in the game, it was always in my mind that if I did a little bit more, if I became a little bit more complete, people would look at me as one of the best players in the game and not just look at the fact that I did not have the offensive skills that Michael had." Being a "gym rat" (as Pippen put it) or an "overachiever" (as Bryant put it) separated these two great players from many other talented performers who did not dedicate themselves to becoming all-around threats who could impact a game with scoring, rebounding, playmaking and defense; hard work is the crucible that forged Pippen's six championship rings and Bryant's five championship rings.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:54 AM